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Family Heirloom Documentation: A little girl’s afternoon on a silver platter

July 8, 2011

Family Heirlooms can play a big role in recording personal legacy stories. Here, one woman describes riding two trolley cars to shop on the Grand Concourse in New York at the beginning of the Great Depression

Ten fragile crooked hands reached to the back of the third shelf and pulled a wrapped package out of the closet, years of dust accumulating on family sentimentals came trailing behind.

“Unwrap it, dear. I want to show you something. Hold it carefully.”

Her smile went way back. You could see it in the way her hands gingerly touched the edge of this 15-inch dish, circling it several times.  It had been wrapped in a cloth bag made from old garments decades earlier.  An elegant green cut crystal platter, it is edged in sterling silver with scrolls of vines intertwined with cosmos and daffodils (her  favorite).  It is in remarkable shape considering its age.  No dents or scratches.  The cut of the crystal gives the center of the platter a star burst effect, which is beautiful in natural light.

“This was such a fun afternoon, “she said. Her voice picked up steam as she began to tell the story. “I can still remember the smell of the trolley car wires overhead. They made a distinctive burning smell that I could still smell on my clothing hours later. Oh, it made me sick. The trolley cars would rock back and forth all the way downtown. Mixed with the smell from the overhead wires, I almost vomited the entire way there. I was green.

“Both my grandmothers – young widows at the time – took me to the Grand Concourse in New York to go shopping for the day.  We took two trolley cars to get there. It was an outing for them and for me, too. It was a big exciting “to do” in those days.  It also gave my mother a break while she was taking care of my little brother.”

The Grand Concourse, which was originally known as the Grand Boulevard and Concourse when it officially opened in 1909, was the first major thoroughfare in the Bronx in New York City. Built during the height of the City Beautiful movement, it was modeled on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, but is considerably larger, stretching four miles in length, measuring 180 feet across, and separated into three roadways by tree-lined dividers. Some minor streets do not cross the Concourse.

The original road stretched from the Bronx Borough Hall at 161st Street north to VanCortlandt Park.  By the time she was five years old, Yankee Stadium opened down the hill from the Concourse Plaza Hotel at 161st Street and Lowe’s Paradise Theater – one of the largest movie theaters in New York City at the time – was in the planning stages.

A simple crystal platter with a personal history

“This was right at the start of the Great Depression. My grandmothers would love to take me downtown to shop and talk,” she said.  “There would be push carts all along the streets where people would sell their possessions and other goods.  I can still see my grandmothers, both dressed in all black, because they were mourning, always mourning, with their little pocketbooks going up to these pushcarts.  There was a lot of negotiating going on. Sometimes they would struggle with the language. I think they paid 50 cents for this platter and, still, they thought it was too much money.

“We had this at home for years. My parents used it in the dining room.”

She circled the tray’s edge again several times with her fingers, as if she could still feel the hands of her Nonna and Nanna holding their victorious shopping treasure. Her eyes and her smile were way off in the distance while she was looking straight at me.

The platter’s real value is in its legacy: A little girl holding the hands of both grandmothers while shopping flea market style at the start of the Great Depression in New York City. The most pleasant of memories – a moment of history, our personal history – can be relived through the simplest story of family heirlooms.

BONUS:

Here are some more cool facts about the Grand Concourse in New York City, courtesy of Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Concourse_%28Bronx%29

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Larry Wall permalink
    July 12, 2011 1:26 pm

    What a beautiful and touching story of a woman reliving a cherished childhood memory. This is not a story of finding a lost family treasure dripping with historical significance, but it is a story that we all can relate. Our aging family members have these wonderful snapshots in time that no longer exist, and will disappear if we don’t take the time to put it down in writing. Even if it’s just a note in their own handwriting as to the origin of our own “silver platter.”

    • July 13, 2011 6:13 pm

      Larry,

      This is so true. I have a Family Heirloom Documentation program with my business that helps people record these memories to supplement their legacy writing. It also can be used to supplement legal wills, donor intentions, sales, insurance or estate planning and distribution. What I love about family heirloom legacy writing is the pure joy of story telling. Every generation has its own culture and sometimes that gets lost with the next generation. Take any old appliance in your home and suddenly it has a story to tell.

      Thank you,
      Mary

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