On my kitchen counter sits a set of cowboy hat salt and pepper shakers with a boot in the middle for holding toothpicks. It is admittedly cheesy and kitsch; it certainly does not go along with the Joanna Gaines-esque look I’ve been going for (read: “going for” being the operative word here). Someone walking through my house might look at it and surely think it an odd choice.
I happen to love it. Do you know why?
I love it because it was given to me, along with a box full of other odds and ends from my grandparents’ house.
Some of you may already know this story, but my set of living grandparents are actually my mom’s stepmom and stepdad. Yes, together. You read that correctly. They married each other! Her real parents were divorced and both of them remarried. When they passed away at relatively young ages (early 60s), their widowed spouses were introduced by my mom and, needless to say, they hit it off. They have been together for over 20 years and are both now well into their eighties, living happily ever after.
Unfortunately, as families sometimes do, we were estranged for most of that time. When I was about 12, we lost contact with them. I don’t know all the details of the story. But I do know that I had a loving set of grandparents since birth, but after age 12, I never saw them again.
After I became interested in learning about my family history, I wondered about Mimi and Grandpa (as they were always known to me). I didn’t know if they were still alive, or if they still lived in the same place. One day, I got up the courage to call. A sweet Southern accent picked up the phone. It was Mimi, and she was glad to hear from me!
In no time, she was back to calling me Baby and Sugar, just like when I was a child. We became reacquainted, and suddenly, at 34 years old, I had grandparents again. It was pretty unbelievable!
That Christmas, I received a package with gifts lovingly wrapped for me and each member of my family, with tags that had “Love Mimi and Grandpa” written in familiar handwriting that I remember so well. It was as if I got a piece of my childhood back. It was incredibly special.
The following Spring, I drove down to North Carolina with my three girls in tow and we stayed over Spring Break in the familiar house I knew so well, though it felt much smaller this time. My biological grandma’s ashes had been spread over the hillside where their house sat atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I went out there to pay my respects.
When Mimi gave me this salt and pepper shaker, it wasn’t any special heirloom or anything like that. It was just an extra thing they had lying around. But, for some reason, it reminded me of when Mimi was married to my Grandpa Art (mom’s biological dad) who passed away from cancer in 1995. They lived in Texas, and we would sit around at the table while she cooked buffalo and fried okra for supper. My grandparents were Texans, and even though I only lived in the South for short amounts of time as a child, I feel a kinship with my deep Texas and Oklahoma roots.
What about you? What is your family story? Maybe your family has a long, proud heritage with lots of beautiful heirlooms and photos. Or, maybe you are like me, and you come from a blue collar background full of people who struggled and worked hard their whole lives, and you don’t have much at all.
No matter your background, I promise you, there are many ways you can incorporate family history into your home!
HANG IT ON YOUR WALL
Ditch the generic overpriced decor from big box stores that is made to look “old” and instead look for things that have meaning to you personally. Whether it is a framed needlepoint from the 1970s made by your great grandma or a gallery wall of reprints of old photos dressed up in interesting frames, find things that tell a story about who you are and where you came from.
FLOWERS HAVE MEANING
I am not just talking about the traditional symbolic meanings assigned to different flowers, such as white lilacs (innocence) or lilies (humility). Is there a special flower that you or someone in your family tree loved in particular? When I looked through the newspaper archives from The Library of Congress, I found a wedding announcement from my great grandparents’ wedding in the Society section. Every flower in the parlor and dining room was described, including pink and white roses. I have made it a point to decorate with either silk or real pink and white roses in my home whenever I get the chance. Try looking through old family photos, or ask your oldest living relatives. You never know, maybe your great grandparents have a wedding announcement somewhere out there yet to be discovered by you! I don’t know about you, but I would much rather look at those sitting on my mantle instead of some generic plastic succulents from IKEA.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Do you shudder at the thought of having to keep all of your parents’ or grandparents’ nicnacs one day, or worse yet, paying for a storage unit to house them? Take it from me, a certifiable sentimental hoarder (who is also oddly a clutter-loathing minimalist) – you do not need to keep everything. If your mom’s duck-themed plates from the 90s that you used to microwave pizza rolls on when you came home from school aren’t your jam, don’t lose sleep over it. I’m sure the local Goodwill can make perfectly good use of them. But, let’s say you do feel some guilt over it. No worries, just save one glass from the collection and use it as a utensil holder in your kitchen, or a small vase for fresh flowers. Problem solved.
MAKE A PRETTY FAMILY CHART
Gone are the days of painting an elaborate mural on the den wall that traces back to your Scottish royal coat of arms. You don’t need something big and gaudy! Remember, less is more. Try having one custom made from a modern family chart designer like I Chart You, which specializes in modern, stylish pedigree charts you will be proud to display in your home.
MAKE YOUR OWN
Don’t have any family heirlooms to display in your home? Not to worry. There are still ways you can incorporate your heritage into your home life. Perhaps you come from an unknown background and all you have to go on is an AncestryDNA test to tell you your ethnicity. You can still find interesting pieces for your home that symbolize those places. If your ancestors were from Ghana, you could find a print of a painting of an African woman or a beautiful woven basket. If you know you have ancestors from a certain time and place, but you don’t have an actual photo of them, try searching stock image collections, such as the ones available on Library of Congress. Many photos do not have copyright restrictions and you can download them to print and display in your home.
With a little creative thinking, you can bring the Spirit of Elijah into your home in a way that not only your family will notice, but also friends and neighbors. It will spark conversations and foster a spirit of love and familiarity that will touch the hearts of all who enter your home.