The best gifts are ones that can be given again. Inspired by Edmund de Waal’s story of a gift he received from his uncle that contained a multitude of family memories, we put together a list of gifts that have traditionally been passed from one generation to the next.
Edmund de Waal inherited a collection of Japanese netsuke— finely carved wood and ivory miniatures animals from an Uncle. The only family heirlooms to survive the Nazis and World War II, de Waal is the fifth generation to inherit these carvings– a hare, a tiger, a rat- and his exquisitely written book, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, tells the story of his Jewish ancestors through the netsuke. It is a book exploring memories contained within objects.
I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers… and where it has been. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of the space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they have felt about it. I want to know what it has witnessed.
De Waal’s family memoir is a haunting story of the Ephrussi family’s journey from Odessa to Vienna and Paris. It is about loss and resilience, but it is also a book about inheritance and the giving of a gift from one generation to the next. In many cultures, gifts are given to be passed on. We’ve had the privilege of acquiring such gifts from around the world. While we don’t know whose hands they’ve been in and what they’ve witnessed, each one is special; they’re gifts that were given on occasions like weddings and births and were then re-gifted. They’re gifts to create memories with and gifts to pass down to the next generation.