One of my very favorite family heirlooms is the glass oil lamp my maternal grandmother gave me. Her German-born mother had originally owned the lamp. The story passed on to me was that my great grandmother, Amelia Meyer, purchased the lamp from the Montgomery Ward Catalog in 1907. Not long afterwards, the family of five left their ranch in South Dakota for the milder climate of the Willamette River Valley in Oregon. The family evidently had enough of the hard, cruel winters of South Dakota. The lamp was hand carried on board the locomotive train as it headed west, to their new life.
As I hold this lamp in my hands, I can’t help but think back about the life this old oil lamp has lived. And how it has been connected to my family for over one hundred years.
I imagine this lamp sitting on a primitive, hand cut, wooden table in that ranch house near Sturgis, South Dakota. I imagine my ancestors sitting around its glowing light poring over maps of the ranch, eating simple but filling meals together, or using its light to carefully tend to a sick child in the middle of a cold winter’s night.
I’ve seen many oil lamps sitting on shelves in antique shops near my home. I wonder who their owners were. But all I know is what that little white price tag tells me. It’s cold, and empty, and leaves me wanting to know more.
Luckily, my family’s oil lamp sits on a wooden dresser in my bedroom. It connects me to those that came before me and contributed to the woman I am today. My oil lamp may not create light anymore, but it serves as an everlasting beacon to the family history I cherish.
What family heirlooms have been entrusted into your care?
What stories were you told about them?
We’d love to hear from you!