Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

My father kept a treasure chest on the top shelf of his closet in my childhood home. It was a small trunk the size of a shoebox and inside were bibelots and baubles he’d collected over the course of his life — unusual coins, arrowheads from his youth, a pocket-watch, miniature framed portraits, medals from his time in the military, opal-studded stick pins too hazardous for our small fingers, and — my favorite — a tiny silver jumping jack whose arms and legs jutted out if you tugged the pull string on its underside. He’d bring down the treasure chest with metered sparing so as to ensure it never lost its mystique, and we’d pore over the memorabilia, arguing over who got the jumping jack first. These novelties felt otherworldly, other-generational. I think now of the childhood keepsakes I might bequeath my children — American Girl dolls, Barbies, that enormous shopping bag filled with Beanie Babies, my collections of yellowing Baby Sitter’s Club books and Nancy Drews — and all lack the quaint luster and hefty redolence of my father’s treasures. But then again —

In my bedside drawer: a rosary from my grandfather on my First Communion and a thick gold cross pendant with my great Aunt Jennie’s name and the date of her Confirmation — relics of faith that have accompanied me at the births of my both of my children. A vintage tortoise barrette that reads ELAINE in fading gold script — my mother’s first name. On my bedside table, a blown glass Magpie figurine from a college girlfriend, a small limoges trinket box from my grandmother. Elsewhere in the apartment, the rabbit’s foot Mr. Magpie inherited from his father that nearly tore my heart out of my body; a traditional French enameled house placard numbered 18, Mr. Magpie’s jersey number as a high school baseball star; portfolios of treasured letters and prayer cards and photographs. The butterfly-embroidered cardigan that belonged to my grandma; the boater hat that belonged to my dapper grandad. A strange obelisk-shaped marble bookmark that once belonged to my father-in-law. A framed recipe for pierogis in the old-fashioned hand of Mr. Magpie’s grandmother.

The other day, I shared some good news with my sister, and I caught her wiping away happy tears on my behalf.

It is good to be loved, I thought, my heart in my throat.

Our apartment, then: a menagerie of artifacts of love. I think about this now and my father’s treasure chest sits in a different light. The arrowheads — always, I suddenly remember, accompanied by stories of my father’s adventures and misadventures with his brother, honey-sweet and golden through the lens of nostalgia. The stick pins, the pocket watch: bagatelles and bequests from loving family members. Even the medals: love of country, love of brothers.

If you need a pick-me-up today, consider spending a few minutes looking through that drawer where you stuff photos and birth announcements, or that jewelry box filled with knickknacks, or that old hat box of letters. Because I sit here this morning and look around my apartment and realize I am surrounded by curios of kindness. I think:

It is good to be loved.


+On planting trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit.

+More musings on family inheritances.

+This $120 side table is so good.

+The shape of this floral dress is SO fun.

+Wicker bunnies for your Easter table. (More spring tabletop finds here!)

+This dress is gorgeous.

+Hand-embroidered sweaters for little ones — sweet gift for a new baby.

+Attractive and reasonably-priced swimming trunks for gents in great colors.

+Fun tiered white dress (the back!)

+This top is loud, fun, and fetching.

+Tiny Levis for your little man.

+Loungewear I can get behind.

+These washable (!) flats are so cute!

+I love a striped tee — and these are $12 and come in fantastic colors.

+A little gingham dress that looks like it’s straight out of the 1940s, in a good way. So winningly retro!

+Gorgeous hand-painted pitcher.

+More recent home and garden finds.

+The $10 padded headband you didn’t know you desperately needed.

+Adorable pajamas in three great prints.

+How cute is this dog pillow for lost teeth?!

+Into the cropped exercise tank at the moment.

+Sensory play for little ones.

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8 thoughts on “Memorabilia.

  1. I loved this post! I, too, have a little selection of family heirlooms that bring back floods of memories. They are priceless! So many of mine are in the jewelry realm (and not only fine jewelry!) โ€” I hope to be able to pass them on one day ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. I think about legacy and what Iโ€™ll hand down to my children all the time! I remember with so so much joy receiving dresses and dolls and special treasures from my grandparents. Youโ€™re right – it truly is a mood lifter to go around and spend a moment cherishing these things. I am trying very hard to save the special stuff and purge the rest!

    1. Oh yes – you bring up such a good point. So hard to figure out where to draw the lines between junk and treasures – ha! If you catch me on a sentimental day (such as the one where I wrote this post), GOOD LUCK. I’ll be saving every stray sketch from my daughter and threadbare sock my children have ever worn.


  3. We downsized from our house of 20+ years about 4 years ago and the packing process was an archaeological dig that unearthed several such small keepsakes, and in fact allowed us to curate our own memorabilia into a much more meaningful collection. Isn’t it amazing that the smallest thing, such as your father’s arrowhead, can unleash enormous stories/memories/lessons? I have a few such items from my own grandmother and parents and the stories of them are what I treasure. Has me thinking about how to pass them along to our own grandchildren. What would your father advise, I wonder? Lovely thoughts for a Thursday… xo H

    1. Hi Heidi – I will ask him! But two things I have observed him doing — first, he is wonderful at documenting in general and has in fact privately published a book on all of our grandparents to document the details and stories of their lives. What an incredible gift for us to be able to keep all of those memories alive, clear, etc. Second, he has been doing Zoom sessions with all his grandkids. One was about the four different countries in which our families have roots — and though it wasn’t specifically about my grandparents, a lot of little stories/memories emerged in the presentation. So cool to see them transmitted!


  4. Oh, this reminds me of those very special times I was allowed to play with my mother’s hand made paper dolls. What a treat it was! She has lots of dolls; ladies, men, children and babies! They had many intricate clothes and were so much fun! I just pulled them out a few days ago and they just took me right back to my childhood. So very special!

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