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The well-worn locket doesn’t look fancy or expensive, yet the contents echo the story of long lost family of a different place and time. Although the exterior is slightly battered and the interior starting to fade with the hands of time, it’s still in remarkably good shape.

The exterior bears a floral like pattern and there are three tiny “stones” on the front side.

The age and original owner of the locket are still in question, yet a good guess would be that the locket was passed down through generations in my mother’s family. From small town Czechoslovakia to numerous cities in Canada to metropolitan Toronto, the locket is now in my hands and I claim responsibility as “keeper” to pass on the story.

As its current owner, I cannot help but ask the questions – How many people wore the locket? Where was it originally bought? How did it end up in Canada? Is the story one of tragedy or hope? Or perhaps both?

Considering the interior contents, a good guess would be that the locket was owned (at least at one point) by my mother. It contains two crude cut outs in the shape of a heart that appear to be cut from an old photograph. One cut out is an old haunting black and white picture of my grandfather (my mother’s father) who unfortunately died in a car accident about 7 months before I was born. After the war, he was working as a District Attorney in Germany and I am told a woman hit him with her car. Having taken place on a rainy day, apparently the incident was an accident. I guess we will never really know the truth. His ‘presence’ today in a treasured family artifact resembles a kind of surreal ghost of the past urging us not to forget the sacrifices made during an extremely turbulent time in history.

I know little about my grandfather except that he was working as a lawyer in Czechoslovakia when he met my grandmother. Their story sounds straight out of Hollywood, as she was his secretary and well…one thing led to another. They got married and had one child – my mother.

Although I never knew him, I hear good things about my grandfather. He was a smart man – highly educated, introverted and a hard worker. Somehow during all the chaos synonymous to world wars and frequent invasions of Czechoslovakia and its then associated borders, he managed to study law at Charles University in Prague. Being wartime, everything my family owned was taken from them and they were left with little. He left Czechoslovakia in 1948 and ended up in Germany as a refugee. He (Opa) ended up in a German labour camp (was forced to glaze bathtubs) and lost a lot of weight. The exact details of what happened in between this and his position as a D.A. is not known to my mother, a fact that adds a lot of mystery to the story of the man in the locket.

To the outside observer the locket appears to have little value. Yet while its monetary value is most likely negligible, its intrinsic and emotional value are priceless. Think of where this locket has been. Of the kind of conditions it has lived through. What are the chances that this locket survived all these years and eventually made it to Toronto for me to hold on to and cherish?

As an admirer of history and photography, I asked my Mom if I could keep a few (very old) black and white photos of her family. The photos have the classic look of people in the 1900’s and up. One of these photos is a picture of my grandmother’s parents posing in a Czech studio. From the clothing and suspected timeline, I would say that the photo was taken sometime in the early 1900’s. A studio imprint on the front of the photo says it was taken in Vsetin – which is about 300 km from Prague.

What’s intriguing is that, in the photo, my great grandmother is wearing the same locket that I’m now holding in my hands almost a century later.

While exact details will remain a mystery, this treasured artifact succeeds in bringing history to life. I feel as if I am a family curator of sorts charged with the responsibility of ensuring that we never forget the story of key players in our family history. For this is what artifacts do. Transcend time and space to pass on stories to future generations.

What artifacts or heirlooms are treasured in your family? Do you know their stories or are they still surrounded by mystery?

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