The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary defines an heirloom as anything that has been handed down in a family for generations, and although an heirloom can be anything, I doubt that any of our possessions can be called an heirloom. We just did not own anything expensive enough, or old enough, but I was determined to change that for my descendants.
Having left the business world for a career in Mommy-dom, I no longer had a corporate ladder to climb, and bequeathing huge amounts of money was now out of the question. I have heard of tribal women weaving rugs to pass on to their daughters. I was not a tribal woman, and I did not think I could learn to weave a rug, but I could cross-stitch, and M was going to inherit a quilted Christmas cross-stitch tapestry.
We had moved to Lagos, Nigeria, and not wanting to endanger myself in a city where carjacking occurred daily, I rarely ventured out of the compund we lived in. I thought of myself as the ideal jailbird because spending all my days behind the walls of the compound suited me just fine. With an eighteen-month-old M to keep me occupied, I had a lot to do, but I needed a hobby, so I rediscovered cross-stitch. Although I detested it in high school, it was one home economics project that I aced.
I am inherently competitive, and not wanting to seem less able than tribal women, I chose to make a Christmas tapestry the size of a rug. I cross-stitched whenever I could, and those were the times when M was taking a nap, or busy playing pretend by herself. It was after I had completed all the cross-stitch pieces that I realized I could never sew well enough to turn them into a quilted tapestry. And I was too inexperienced a mom to think of using a stapler, an idea that occurred to me years later while making a Halloween costume.
It was not until my mother visited us in New York with her sewing machine that the Christmas tapestry was completed. And it was just in time for our first Christmas in Manhattan. The tapestry is the first Christmas decoration that I put up every year, and that two generations of women joined hands to make it qualifies this tapestry as an heirloom in my book.
We have a number of old books sitting on our shelves, and although none of them would qualify as antiques, a few of them may become heirlooms. That is if M manages to pass them on to her children and grandchildren.
I loved to read as a child. Books took me to all the faraway places that I wanted to visit, and I had favorite books that somehow survived all the packing and moving in my life. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince was one of them, and I passed on my very yellowed copy to M when she was a third grader at ASIJ.
Another beloved book of mine that M has read over and over is James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, and to this day, I wonder what I would have done in the place of those travelers who found themselves captive in Shangri-La. Would I stay in paradise and live forever, or would I risk everything, including my life, to return to my husband and M? Having no desire to face such a dilemma, I never boarded a plane without M.
I was a big fan of recycling way before it became fashionable, and aside from favorite novels, M has inherited from me the encyclopedic dictionary where I found the definition of heirloom. My parents may have received this dictionary as a bonus for subscribing to the Reader’s Digest, but it was indispensable to me in high school, and I continued to use it in college.
Mommy was not the only one who attempted to save money by passing on used things to M. Daddy joined in the conspiracy when we moved back to Japan.
M had outgrown her Fischer Price table and chairs, and now that she was going to be a third grader with much more homework, she needed a real desk. I loathed throwing perfectly good things out, and while I was thinking of friends who could use the tables and chairs, my husband casually mentioned that I had grown too heavy to sit on a toddler’s chair. When I threatened to follow a strict diet that would make him collateral damage, he volunteered to replace my dining chair with one of the small chairs, saying that the dining chair was much too big for me.
The small yellow and blue table, together with the two small red and blue chairs eventually went to a friend with two little girls.
M’s new desk was Daddy’s old desk. My husband bought himself a new desk when he graduated from college, and found employment as a local civil servant in one of Tokyo’s twenty-three wards. As children, we apparently shared the same passion for faraway places, but while I read about them, he daydreamed of them.
Realizing that daydreaming at his old desk did not get him anywhere near an airplane that would fly him off to faraway places, he bought a new desk to enhance his daydreaming experience. It must have worked because he went from being a local civil servant to a national civil servant, and his present employers enjoyed sending him to faraway countries like Liberia and Nigeria.
Hearing Daddy tell the story behind the desk that was still in his room at his parents’ home, M was very eager to have it as her own. It was a huge desk. It was so much larger than our dining table, and had plenty of drawers for little girls to keep their fragrant colored pens, and vegetable-shaped erasers. It even came with a desk lamp that also belonged to Daddy.
We put the desk by a large window, and for the next three years, she would sit at this desk doing school work. She had fun writing about Jack and a beanstalk that sprouted dollars, got all excited making a rain forest insect she called the snail flie bee, and valiantly struggled to learn 825 Kanji characters in three years instead of five.
Pieces of furniture make perfect heirlooms, but Daddy’s desk will not be passed on to the next generation. It was too big to take to Vienna, and it went back to his room in his parents’ home. It should have stayed there waiting to be reclaimed, but the Japanese have become much too impatient to wait for their own possessions to become heirlooms. They would rather go overseas and buy other people’s heirlooms.
When my in-laws rebuilt their house to include a house for my husband’s sister and her family, the desk was thrown out for lack of space.