Don was 13 when he found an old Epiphone acoustic guitar in his family basement and taught himself to play. Despite the limitations of the worn, 1940’s era instrument, it became his obsession. Within a few years Don was a bluegrass guitarist earning extra cash in college. Along the way he had upgraded to a new Gibson and relegated the old guitar back to his basement. There it stayed, forgotten, for another 25 years, until his parents downsized and gave the guitar back to him. Flooded with of nostalgia and curiosity, Don now asked about the guitar’s history. Where had it come from? How did his parents come to have it? Who played this? So many questions. “It was your uncle’s.” said Don’s father, who rarely spoke about the sibling killed in the Korean War. The news was a surprise. And sad: his talented uncle, life cut so short, had shown great promise as a bluegrass flat picker.
This talk with his father would be the first of many for Don to hear about family members he never knew. A father himself, Don was grateful to have learned his family’s story before it was too late. The day he pulled out the old Epiphone for his son, Don could tell him about the guitar’s former lives and the family members it touched.
All around us are objects that can prompt a family story about past loved ones. It could be a grandmother’s rolling pin or an old baseball—anything can take on the quality of a family heirloom –not for its material value, but for the stories and family histories they represent.