Artifacts

All Is Not Lost In Love And War

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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Lenzkirch: The "Not Quite" 100 Year Old Clock That Keeps On Ticking

Many objects offer a sense of reconnection with our past. It’s the experience we had with the object that invokes some sort of meaning. But what if an object has been passed down through generations with little information about the story behind it? Does it hold the same meaning even if it wasn’t originally your object?

The point is that even if an object wasn’t originally in your possession, it can still have some sort of “mystique” about it. Family artifacts can still be a part of your life even if they were passed down because at some point, it held meaning for someone in your family. It had a purpose, and in a way “carries” all the memories from this person’s former life. In fact, sometimes it’s the lack of story that creates a story.

Who saw it? Who owned it? Into whose hands did it pass? Why did they keep it? Why was it important to them?

As the keeper of the object, you can now give it a place of its own even if the story and/or meaning are undefined. By holding on to a family heirloom, you’re keeping a bit of history and are giving an object value that has somehow managed to transcend both time and space. It’s also a sign of respect that what mattered once to your family, also matters to you even in a totally different time.

My mother grew up in war torn Czechoslovakia and her family lost virtually everything they owned during the war. One of the items they owned (and managed to hold on to) was a wooden clock that they kept in their family home. It’s a Lenzkirch clock that, at the time, was the height of German design and craftsmanship. Lenzkirch, a small town in the German Black Forest region, housed a factory that produced the clocks from 1860 to 1932. While the clock’s ticking doesn’t last for days, it actually still works and has found a home on our dining room cabinet. When I wind it up, it seems quite haunting as the aging timepiece springs into action in what is I’m sure a shadow of its former self.

The scuffed back panel is no longer held together by four screws. Only one remains to hold the panel in place. Other than a small piece of wood missing from the front panel, everything else seems to be in order. Pretty extraordinary considering the estimated age of the clock. I wonder who was tampering with the clock, where the original screws went, why the clock was being tampered with and where it was when the panel was opened up?

Although my Mom is unsure as to the exact date of the clock, she remembers seeing it even as a child. She says it was her mother who kept the clock throughout her life in Czechoslovakia, then through her time in Germany – and eventually brought it with her to Canada where she kept it until her death in 1994. Looking at the timeline, my Mom figures it probably dates back to the 1920’s and, considering its importance to my grandmother, was most likely a wedding gift. Unfortunately with my grandmother no longer with us, we will most certainly never know the truth. All of which adds to the eternal story and mystique surrounding this unique and endearing family artifact.

 

Lenzkirch