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03/03/2011

Generation to Generation

Families pass things down to let their loved ones know they care. Whether you’ve got grammy’s big nose, dad’s bad temper, or Uncle Bernie’s alcoholism, chances are you’re in good familial company.

Along with the big noses, families sometimes pass down special things — tokens that carry special meaning, memories and stories for generations. It’s all in the family in this week’s featured stories from the First Person Museum online gallery. Check out what get passed down with tales from Philly storytellers Aaron, Lisa and Austin about their treasured heirlooms.

Come hear more First Person stories on the theme of “Family Ties” at our next StorySlam on Mach 14 at World Café Live. Doors open at 7:30, Slam starts at 8:30. $10, $8 for First Person Members.

My Pocket Knife
Aaron, Philly
Theme: Generation to Generation
Object Type: Stuff I Wear

I can’t remember when I got my first pocket knife or who gave it to me. It was probably my father, and it had to be in the early 60s as he died in 1965. It was also probably a Swiss Army knife. I’ve owned many, over the years; a couple of Buck knives, a few no-name folding knives, and several hunting knives in fancy leather sheaths. Those, in spite of their fantasy potential, always prove impractical. In the end it is the Swiss Army knife that has my undying loyalty.

I don’t have one story associated with one knife. I have almost fifty years of carrying these things around. They are part of who I am. Once, in a fit of self reinvention, I cut my long pony tail off with a pocket knife. One Thanksgiving I carved a 22 pound turkey for our dinner with 15 people using one – as no “real” knife could be found.

Tight security around air travel makes it tough to travel with one. Once I forgot the knife in my pocket until getting into a taxi on my way to the airport. I shoved it into a convenient park flower bed. It was there when I returned four days later.

I’m pretty selective about which Swiss Army knife to own. Some are so weighted with obscure tools they threaten the pocket of the most robust pair of jeans. I prefer a simple model with a blade, scissors, corkscrew, a few other tools, and the toothpick and tweezers. Countless splinters have been pulled from many hands with the pair in my pocket right now.

It makes me happy to know my daughter carries one.

Read Aaron’s official entry.

The Locket
Lisa, Philly
Theme: Generation to Generation
Object Type: Stuff I Wear

I found this locket rummaging through my grandmother’s guest bedroom when I was 12 years old. A notorious snoop, I took it to my grandmother and asked if I could have it. She told me that it belonged to Nanny, my grandfather’s mother. Nanny looks at the camera as her sister whispers into her ear. The opposite picture is her husband, my great grandfather.

I never met Nanny, she passed away shortly before my birth. I have been told many times that I resemble Nanny a great deal, and on a few occasions my grandmother has stopped me mid sentence, looking deep into my eyes, to say, “the way you said that, gestured, it was just like Nanny…” So, I grew up feeling very close to a woman I never met. It is like part of her is alive in me. I know her because I know myself.

Twelve years later I am visiting my grandparents and I ask them again about the locket. They squint at the pictures and tell me more about my great grandparents. I learned a new detail about the locket this time. The locket was given to Nanny by her husband. It is inscribed ‘25 to mark their first anniversary in 1925. They had a happy marriage, two sons, and passed away just weeks apart from each other. They didn’t meet me, but they knew I was on my way.

Read Lisa’s official entry.

Sad-Eye Genes
Theme: Generation to Generation
Object Type: Hand Made

This is a portrait of my Great-Grandmother–who I never knew. But there is a very striking feature to this picture–the sad, pensive look in her eyes. I vaguely remember my grandmother telling me about her and the portrait saying something like, “She looks like such a sad person, but she really wasn’t at all.” And I remember thinking that my grandmother was exactly the same way. I can’t recall ever seeing a picture of her truly smiling. Even in her wedding photo and in pictures of her holding her own children there is only at most a vague hint of a smile…maybe? And I wondered if this was a clue to a hereditary reason of why I also don’t like to smile in pictures, (or if it was my epic braces servitude that conditioned me to only smile with my mouth closed.) Though I’m still not completely comfortable smiling in every picture, I try to every now and then, not wanting to be remembered as a sad-looking person.

Read Austin’s official entry.

Read stories by other Museum contributors or upload your own at firstpersonmuseum.org.

-Becca Jennings

Upcoming Events
  • StorySlam: Overdoing it at Fringe Arts (Tickets on sale Dec. 3)
  • Date: December 18, 2018
  • Time: 8 PM
  • Venue: FringeArts
  • Location: 140 N Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19106