New Year’s Resolution: Take Ten Minutes (and Two Bucks) to Preserve Family History Forever

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

I’ve always loved radio. While I missed the so-called Golden Age of Radio in the 1930s and ‘40s, I’ve still always had the radio bug in me. From listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater with E.G. Marshall on my pocket transistor in my bedroom as a young boy to still enjoying “appointment radio” most Saturday evenings with Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, the medium has always called my name in a way television never has.
family heirloom, radio, heirloom registry, new year's resolution, houstory, family history

The large floor-model radio operated for several decades in the family-run hardware store in East Chicago.

I think that’s why my in-laws thought about me about 25 years ago when they acquired a 1930s-era radio from my mother-in-law’s grandfather. The large floor-model radio operated for several decades in the family-run hardware store in East Chicago, Indiana where it would have certainly played hundreds of Chicago Cub games, broadcast war news from Edward R. Murrow through Chicago’s CBS affiliate WBBM and alerted shoppers looking for a particular nut or bolt of the death of John F. Kennedy. My mother-in-law, now in her late 70s, says she remembers the radio well from when she was a young girl visiting the store.

The radio completed its service in the mid-1980s and was removed by my in-laws shortly before the old store was torn down.

The radio still works, but since it only plays AM radio well — which I have reason to listen to less and less — I don’t turn it on too often. Still, it is an attractive piece and it has been in our house since before both of our daughters were born.

For my daughters – who I’m not sure even know AM radio exists – it’s simply been a part of their day-to-day lives. It’s a place to drop their books, or to store our outgoing mail as they walk past it every day on their way out the front door.

I’ve touched on the story of the radio a few times, but let’s be honest, when you’re a teenager, family genealogy and stories about relatives — most of whom are now gone and they’ll never met — isn’t a high priority.

But, if they’re like most of us, someday it will be.

And our radio, like all family heirlooms, is a tangible, real — and touchable — piece of family history that brings to life a story in a way that simply looking at a family tree and seeing their great-great grandfather’s name “Joseph Wadas” never will.

Joseph was a first-generation immigrant from Poland who arrived in his late teens.  He is my daughter’s link to a big part of their family’s start in the “New Country,” and this radio came from the store that truly was part of his American Dream.  While I don’t know the exact date the radio was acquired, I presume his fingers worked the well-worn dials and permanent radio presets (it looks like radio station WLS was a particular favorite, as you can barely just make those call letters out.) Over the years, those same dials were definitely much-used by Joseph’s son, Walter, who took over the store when Joseph died and probably touched by their great grandpa and their much-loved grandma as well.

So, for them, it’s not just another old radio. But without its story, that’s exactly what it would be.

Fortunately, I know the story (or at least the parts I’ve been told). So this morning I permanently recorded that story at The Heirloom Registry. First, I attached a durable, permanent sticker to the backside of the radio, which includes a unique registration number and the Registry’s Web address. (You can purchase stickers from the THR Web site or even make your own if you just want to purchase a registration number and save a buck.)

I then spent about ten minutes writing its history — its provenance as they say in fancier circles — and uploaded a couple of photos of the radio showing it in its present location (because that is certainly also part of its story.) I also made a mental note to try and get a copy of a photo of Joseph (and perhaps even the hardware store) the next time we visit my wife’s parents so that I can upload as well.

And, truly, that was that. Once I acquired a registration number and recorded the radio’s story, there was nothing more that I ever had to do and there’s nothing more that I ever have to pay. As long as the sticker (or metal plate, which you can also purchase) is attached to the radio, its story will travel with it for anyone to pull up and see. I actually felt some relief when I finished. I’ve always felt a modest sense of obligation, as the owner of the radio — and keeper of its story — to make sure it was preserved and shared with future generations. And now, with an investment of ten minutes and two bucks, it is.

To see the Heirloom Registry entry, including photos, for the radio, visit www.heirloomregistry.com and enter registration number: SNTS-256-996-3497-2012

 

In 2013, Houstory’s goal is to tell your stories – the stories of home. Do you have family heirlooms with a story? We want to share your family history with our readers. And make sure to follow us at Facebook, where we will be posting your “Houstories” all year long.  And please comment and share if you like what we have written!

The Heirloom Registry: A Gift from Grandpa

The grandfather clock that inspired The Heirloom Registry

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder

Between 2006-09, I was presented with two gifts that would change my life.

The first was the simple, but now seemingly “obvious” idea for the Home History Book.

A “baby book for the home,” we call it in our elevator speech. An archival-quality book that tells the story of how a house becomes a home, written and shared by those who have lived there. A book that belongs to and is supposed to stay with the home.

It was, I think, what Oprah would call an “Aha moment”: An experience of quiet clarity, seemingly from out of the blue, that — if you are open to it — you cannot ignore.

I don’t know for sure from where that idea came. It was, however, a profound, even magical moment that I knew was life-altering as soon as it entered my consciousness.

The second gift came a couple years later: The idea for The Heirloom Registry. And for this one, I know exactly who to thank: It was a gift from my grandpa.

I grew up a military brat. My dad was career Air Force. There are lots of pluses to growing up a military kid. I got to experience lots of different places and lots of different people living in lots of different ways. But there are also some downsides: mainly, your “home” changes every 1-4 years.

It was the lack of permanence that probably explains the particularly strong attachment I had to my grandparents’ homes. They didn’t move. Their homes stayed the same. The look, the feel, the unique smell — those were soothingly constant during my childhood.

My paternal grandparents lived in the seaside town of Astoria, Oregon. Their home, like many in town, was high on the hill overlooking the Columbia River. As we ate breakfast, we would look out the window and watch cargo ships, fresh from the Pacific Ocean, tie up before venturing further inland to Portland or being piloted back out to sea.

It was an older home, whose windows were filled with ripply glass and whose floors creaked in all the right places.

The author (bottom left), brothers, mom and grandparents, John and Mildred Hiestand, in Astoria, Oregon. (c. 1970)

My grandparents were fairly old, and while we certainly felt welcomed, it wasn’t — simply because it wasn’t — a home made for kids, and particularly not young boys. Certainly not for five young boys — my four younger brothers and I — who visited for a week every summer or so. So we spent most of our time outside. Or reading.

Fortunately, I loved to read. Even more than I loved to play, truth be told. So I’d often have the living room to myself during the day while my brothers hit the nearby park or late at night, after they were made to go to bed earlier than I. And that’s where I got to know — and love — the clock.

The clock is a beautiful, noble grandfather clock, built in the late 1800’s. It truly is grand. No-frills, other than the movement of the simple moon dial at its crown. It rings on the hour. It doesn’t play around with fifteen-minute or even half-hour increments. The sound is bold and deep. You can feel it. It sat in the corner of the living room, next to their one TV (that I remember was almost never on) and across from the sofa, my usual spot.

I remember watching my grandpa wind it. Slowly. My grandpa was a retired mechanics shop teacher. He knew his way around metal parts. You never wanted to turn the key all the way, he would say. So he’d feel the spring tightening up and stop just so. Before closing the cabinet, he’d reach down into the bottom of the clock where he’d pull out a small tin in which he kept a rag soaked in kerosene. The kerosene vapors, he said, provided just the right amount of lubricant for the clock’s gears.

I don’t recall his ever adjusting the hands on the clock. Over the years, he’d obviously found the “sweet spot” on the pendulum adjustment; the clock kept perfect time. It still does.

I don’t remember when I first noticed the piece of paper tacked inside, in the back and out of view except for when the cabinet was open.

The only known photograph of the Astoria, Oregon, living room where the clock resided for many years. (The photo was taken from about the vantage point of the clock.)

Note inspiring The Heirloom Registry

Note tacked inside clock’s cabinet and written by author’s grandpa providing history of the clock

On it, in my grandpa’s writing, was the story of the clock. The clock, it said, was a wedding gift for his mother given by her father (my great grandmother and great-great grandfather, respectively). They lived in York, Pennsylvania, and the clock, the note said, was purchased from the “John Wanamaker store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the late 1880s’….”

My grandpa died in 1983. And the clock has been at my parent’s home in Washington State since the mid-1980s. Which is where I was, during a 4th of July get-together in 2009, and where I was with the clock again, by myself, when the idea for The Heirloom Registry was given to me. Once again in true “Aha” fashion, compliments — whether “real” or simply because of all that he did creating that precise moment — of my grandpa.

Of this I have no doubt.

The clock will always be a beautiful clock. But it is the story of the clock — an ongoing story — that makes the clock what it is. If my grandpa’s now somewhat crackled piece of paper were ever lost, and if those of us with memories of its history were not around, it would no longer be the same clock. It would just be a beautiful clock, perhaps in a great grandchild’s home — or for sale in an antique store.

I didn’t want that to happen. Neither did my grandpa. And I knew we weren’t alone. Everyone has a clock or a table or a mirror or a photo or painting or special book or quilt or something — sometimes old and passed down through the family, sometimes not so old. Sometimes expensive and sometimes not worth a nickel on eBay — but whose story makes it irreplaceable. A story that makes it unique in all the world. A story that should never be lost.

The Heirloom Registry makes sure that won’t happen.

So thanks grandpa. You wanted our clock’s story told. And now it always will be. Along with many, many others.

 

Mike Hiestand is the president and founder of Houstory Publishing.