Concluding instalment of the two-part serial: Heirlooms – Old Habits Die Hard
Whenever we travel to countries where we have consolidated friendships, we often get the wonderful chance to attend parties. To be honest, when I am away from home, I would rather be a guest there than a host.
Some fifteen years ago, attending a dinner party in the house of a Singapore businessman I know in a professional capacity, I had the opportunity to see some fine examples of old walnut, and mahogany cabinets of his Indonesian ancestors, dating back to the 18th century.
Whenever I popped over to Singapore, a country of gentle memories for me, we would set aside business interests and shared wonderful dinner time when he would bring his personal histories up to date. A sparkling personality, whenever he spoke, he had that confident reassuring voice you feel when an aircraft pilot speaks before the take-off.
Once, I got so engrossed in the history of Dutch Batavia and romance of each cabinet (couple of them were in marquetry) explained by my friend that our earlier conversation about Australian Aboriginal breast-plates was completely overridden in his talk. It was real pleasure to closely see those lovely “conversation pieces” and perceive how his narrations about family possessions developed as an acute reminder of the joys and fascinations of collecting.
Romance and antique collecting go hand in hand. Speaking about Fort Cochin in our local grounds, an area which had experienced Portuguese/Dutch/English settlement since 1500s, old reputed (especially Anglo-Indian) families of Fort Cochin once had many valuable possessions reminiscent of that era.
These heirlooms had pride of place in their living room as something that is functional and to enhance the home and status. Many early family heirlooms such as old furniture, Christian figures, wall carvings, photo frames, porcelain, books, bric-a-brac, have, over the years, been lost due to negligence, lack of proper antique restorers, shifting of residence or on the open market – some of which can still be found in those local don’t-touch-or-we’ll-make-you-pay sort of places in Jew Town. However, for most of such families, besides the traditional recipes from that bygone era, a Bible or framed photos of ancestors, family photo albums or a wedding dress or similar has always retained their charm as heirlooms.
Having recognised the value of their possessions in context with the settlements, I believe there are still those few who had refrained from throwing out a potential pot of gold. They have retained them for their descendants in perpetuity.
In the future, those items must become worth more for sheer rarity, apart from its association with our past. Who knows what things scorned today will be tomorrow’s highly prized?
The possessions in our home which we consider precious could not all be of great monetary value but nevertheless remain priceless to us. One of the near recent additions is an early 19th century Bible, quite bulky and slightly soiled, which we acquired from an antique seller in Portobello Road near Notting Hill Gate in London.
Even though we had to pay through the nose to acquire it, that was less worrying compared to the effort it took to bring it home to Cochin since, during that trip, we had to traverse in a pre-scheduled journey by Eurotrain to Paris, and to Milan, to Padua, to Florence, to Rome and home via Dubai. Having brought home under the stewardship of our daughter Bianca, its arrival here was met with such greater happiness that all those hardships seemed insignificant.
For ages, the Bible, the world’s most famous book, has not only earned its place as an important family heirloom, but has gained an accretion of ceremonial use. The last time we saw the images of couple of Bibles together was on the television when beautiful Melania Trump’s hands held two Bibles upon which her husband, President-elect Donald John Trump took the ceremonial oath of office as the 45th President of the United States of America, on January 20, 2017.
I understand that the bigger Bible, an 1853 King James version bound in burgundy velvet with metal trim, which rested directly on soon-to-be First Lady Melania’s right palm belonged to President Abraham Lincoln upon which he was sworn in for his first inauguration in 1861. The smaller one on the top belonged to President Trump, gifted to him by his beloved mother on June 12, 1955.
If that smaller Bible has not already been regarded as a family heirloom, the occasion of that swearing-in ceremony has no doubt catapulted its transition into one. Maybe, that Bible would eventually be passed over to one of President Trump’s children – probably to his youngest son.
The strength of a nation lies in the individual. And the people are progressive. Who can predict now the chance that, probably many years into the future, on a January 20th, that son himself may stand tall at the same spot where his father had stood at the west front of the Capitol in last January, with his left palm resting on his heirloom Bible.
Predictions are difficult. Going forward, only God knows who has more than a walk-on-part in history. So this is faith. Until next time, Jo
PS: Dear reader, this article about family heirlooms is definitely apolitical.
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)