Mom’s Boxes Part 9: Mom’s Good Silverware

Grandma's good silverware

UPDATE: Mystery solved! (scroll down)

What do you think happened when I offered my mom’s good silverware to my niece, Vinca, as a wedding present?

One never knows what will happen when you pass a family keepsake on to the next generation. Will they love it? Or, not so much? There’s only one way to find out….if your kids are adults now, ask them!

 

November 2019:

Dear Vinca,

So, you’re getting married. Congratulations! I’ve reserved the date.

I’m writing to tell you about an early wedding gift.

It’s from my mom, your Grandma Thornton.

Yes, before she died, she told me, very specifically: “I want you to give my good silverware to Vinca when she gets married.”

When I was growing up, we used “the good silverware” (it’s silverplate, not sterling, BTW) only for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and celebratory dinners with guests.

Google “oneida grenoble prestige silverplate flatware” to learn more about it.

Grandma’s good silverware

The complete service for 12 (including 12 extra teaspoons and assorted serving utensils) is in fabulous condition and does not need polishing even after all these years. Apparently, the magic wooden “Tarnish Resisting Chest” (so affirms the interior label), in which it originally came, really did its job!

Why am I telling you about this so far in advance?

As your aunt… I am hoping that you will love, use, and cherish this gift from your grandmother who loved you dearly and who did not get to spend nearly enough time with you.

And…as a professional organizer… I am keenly aware that younger generations don’t always like the things their elders leave to them. If I had a nickel for every article I’ve read, or every client I’ve had, where the kids didn’t want their parents’ stuff, I’d be able to retire by now. They have different tastes. They have homes of their own full of stuff of their own. Sometimes they both get lucky with a mutually admired heirloom gift. But there is usually too much stuff to count on this happening with all of the things.

So I’m telling you now, for the following reasons:

If you DO want your grandma’s “good silverware”….

  • You might like it enough to use every day. (I always encourage my clients to use the things they love, and to not save them, because it so often leads to never using them.) Here is a blog post I wrote about using keepsakes, featuring some more of my mom’s things.
  • In which case, you might want to put something else on your gift registry besides flatware. (If you’re going to have a registry.)

If you DON’T want it…..

  • I won’t have to lug it to Missouri with me when I attend your wedding. LOL?
  • I will either keep it or find something else to do with it.
  • You do not need to feel guilty about not keeping it. Despite the fact that it was literally a deathbed wish. (Feeling guilty yet? Just kidding!) Your grandma wouldn’t want to burden you with a well-intended but unwanted gift, and neither do I.

Here are some ideas for ways you can use it:

  • Use it every day – if you like it, why not? Many people do. It requires special care, though. It wouldn’t be hard to maintain, but there are a few things to keep in mind: hand-washing preferred; don’t mix it with stainless steel items in a dishwasher; wash or rinse right away (don’t let food, especially anything acidic, sit on it), polishing not needed as often as you’d think. Here are some cleaning tips.

    Same pattern!

  • Use it only on special occasions, like we did.
  • Pass it down to your own children with stories about their Thornton great-grandparents and their Great Aunt Hazel.
  • Sell it on eBay
  • Sell it on Replacements.com
  • Make jewelry out of it (if you make earrings like these, though, I want a pair!)
  • Whatever you think of and want to do with it

You don’t have to decide now. And whatever you decide now you can change your mind later, too.

I’ve had it this long. I can keep it awhile longer. (It’s in my will that it’s yours, though, lol!)

Meanwhile, I’m really curious what your initial thoughts are….???

Also November 2019:

Hello Aunt Hazel,

I am excited to hear that you reserved the date and am looking forward to seeing you, catching up, and having you be a part of this exciting chapter of my life.

I was elated when I received your email about the silverware. It blows my mind that my grandmother was thinking of me getting married and needing silverware twenty years ago and how she will still be with me even now when I create my own family and memories. It looks beautiful and I cannot even put into words how touched I am. I have few memories of my grandmother, but my mom often says that she sees her in me and the memories I do have are good ones.

That being said, I would love, cherish, and use the silverware as intended even though your jewelry idea was clever and well intended. I appreciate how thorough my professional organizer Aunt really is. I will have to learn how to properly take care of it, but I will use it.

Thank you for sharing all of this with me. I know that I am terrible at communication, but I do care about you and our love of books and the fact that we are family.

Vinca

 

(My reaction: Yayyy!)

 

Vinca, Heath, Ziggy, and Vinca’s grandma’s good silverware (at my house).

UPDATE: Mystery solved!

Vinca and Heath did get married, as scheduled, in May 2020. But much of our side of the family was unable to attend due to COVID.

Also, just a few weeks ago, my dad died.

What does that have to do with this story?

Well, he couldn’t remember where the silverware had come from when I asked him. Wedding gift to them both, maybe? (From whom, if so?)

But, in his papers, the other day, I found a ledger of income and expenses that I think answers the question.

In Feb. 1956, four months before their wedding, he spent $39.00 on “Silverware (for Ethel)”.

Ding, ding, ding!

Evidence of original purchase.

At any rate, it’s the most obvious explanation: A gift for his bride.

(The 2021 value of $39.00 in 1956 is $393.31. This make it a significant purchase for my father in 1956, but has no bearing on the value of the “silverware” today.)

Vinca and Heath are here in Albuquerque as I write. They flew in to get Dad’s car, because they are currently the ones in the greatest need of one. The cost of plane tickets made sense considering the current disruption of new car supply chains and a corresponding shortage of used cars. So, they will drive home with a “new” car full of Vinca’s grandpa’s books, some of his paintings…and her grandma’s good silverware. Drive safely, Vinca and Heath!

 

Reader, have you ever tried to pass on an heirloom that was unwanted?

What did you end up doing with it?

Please share with us in the comments!

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Copyright 2019-2021 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life.
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Comments

  1. What a great post! I wish more of us had open conversations like this. How many people are dealing with well-meaning but unwanted gifts or legacies? The sense of guilt is so hard for people to overcome. To be honest, as I was reading, I thought the outcome would be the exact opposite. But now you know that this gift is desired and will be treasured. Which is the whole point, right?

  2. I haven’t gotten to this stage with my own things yet, but I have inherited a few things. One was a set of silver plate, and I do use it! I keep it in the dining room and it is so nice to be able to pull it out when I am entertaining and not worry about cleaning my daily flatware. I also inherited a full set of glass dishes called “Candlewick.” While I was happy to receive these, I agree that many of the younger generations don’t want these things. So smart to ask, and how wonderful that your niece was pleased to receive it!

  3. I got choked up when I read Vinca’s response. I can only imagine how happy it would have made your grandmother to see how much having (and using) the silverware means to Vinca. The note you wrote to your niece was wonderful. You laid out all the options with humor, love, and practicality. She is lucky to have you as her aunt. And how smart your grandmother was to have you as the giver/keeper of the flatware.

    When my grandmother passed away in 1985, I helped my mom clear out her house. My grandmother kept kosher, so she had four sets of flatware. I was offered the everyday “milk” set. Since then, it is the only flatware that we have and use. I’ve added to it over the years because a set of 12 wasn’t enough for some of the gatherings that we have. I love the pattern (also by Oneida.) But mostly, it makes me think about my Nana Stell and all of the meals and times we shared. Every time I use it, I feel the connection to her and to my family.

    • Awww….I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And thank you for sharing your story, too. I decided to change the title, because it’s “Grandma’s” from Vinca’s point of view, but “Mom’s” from my point of view.

      • Hi Hazel,

        Excellent article! Thank you for sharing.

        Silverware and even plated silverware should not be washed in hot water. It will melt the silver and down the drain it will go. Also silver is softer than stainless so if in a cold water wash in the dishwasher, if the individual pieces can bump into each other it can wear and dent the silver. Dishwasher chemicals may be too harsh. This I have not explored. I don’t mind hand-washing them since they are heirlooms!

        We used my mom’s daily growing up and I still have it. It is sterling. She taught me that the water can’t be hot hot. A dishwasher could ruin it. Silver-plate has the same issue. We just soak it in very warm soapy water and then aftern washed with a cloth rinse with very warm water, then dry. It still is beautiful. it is 72 years old.

        Hope this helps someone keep their heirlooms in great shape!

  4. What a wonderful response from your niece! I really like how you thoroughly explained her many options in your message to her. I think the fact that your mother picked out this one thing to hand down to her on her wedding day makes the silverware more important and sentimental to your niece.

    With a lot of my clients, the older generations want to hand down everything to the children and grandchildren, and that’s when it becomes overwhelming to the recipient.

    • I think you’re exactly right. One thing, or just a few things, can be appreciated and integrated into one’s life. Too much is too much, and needs to be inventoried, stored, cared for, or otherwise dealt with.

  5. Such a beautiful, meaningful, and helpful post, Hazel! Your niece’s equally beautiful response brought tears to my eyes.

    As to the care of sterling (and undoubtedly silverplate), my family always stressed the importance of never allowing the knives to sit in water. Sometimes this will cause the blade of the knife to separate from the handle.

    I have recently inherited some wonderful fine china that my mother mostly used for special occasions and entertaining. I have been thinking that I really should make a point of using this every day even though I never would have considered this when I was younger. I have ordinary everyday china that I have used for years, but I think that now it makes more sense for me to enjoy my mother’s special china regularly!

  6. I thought this story made me feel warm and fuzzy too since I knew your nieces grandmother! I have my moms and my aunts silverware set that they both used on special occasions. I use them everyday and keep them out of the dishwasher. I love thinking and remembering these precious women every day! But I thought you were going to advise about furs and I can’t find it. In Alaska, if course where it is truly frigid, furs are the gold standard for warmth and comfort. The beauty is never the animal hide; it’s the beautiful beading and tick rack or homemade antler buttons that make the coat coveted. If I were still up there, I would want to get hold of any unwanted fur coats. The hides are all recycled with many up there, but especially in the small native villages. For me, that was a delight!

    • Hi Carol, nope, no advice on furs here, but there were lots of good suggestions in the comments of my Jan 30, 2020 Facebook post, which also included a link to this post. And your comment would be welcome there as well, if you want to cut and paste it. Meanwhile, though, thanks for sharing your perspective on furs as a long-time Alaskan resident!

  7. This is not about flatware, but I always like to get my two cents in. First, I love this post, not just for the advice, but because you received such a beautiful letter from Vinca.
    My grandmother made me a quilt when I was young. It was the ugliest thing you ever saw. Still, I cherished it because she not only made it, but let me pick the main color. (Perhaps not such a good idea, as it was the 70s and I picked lime green.) The scraps all came from clothes my mother had made me and my sisters when we were kids. Culottes. Mau-maus. The mother-daughter dresses that she made all four of us with more love than skill. We had to wear them with tights and my sister threw a tantrum every time. Also, I had gotten my friends and relatives to sign it and had embroidered over their signatures. I kept it in a closet because I didn’t want to wear it out.
    Until one day I stopped keeping it in a closet and put it on my bed. And I did wear it out. But before I wore it out I thought of my grandma every single time I saw it.

  8. I absolutely love this post! What a wonderful way to demonstrate the “right” way to share family treasures – no pressure, but plenty of good information to make an informed decision.

  9. I love this so much. Your organizer’s mind made you able to have a heartfelt conversation with your niece and make sure she wasn’t burdened by an unwanted gift. I hope people who read this post will gain that perspective and have honest talks with family members about inheritances and gifts. In the end, it’s not the thing that matters, it’s the relationships around it.

  10. Hazel, I loved the original post when I read it back in 2019, and got a little “vaklempt” reading Vinca’s response all over again.

    But I couldn’t be more pleased to read the update, not just because it solved that little mystery, but because your father’s ledger is a treasure trove all unto itself! Fifty-one cents for tooth power and candy. (Who even remembers tooth powder?!) $1.70 for groceries! Twenty-five cents for a pot-luck supper. I have a feeling that that little notebook might have some features that will serve as nuggets for blog posts for their own one of these days.

    Thank you so much for sharing your personal stories; they’re heartwarming and instructive!

    • I also have similar ledgers from my maternal Grandpa, including garden produce and egg sales. Maybe I’ll find something (similarities/differences) between the two? I’m glad you like my stories, Julie!

  11. Thank you for the update! I’m so pleased that Vinca now has your mom’s silverware and it’s really cool that you found out where it came from.

    I have two or more sets of silverware from my parents and in-laws in a wooden chest under my bed. I tried using it for a while but I soon tired of keeping it clean. I’m now thinking of having some of my mother-in-law’s pieces made into jewelry for her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters, but I keep forgetting to ask them if they’d like that. Thanks for reminding me!

  12. Wow hazel, this is such a great post! Great ideas, great advice and something every family should read! Thank you for sharing this interaction with us!!

  13. Hazel, how wonderful that you were able to add such a meaningful update to what was already a great story! I’m so thrilled that the flatware is now in Vinca’s hands and that you solved the mystery of where it came from. (Although the earrings would be way cool.)

  14. Hi Hazel! I’m happy that I have a reply after reading so many of your wonderful articles and blogs.

    I had an incident with some heirloom items in my life that I thought was amusing enough to share.

    One day last year, I was talking to my brother about things I have saved from my maternal grandmother. I mentioned the two mismatched dessert plates and the cup/saucer combos, all in different China patterns that don’t go with anything else we own.

    I’d grown fond of some of them, others I never really liked, but I have been safeguarding these four different, random, pieces of china for about 30 years.

    Guess what he said? “What are you talking about? Grandma never had anything like that! But I’ll ask Mom, I’m talking to her at lunch today.” Flabbergasted, I sent photos.

    He asked Mom; Mom agreed. Nobody has any idea why I thought these were my grandmother’s, including me. As you probably guessed, they’re not as beautiful as I used to think they were, and at least 2 out of 4 are in the donate pile now…more space in the China cabinet for things I love.

    • OMG, that is hilarious! I’m so glad you are donating the dishes you don’t like. It’s a good example of people saving things that weren’t necessarily important to their loved ones (and maybe weren’t even theirs), but also a good example about family communication. Since my dad recently died I have learned things that my brothers knew (mostly, so far, about my grandpa’s sports career) that I had no idea. Depending on our birth order, and who we spent time around, we all have different experiences of our families. Thanks for sharing your story, Carole!

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