Have you ever inherited something that’s not financially valuable? My Grandma Rudi (she was a born and raised San Franciscan) died when we lived in France. My Aunt Robin was charged with clearing out her house and as she did so, she set aside one box for me. What was in the box? Grandma’s Turtlenecks. And why did I get them? Well, I suppose because I pretty much wear turtlenecks every single day. I really love turtlenecks.
Robin mentioned she had a box for me and I was picturing 3 or 4 sweaters, but the box she brought over was big. It was quite a collection — like 30+ turtlenecks! From what I can tell by studying the labels and styles, Rudi would buy 4 or 5 in the fall — she’d choose one brand and pick different colors of the same line. When the weather warmed, she’d have them cleaned and store them in transparent plastic zipper pouches. I don’t know if she bought new ones every fall, or every few years, but clearly, Grandma Rudi loved turtlenecks too.
When Aunt Robin brought me the box, my kids and my teenage nieces went through the collection with me, everyone calling dibs on our favorites. Most are wool or cashmere. A few are cotton. Maybe 30 percent are mock turtlenecks.
Our house ended up with about half of the collection and they get a ton of wear. Ralph, Maude, Olive, and Betty all have Rudi’s sweaters in the closets. And I have a handful as well. They are loved and appreciated. We think of Grandma Rudi when we wear them.
We are not precious about them. We wash them gently and carefully and mend them as needed — just like I do the rest of our clothes. But I don’t think of them as heirlooms and I would much rather they get worn like crazy right now than store them for the next generation.
I was not expecting to inherit these sweaters. I knew Rudi liked turtlenecks but I didn’t know she’d kept a collection of them or that Aunt Robin had set them aside with me in mind. In fact they didn’t end up at my house till years after Rudi died. If they disappeared right now I would miss them, but only a little — not because I feel sentimental about them, but just because they’ve become a standard part of my wardrobe. I’m really grateful that Aunt Robin set them aside for me, and at the same time, if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known they existed and would not have known to miss them.
It makes me think about what sort of possessions — if any — I want to leave for my kids after I’m gone. My instinct is to die with nothing; to give every item that’s even vaguely interesting away before I go, so no one has to sort through my stuff, and there’s no chance my kids (or future grandkids?) will argue about something I’ve left behind.
The idea of my kids or grandkids arguing about anything I own makes me sad — and also makes me roll my eyes. None of it is that awesome, I already want to tell them from my grave. None of it is worth fighting about.
I suppose it’s different if we’re talking about something worth a lot of money. A valuable painting or a luxury watch or an extraordinary piece of jewelry. A big financial windfall can change a life. But most “stuff” in our homes isn’t worth much at all, and even the items we saved up for — like a sofa or a really nice outfit — they lose value day-by-day.
What about you? What do you want to leave behind? What do want your kids to inherit? Have you ever had to go through your grandparents’ or parents’ belongings after a death? Was there family drama as everyone divided the goods? Did you have to negotiate arguments about valuable stuff? Or arguments about everyday objects like turtlenecks?
Did you ever find yourself feeling jealous of a particular object, and then realize you didn’t actually care about the object, but were just caught up in the moment-of-claiming-what’s-yours? And how much is about expectations? Is it better to inherit something when you weren’t expecting to? Or is it better to know exactly what you’re going to inherit? I’d love to hear your stories.