What’s The Significance Of An Heirloom?

According to a dictionary, an heirloom is “a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations.”  While America may not be an “object” itself, it has been the object of many discourses throughout its history, and that history, short as it is in the scheme of things, has changed the world.  Try to imagine the world without the United States…is that even possible?  In its first war as a nation, and with what we might call a rag-tag army, it defeated the-then most powerful army in the world.  It wasn’t enough to do it once, we did it twice!

America, at the turn of the 20th Century, was still sort of “waking up.”  We hadn’t yet flexed our muscles, but it wasn’t short in coming.  December 1907 saw the beginning of a round-the-world cruise of the United States Navy, “The Great White Fleet,” and it ended in February 1909.  We were still thought of as sort of the kid brother, but we sent the fleet and showed the flag and…suddenly…the United States was being looked at in an entirely different light.  By the time World War One came and went, America had become a force to be reckoned with…no longer the kid brother, we were now the cock-o’-the walk and we strutted like it too!

There were things, singularly American, that could be considered heirlooms because, in all likelihood, we either invented them or made them better than anybody else.  There’s the fabled Model T Ford and the workers that made them could actually afford them because they got paid well for their skills.  The Wright Brothers and their powered-flight Flyer, they made heirlooms and didn’t even know it…but when you look up and see an airplane go by, that’s an heirloom in my book.  Aviation took off, literally, from that point and when World War Two popped up we supplied the Allies with hundreds of planes while building our own Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the US Air Force.  We out-built the Axis and darkened the skies over Europe with thousand-aircraft sorties, round the clock.

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I recently got rid of my record collection.  Now, There’s an heirloom that could be mentioned.  Maybe some of you reading this had records also, and others are wondering what he’s talking about?  My first recollection of records was a wind-up Victrola (yep, that one with the dog) and you put the needle down on the record carefully because you didn’t want to scratch it any more than it already was.  Over the years, especially after The War, electronics came into their own and it was a jumbled mess to see which type of system would win out.  Records were still king for awhile but then cassettes came along, and “Walkman” transistor radios, so you could take your music with you.  Cassettes were replaced by CD’s and their players, but try putting one of those things in your pocket!  LOL.  Now, even if you’re technologically-challenged as I am, your “smartphone” does practically everything that it took several units to do before.

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Old men, it’s said, talk about the past because we have no future, while young men talk about the future because they have no past.  It’s true, and every now and again it’s good to sort of reflect on things past…they’re heirlooms even if they’re only in your memories.  Before television, there was radio, and you used your imagination.  Before radio (I’m not that old), there was the printed word…books.  While education was not overly-stressed in my growing-up years, reading for pleasure was.  That’s why, today, in my library are books that have been read over and over again.  It also contains books that, most likely, will never be read, but they are “the classics” and HAVE to be in a library, and it’s not just for “show”…they have to be preserved somehow.  There’s Fu Manchu and Sir Denis Nayland Smith, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarity, and Jack Ryan and Marko Ramius and…oh, just dozens more.  There’s history, adventure, poetry, politics and even magic…well, there’s magic in the books.

Heirlooms can be almost anything.  When I was at Camp LeJeune with the Seabees, building something for the Marines, I bought a “Smokey” hat because that’s what my Dad wore in World War One.  It’s sort of a mystical connection.  He used a .45 caliber Colt revolver(the officers got the 1911 pistol) and I’ve tried to buy one of those, but they’re just too darned expensive, but it would strengthen the connection.  During The War, and if you didn’t guess, that’s WW2, my Father drove a 1941 Packard, and because he was “connected” we didn’t want for much during that time.  When I win the Lottery, I’ll find a 1941 Packard and have it completely redone, better-than-factory!  That’s an heirloom even my family can enjoy.

Parting shot: Perhaps what was written will strike a chord…I hope so.  “No heirloom of humankind captures the past as do art and language.”(Theodore Bikel) Or, “Above all, think of life as a prototype. We can conduct experiments, make discoveries, and change our perspectives. We can look for opportunities to turn processes into projects that have tangible outcomes. We can learn how to take joy in the things we create whether they take the form of a fleeting experience or an heirloom that will last for generations.”(Tim Brown)

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