Recently, KQED Forum asked listeners: Do you have a treasured possession from your family?
"What's an object you treasure, that you'd be devastated if you lost?" asked host Mina Kim. "Maybe a family heirloom — a portrait, a wedding dress, a chess set linking generations — that speaks to who our families are? Or maybe something you're hoping to pass down someday?"
The answers resulted in a conversation between Kim, New Yorker magazine staff writer Hua Hsu and visual artist Ari Bird about the significance of heirlooms.
Bird noted that sometimes the objects that become heirlooms are unexpected, saying, "These are objects that their loved ones actually used, and maybe they didn't intend necessarily for those to be the heirlooms right there."
"Those are, I think, the objects that many of us are drawn to — that have that meaning," said Bird.
One listener, Ian, commented on KQED Forum's Instagram that his abuela gifted him her brother's stamp collection. It had stamps from all over the Americas and some from Europe, dating back through the 1930s.
Another listener, Beth, wrote that her favorite heirlooms were her dad's fountain pen and his bamboo fly-fishing rod. She wrote that those had previously been gifted to her father himself when he graduated university during the Great Depression.
We ultimately received so many answers about family heirlooms from listeners that they couldn’t all fit into the hour-long KQED Forum show, so we’ve compiled more of your stories here.
A clear through line in all the responses? It's that our heirlooms, no matter how big or small, can help us feel closer to a loved one who is no longer with us — something that's often totally disconnected from the actual monetary worth of an object. Or as KQED Forum listener Cassandra put it: "Isn't it funny that our most valued objects have little value?"
Submissions have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
As I grew up, I always loved a ring my grandmother wore with multiple diamonds. When she passed, it was going to be broken up so that my half-sisters could each have a piece of it. They voted, unbeknownst to me, that since I was the oldest girl, I should receive it.