Hand-me-downs and Heirlooms

Clothes and toys, recipes and jokes, advice and prejudice: we all have to handle all sorts of hand-me-downs every day. Tell us about some of the meaningful hand-me-downs in your life.

I still think of hand-me-downs with a shudder. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to all the teasing my brother and I didn’t tell our parents about. See, when I grew up my family clung to working-class by the skin of our teeth thanks entirely to a father who worked himself to the bone to keep food on the table and a mother who to this day is incredibly thrifty. Until I was in high school my mother shopped at consignment stores and accepted used clothes from who-knows-where because we just didn’t have the money for new, let alone the name brands that are absolutely crucial in a small-town junior high. I had clothes, and I was grateful to have them at all, but there’s something sticky and stinging about wearing a top the popular girl from Sunday school wore a few times before it ended up in a donation box. There’s something even stickier about said popular girl pointedly complimenting the top in front of everyone—the compliment could have been genuine, in hindsight, but that got lost at the moment (I’ve always read negative subtext into interactions with popular kids. It’s a habit I’m still actively trying to get rid of. And it’s hard).

I don’t like hand-me-downs.

But I have an old rosary that my great-grandmother sent to my mother, who passed it on to me, years ago. It’s huge and solid and not at all to my tastes—I like my rosaries delicate—but it’s precious because it’s all I have left of the feisty ninety-two-year-old who once reportedly lectured my father when he tried to cut up my spaghetti, because by god a two-year-old should get messy eating spaghetti; who crocheted everyone in the family a pair of slippers in our favorite color every Christmas; and who regularly sent my brother tins of persimmon cookies when we were little because he was her cookie monster. I don’t know how old it is, whether it’s been blessed, or even if it did more than sit on a shelf until some random impulse had her practically laminating the envelope she sent it in with tape. It’s the rosary I grab when I’m feeling sad or anxious or scared, because it was hers.

It’s not a hand-me down. It’s an heirloom.

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