Big Billy – The family jewels

You know how on TV or in the movies whenever there’s a family heirloom it’s always somethin’ old and valuable? It might be a great-grandfather’s old gold watch, or somebody’s grandmother’s diamond necklace or somethin’ like that. The point is, on TV them things are always right old and always right expensive.

In real life, around here anyways, it don’t usually work that way. Most of us don’t Big BIllyreally got nothin’ too expensive to leave to our families, and chances are our grandparents had even less than we do. So I know a lot of people around here that got somethin’ that belonged to their grandfather or their father, or somethin’ like that, and it means the world to them even if it’s not worth a ton of money to somebody else.

Take my buddy, Tommy, who’s about the best fisherman you ever seen in your life. The way he learned to fish was, from way back when he was a kid he started goin’ out with his father, who could catch anything that could swim. And if you’re lucky enough to get out to Tommy’s little cabin in Loch Lomond, when you go in you’ll see hangin’ right above the door there’s an old blue fishin’ rod.

Now, it don’t look like much, and the fact is you could probably go in anywheres that sells fishin’ rods and get one just like it without payin’ a fortune. But it was Tommy’s father Bucky’s favourite fishin’ rod, and after the ol’ fella passed away, Tommy hung it above the door in the cabin, and I’d say there’s no doubt that fishin’ rod is probably his favourite thing in the world. And if he ever has a kid of his own, I imagine he’ll probably hand it down some day.

I’m kinda the same way. When I was a young fella, I used to go to work with my old man sometimes when he’d do some handyman jobs. He worked in the mine, but he was also pretty handy with a hammer, so he’d pick up the odd job here and there, buildin’ a step or hangin’ a new door. Anyways, I was helpin’ him this one time in a house in the Gardiner and after he cut a hole in the wall, in between the studs he found this little compass in a little silver case and he gave it to me.

Now, I don’t even know how to read a compass anyways, and even if I did, this little compass never worked, but I hung onto it because I liked the look of it and, I guess partly at least, because the old man gave it to me. But when somebody passes away, it’s the little things like that that stick with ya. So for years now, that little broken compass has been in the corner of the top drawer of the dresser, right under my pit-socks. And maybe someday I’ll give it to Little Bill when he’s old enough that it’ll mean somethin’ to him just because it meant somethin’ to me.

Anyways, the point of all that is to say – I understand how family traditions like that work, and how somethin’ don’t have to cost a lot of money to mean the world to ya. But Minnie’s family takes it to a whole other level entirely.

On her side of the family there’s a whole whack of cousins and second cousins, and holy cripes you’d never keep track of them all. About ten years ago, one of Minnie’s cousins had a kid graduatin’. To tell ya the truth, I have no idea how he made it through school, but he made ‘er, so of course, there was a big grad party for him and everybody went.

Now that’s when their family hatched this plan. They figured out that about five of the cousins each had kids who would be graduatin’ in the next few years. So they went out to the dollar store and pitched in on this great big, gigantic shoppin’ spree.

Plastic plates, servin’ trays, plastic cups, forks, knives, napkins, streamers, signs, tape, you name it – everything you’d need to throw a grad party. Afterwards when they’re cleanin’ up, I notice – holy cripes, why are they washin’ the plastic forks?

And on the way home, Minnie tells me there’s one of them big plastic totes filled to the top with all them plates and cups and utensils and stuff. They use it for a party, wash all the stuff you’re supposed to throw away, and then save it and pass it along for the next grad party.

Holy cripes, I said to her. You mean to tell me I’m eatin’ off a fork that could have been in Cyril’s mouth or Brad’s mouth at the last graduation?

How’s that any different from eatin’ at their place, or them eatin’ at our place? She said. It made me sick, but I guess she had a point.

Anyways, all these plastic forks that have been in all these relatives’ mouths have been through about four graduations, two weddings and three baby showers by now. Minnie went to a shower last week and came home with the big box full of stuff. I was laughin’ when I seen her come in with it.

I had a good joke ready and everything. “Some families pass down fine china as an heirloom, but your family only passes down stuff that says Made in China.”

But you know somethin’, I caught myself and bit my tongue. Because I realized maybe to them it’s not just a box of plastic cups and plates. In a way, a little bit of each of the events they celebrated is in that box too. And if a plastic fork can bring back a memory and make you appreciate the people you love, then I guess it’s as good an heirloom as any, isn’t it?

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