Debra Darvick: Heirlooms of Thoreau, Whitman, Seurat and …

I was never one of those kids who played house all the time. I didn’t have rafts of baby dolls whom I fed little plastic bottles filled with pretend milk before putting them to bed in shoebox cribs lined with fabric scraps borrowed from my mother’s sewing box. I never gave future children much thought. Except now I realize that I did—in the things I began to acquire or create over the years.

When I was 11, my mother taught me how to embroider, giving me a kit that featured a quote by Thoreau printed on a piece of off-white linen. No pioneer alphabet samplers for my literary mother. Only Thoreau would do. There was a rainbow of embroidery floss, a tiny scissor, a round wooden hoop, and needles I quickly grew to respect. I loved decoding the semaphore of squiggles instructing me which birds were to have blue bodies and grey wings, which had brown beaks and which ones yellow. It was never framed when I finished it, but I saved that embroidery year after year somehow knowing that when I had a child, it would hang in her room. It did and still does, above Emma’s dresser.

I embroidered a second canvas after coming across a Walt Whitman poem while doing research for a children’s publisher.  My mother’s literary influence, no doubt.  I loved the poem’s spirit and the poet’s celebration of childhood. It, too, became part of the for-future-children trousseau. When my son Elliot was born, I chose a bright red frame, and hung it on the wall above the foot of his crib,  so that it would be the first thing he would see when he woke up. I just love that last line—the singer, the song and the sung—and suppose I chose the poem with the hope that my children would embody Whitman’s words.

I spent my junior year abroad and of all the things I brought home, the one that remains (aside from a love of speaking French and great memories) is a Seurat reproduction of circus performers.  I was transfixed by it, as I was by so many masterpieces in the Jeu de Paume at the time.  I bought quite a few reproductions, but the Seurat is the only one I held on to down through the years, knowing I would frame it for the future children I rarely thought about. It hung in the kids’ bathroom for years before making its way down to a wall in the playroom.

But the one purchase that still startles me for its extravagance is a gold and diamond ring I bought with birthday money my grandparents gave me when I turned 22. I had just moved to New York and was staying with my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Marty on the Upper West Side, job hunting and trying to start my adult life. I was living on the tip money I had earned through a summer of waitressing. New York was costlier than I had imagined. But there was an art fair on Columbus Avenue. And I had been firmly instructed not to put my birthday gift toward future rent or subway rides. The irregularly shaped hammered gold band with three small diamond chips in it cost exactly what my grandparents had given me. The jeweler was a cute hippie with dark brown eyes and a killer smile. How could I not? When I slipped the ring on my finger, it fit perfectly.

And again the thought, I will give this to my daughter one day. It fits her perfectly, too.

If an heirloom is something handed down through the generations, what do you call treasures gathered for a generation that hasn’t yet come into being? A prayerloom? And what about you, loyal readers? Is there a ‘prayerloom’ in your closet or drawer? Something that you have tucked away for a future child or grandchild? Share a photo and a few (or more) words about the item — its history, whom you are saving it for and why. It would be fun to create a semi-regular feature around these treasures.  Send your contribution to [email protected] and we’ll see where this takes us. Somewhere special, I have no doubt.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 thoughts on “Debra Darvick: Heirlooms of Thoreau, Whitman, Seurat and …

  1. debbie valencia

    I turned 16 in 1976 and my southern belle grandmother gave me her single solitaire diamond ring from her teen years. Later she passed on to me her spinster sister’s , the second set into an onyx. My fiance felt honored to use my two diamonds when creating my engagement ring. At about 25 years later we recreated them into a ring with another stone-an emerald from his father’s Colombian homeland. The original bands were sold to jeweler to offset costs. My grandmother’s prayer loom for me was also her belief too that I would expand her love as I cherished the two small sister diamonds . What an honor to feel there are no better diamonds but these two for me!

  2. suzy farbman

    What a lovely column. I have a gold bracelet from my mother. After I’d worn it for a while, I said to my sister: “I wonder if Mom bought this as an antique, or if she inherited it.” She asked if I had checked the inside. I hadn’t but promptly did. Inside was my grandmother’s maiden name. I took the bracelet to the jeweler and had my mother’s initials and mine engraved inside. (There wasn’t room for our names.) Now whenever I am with my children or grandchildren, I wear that bracelet. It makes me feel as though Mom and Grandmere (she, too, loved all things French) are with us. Prayerloom–nice concept. Thanks.

Comments are closed.