Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Color Collaborative: February: Precious



This is not my precious thing. By that, I mean it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to my son and I am its trusted guardian. Sometimes I wish I were not; it's extremely fragile and is, in fact, falling apart. I'm afraid to touch it. I have it tucked away and I hardly ever take it out. It's a family heirloom, passed through six generations so far, a tiny leather-bound copy of the New Testament of the Holy Bible.


The binding is torn and is attached by only a small strip of very fragile leather. The leather is faded, cracked and dry but the gilt imprint shines. The leather was once supple and smooth, a handsome little book for a young boy. It was purchased, and gifted, in Ohio in 1887. The giver, my husband's great-great-grandmother, and the recipient, her three-year-old son, were Presbyterians. They were devout followers of their Scottish ancestors' faith. What were 19th-century Presbyterians like? I'm picturing austerity, simplicity, refinement. I'm picturing dark clothing, long Sunday meetings, a large but plain meal afterward. A devotion to hard work, good manners, studiousness. A comfortable life but not a fancy one. In my mind, 19th-century American Protestantism looks like this book.



The flyleaf has been inscribed. The first child to receive this book, CBH, was my husband's great-grandfather. He gave it to his eldest grandchild, my husband's uncle, CWH. He is my father-in-law's elder brother. CWH never had any children of his own. My husband's elder brother died at age seventeen. It must have seemed unlikely that my husband would be the one to produce the first grandchild but here we are. The book was given to my son when he was about three years old. This has not been inscribed in the book. We've all been afraid of damaging it. I may try, though. I think it would be nice. The facing page, which I think is called the colophon, has pencil scribbles from some long-ago child. I don't normally condone writing in books but I'm glad for it this time.


Inside is the only bit of color, a green grosgrain-ribbon bookmark decorated with an illustration of Christ. It's pasted onto the ribbon and is peeling at the top edge. I'm told by past keepers of the book that the ribbon has always been in it, at least as far back as 1950, when its last living recipient got it. I suppose it could be original, from 1887. I hope so. I'm careful with it. The edges are curled and faded and a bit frayed. The part that stays inside the book is darker, and smoother. The sticker is hardly faded at all, Christ's robes wine-colored, a crisp white stole around His shoulders. The sheep flanking Him are finely detailed, their fleeces snowy. He stands amid detailed rocks and plants with a clear sky behind Him. He is color and light in a drab little book with miniscule print and tissue-thin pages.


Now this precious little book belongs to my son. He has not been raised in a church-going family, though we do read Bible stories and we celebrate Christian holidays as well as some Jewish ones, in a nod to my own mixed-faith heritage. He has seen this book a few times and he thinks it's interesting. It stays with me for safekeeping, wrapped in old cotton Anne Klein scarf, tucked into the back corner of my underwear drawer with other treasures: letters written to me by my husband, my son's baby teeth in individual, marked envelopes (my daughter's soon to join them), my newborns' hospital hats and bracelets. I don't know who will receive this little book next, or when, but I plan to let my children handle that when the time comes. For now, I'm proud to keep it safe for them, a slice of family history and, hopefully, their own future.

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Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below: 

Annie at Annie Cholewa 
Sandra at Cherry Heart 
CJ at Above the River
and February's guest poster, Sarah at mitenska
 
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.

31 comments:

  1. Oh wow this is really something to cherish and to safeguard...
    But I really think you should inscribe your son's name in the book - he is the official owner of it for many years to come, so...

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  2. This is really precious, something to treasure and really look after. We don't have any family heirloom that goes as far back as this. You're so lucky, especially your son. X

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  3. What a beautiful treasure Jennifer, how lovely to see it passed down through the family and to be a part of its history. CJ xx

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  4. That is a precious gift indeed, how wonderful that it has been passed down through the generations.

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  5. I agree that you should add your son's name to the book, for history's sake - I don't envy you having to do it on something so fragile and precious though! x

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  6. I do hope that you can find a way to add your sons name - and your husbands name if it is not there already - to this treasure so that future generations will remember and know them too. It is a real treasure of family history to have and keep and send forwards whilst looking back too. xx

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  7. It is scary, being custodian of such treasures. But wonderful too that you have this piece of family history.
    S x

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  8. What a wonderful link to the past! Like you say, black and austere presbyterianism in the book, but such a blast of green bright colour tucked inside; and a treasure to keep safe as long as possible, I think.

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  9. What a beautiful heirloom, definitely something to be treasured. I think inscriptions in books are wonderful things when they're being passed down the generations like this.

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  10. What a lovely thing to treasure. I love the history attached to such items. We have a similar sized old bible Mike had from his mothers side of the family. Not quite as old as yours but he is certainly attached to it x

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  11. Jennifer how lovely! A wonderful heirloom and link to past generations. Jxx

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  12. A book is a wonderful family heirloom to own. Your son is probably a bit too young right now to appreciate it, but some day he will look at it and wonder about all the generations who went before him.

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  13. A very delicate family heirloom, as well as a precious part of family history. I enjoyed reading about its beginnings, and am glad that it is in your own family's protective care.

    Poppy

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  14. What a wonderful story, and yes a very precious book. One way or another all we collaborators, without any consultation, have written about family. The most precious things really are the closest to home.

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  15. I love how much history is contained in those scribblings and the notes in the cover. Definitely something to cherish. When he's older he'll be so glad you saved and treasured this book for him. xx

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  16. What a wonderful family heirloom! Isn't your husband a calligrapher? I think it would be nice that your son's name be added using a fountain pen in a Spencerian script. But maybe it should be written in current handwriting as that would make it more current? But a very special thing and I'm glad you shared it with us. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  17. Such a wonderful history tied up in this precious book. Thanks for sharing it Jennifer. I too am the keeper of my eldest son's family heirloom: the gold watch which belonged to his great-great grandfather after whom he is named. My grandmother tried to get my then teenage brother to pawn it after her mind started to grow addled with dementia and she believed she had no money to eat. He gave it to Lewis last year and it now sits in my top drawer alongside his baby teeth and the beads I exchange each for along with a shiny gold coin. How I would like to peek into a few other top drawers and see what history lies hidden there! x

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  18. It's a lovely heirloom for your son Jennifer, he will appreciate it's significance when he's older and treasure it. My grandmother gave me an old bible when I was a child I put it away for safe keeping and had forgotten about it I must get it out and have a look at it again. :) xx

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  19. A beautiful treasure indeed, Jennifer. :o)

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  20. The small bible may not be of interest to your boy now but I am sure it will be treasured later. Family heirlooms are wonderful, aren't they? My side of our family is what I call an 'Ikea family', new and ideally space saving is good. Maybe that is a bit harsh but there aren't even many family photographs! My husbands family on the other hand are hoarders. The great grandfathers screw driver is still in use, toys from generations ago are played with and I am the keeper of the engagment ring, to be passed down to my oldest when he decides to get married. Have a lovely weekend.

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  21. Thank you for sharing - it reminded me that I have some of my great grandmothers prayer books tucked away for safe-keeping and passing on. So precious and so fragile. x

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  22. What a lovely keepsake. You'd mentioned the Scottish Presbyterians - very close in style to Irish ones - started here in the mid 1600s. I made a programme recently about the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland and I think if you closed your eyes while they sang, the centuries would peel away.

    They sing only the Psalms and have voices only - pitch is set by a tuning fork and the first notes 'lined' by the precentor. I don't have any tracks here, but this is pretty close - if you ignore the wobbly video and just listen - think it's a church in the USA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcZQlmvtZ7E

    The Irish reformed presbyterians are serious minded folk - but definitely not dour! They're really warm and welcoming - and that was before they knew I was making a programme!

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  23. What a precious heirloom, something for your son to keep and treasure. I would be very tempted to write his name inside it too,
    Marianne x

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  24. What a beautiful, precious treasure. I loved hearing the history behind it, too. Your son will definitely appreciate it someday.

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  25. a lovely family treasure indeed x

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  26. My wife comes from Jewish heritage and I from Christian - The cross of cultures are interesting as we celebrate both too

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  27. What a wonderful family treasure. I'm sure he'll really appreciate it :) xx

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  28. What a wonderful treasure! I have a small white bible that was given to me when I was 6, so it's pretty old....lol! I have another one that that belonged to my Great Grandmother, and it is actually in pretty good shape. I do keep it somewhere safe and in the dark. If you do decide to write something in your treasure, you might want to use an archival-safe pen just to be safe.

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  29. I loved this post, Jennifer - so beautifully and sympathetically written. Such a wonderful family heirloom to have and I'm sure your son will learn its significance and treasure it too. C19th Scottish Presbyterianism was very much as you describe it. Sundays were devoted to church and family - only the most essential work for the adults and no play for the children.

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  30. This is such an interesting take on the theme of color as it relates to your precious, family heirloom, Jennifer. Having owned a used book store and having grown up attending a Presbyterian church, I especially appreciate what you have shared. I suspect you are correct in your conjecture about the color, the tone of behavior associated with 19th century Protestantism. I love your appreciation of the contrasting colors of the bookmark and the book and that bookmark image of Christ, "He is color and light in a drab little book...." My practice of faith has its drab and serious moments, but is highlighted with my understanding of Christ who inspires me to colorful expressions of Jewish and Christian customs of worship which are precious to me, helping me feel akin to you and your life
    experiences :-) xx

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  31. How lovely to have such a precious family heirloom! x

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