Tuesday, October 5, 2021

52 Ancestors - PRESERVATION: Stay or Go?

I like to think that my grandparents and grandaunts were preservationists, but maybe they just forgot to throw stuff away.

Stuff retrieved from my grandparents' attic

Did they really intend to save old textbooks, store receipts, property tax receipts, automobile payment records, and old letters? Hardly the stuff that made eBay famous. Did they think this stuff was inherently interesting or did they just forget they had it? Ironically enough, each worthless scrap of paper has inspired a story here on Jollett Etc. In doing so, a bit of history, some insight into my ancestors’ lives, a window into how things were back when have been preserved forever, whether it was my relatives’ intention or not.

The Jolletts were always rather sentimental, so I understand keeping SOME things like the beautiful pine corner cupboard, James Franklin Jollett’s fireside chair from his youth, a Victorian parlor lamp, and fine silver. Every room of my house has SOMETHING handed down from someone. Admittedly, many people feel burdened by family heirlooms. Too much obligation and fear of guilt. But I believe in LIVING with those heirlooms, not shoving them into an attic. I use my great-grandmother’s Ball jars for canisters, a milk can as a corral for mops and brooms, a feed scoop to hold remotes, and my great-grandmother’s fireplace grate as an outdoor planter.

I used to be a purist when it came to preserving family heirlooms but not anymore. I could have sanded and stained my childhood rocker for my first grandchild, but I decided to paint it instead. When tastes and standards change to favor natural wood, let HER strip the paint off like I have done to countless washstands and tables.

Before and After

A few months ago, I decided to paint a round pedestal table with three carved legs that my grandmother once had in her living room. Now it is a bedside table painted to coordinate with a new color scheme. It is not a GREAT table – in fact, it’s a little crooked – but it has a story. It is the table that held my grandmother’s little Christmas tree.

Before and After

This past week my husband and I decided that it was finally a good time to clean out the garage. It was easy deciding to get rid of 20 cans of paint, some rusted yard ornaments, wine festival glasses, an old crockpot, dry-rotted volleyball net, and broken lawn chairs. But what about those old trunks? And my childhood bicycle? Trunks – no problem – no sentimental value so off to the thrift store they went. But my bicycle? Nope. Can’t do it.

My bike - Rollfast from about 1960

The question of what to do with it was answered in a serendipitous moment when my daughter sent this photo of Miss A on her little bike. My comment was: It’s time for a new bike.

Miss A - 2021

New bike! That’s it – I’ll fix up my bike. New tires. New seat. That should do it. Or so I thought.

I took my bike to a shop that specializes in bike repair and restoration. From the reactions of the owner and his employee, you would have thought I had brought in a priceless relic from the pyramids. They were jealous that I still have my first (and only, actually) bike, and they were impressed at the condition given its age. While I had intended to purchase tires and a seat, they highly recommended an overhaul to remove old grease in order for the bike to “go back into service,” as they put it. 

A couple years ago when I wrote a story about learning to ride, I also thought out loud about what to do with this bike taking up space in the garage. I had considered using it as yard art allowing vines to grow on it. I’m glad I passed on that idea. Now in a couple weeks, my grandgirl will have a bigger bike to ride, one with a history and a story going back to her great-great grandfather who bought it and helped her grandmother learn to ride. 

I’ve come to realize that if something has a story, it is hard to let it go. Now what to do about this old croquet set missing two balls and half the wickets. . . .

Now and Before

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. 


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Wendy, I like your idea of refinishing old heirlooms for a fresh look yet no change to the stories and sentiments that keep them a part of your family's past. That little rocking chair is a special one with the new paint job!

  2. Please post a photo of the restored bike, I'm curious to see the makeover. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Like you, I am surrounded with family heirlooms and I can't imagine ever sending anything to the landfill. I'm quite sure it will happen when I'm gone but, thankfully, I won't know about it. I love the idea of repurposing your bike!

  4. Wahhh! So sentimental, sweet and lovely.