Why Do We Keep Heirlooms? Because We Can’t Hold On to the People Who Once Owned Them.

Then there’s my paternal grandmother’s records, a mix of mostly gospel and country and western, with a few out-of-nowhere selections.

For example, Grandma Opal had on vinyl the entire recording of Apollo 11’s moon landing. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong says on the album.

The husband and I use some of mammaw’s dishes. We’ve listened to a few of Grandma Opal’s records. 

But we don’t need or have any reason to keep as much of my dead grandmothers’ stuff as we do, except for sentimental value.

Person holding and looking at a framed photo.
Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

The ostentatious parading of excessive emotion

“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty,” James Baldwin wrote.

Baldwin was referring to sentimentalities in writing, such as the novels Little Women and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

So, maybe he’d give me a pass for having my grandmother’s Ernest Tubb album tucked deep into a closet shelf. Or, perhaps Baldwin could understand why I hold on to an increasingly threadbare potholder with burn spots that my mammaw made.

Unless the ancient Egyptians are right, our worldly possessions don’t come with us into the afterlife. Instead, they are left for others to deal with, own, sell to others, or dump in the trash.

Convening with those gone

One day, I may decide it’s time to part with some of my grandmothers’ things; a bowl we’ve never used, vinyl that’s collected more dust over the years than it’s spun around a turntable. But, until then, I can’t imagine parting with these physical connections I have with the lives of two women I was close to and who I miss daily.

Using these items, seeing them, knowing they’re in my presence, in our home, gives me peace.

Still, possession of this stuff isn’t the only way I convene with my deceased grandmothers. They visit me in my dreams, something they started doing after both moved into the same long-term care facility, not long before they each passed, within a year of each other.

Sometimes they’re together in both dreams.

In other dreams, it’s just one grandma or the other. Sometimes, they’re flying around like ghosts, zipping about a room while my mammaw laughs at Grandma Opal’s silliness. And other times, we’re all three sitting in a room, just chatting, catching up on what’s new.

We hold on to things because we can’t hold on to people, but the truth is it’s not in heirlooms we find those we’ve loved and lost. Instead, it’s in a deeper, hidden place inside us, where we can still convene with those no longer with us.

This article originally appeared on Medium.