Family Heirlooms

3 comments Posted on January 1, 2016

Angie Bby Angela Breidenbach

Growing up, we used a hand-blown amethyst glass pitcher for special events. The matching tumbler never made it out of the china hutch. But the pitcher served water year after year. I had no idea of the age or significance until I found a hand-written story written by my moor-moor (grandma in Swedish).

Maybelle HolmgrenFirst-born Swedish-American, at three, her parents had divorced in 1907! Sent to live in a house on the same farm with an aunt, her mother was relegated to a cabin at the back of the family farm for the shame of divorce. But by sixteen…

“We have thirteen mouths to feed. Here is your inheritance. Go make your way in the world.” The pitcher and tumbler came from Sweden. That was my grandmother’s entire fortune. With it, she made her way to St. Paul, MN and finished high school. Then almost ten years later she was called home to care for the family in Fergus Falls, MN when a flu epidemic wiped out many. She went home, despite the feelings of being an unwanted burden. Could you?

I’ve asked myself that question. If in her position, could I forgive and go home? I wrote Bridal Whispers, in Barbour Publishing’s Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection, based on Moor-moor’s story. It’s set 30 years earlier, allowing me more creative license, but the family heirloom holds a special place in the story. The hand-blown Swedish pitcher is mine now. I contacted a glass museum in Sweden and learned it was crafted in the 1850s, was a stolen design (common then), and is worth about $150—though it’s over 165 years old. The gorgeous toll painting and craftsmanship still dazzle in my family heirloom. But it’s the story that matters. What’s your family’s heirloom story? Have you shared it?

Purple Pitcher cropAngela Breidenbach is a bestselling author and host of Grace Under Pressure Radio on iTunes. Angela is the Christian Author Network‘s president. And yes, she’s the grand daughter of Swedish immigrants on her mother’s side. Click here to learn more about her story in the Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection.
Twitter/Pinterest: @AngBreidenbach


  • 01/01/2016
    Kathy Kexel said:

    The Civil War had ended. German immigrant Engelbert Zeiser returned from serving in the Union Army to his bride Barbara Zillion in their Pennsylvania Deutsch (Dutch) community. Perhaps it was restlessness from experiencing combat or perhaps they sensed disapproval from their pacifist neighbors, but Engelbert and Barbara and their children packed up everything they owned and move to the bustling logging town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Hundreds were arriving daily to snap up the cutover land left in the wake of the voracious logging industry for a mere $1.00 an acre. What the pamphlets failed to warn the newcomers about were the small mountains of tinder-dry slash that buried the enormous trunks of pine covering every cleared acre…stumps that would need to be dynamited and brush to be burned before plows could tame the rich, but thin forest soil. On the other hand, there was still plenty of timber to build a small house and barn quite cheaply, a high water table meant shallow wells could provide easy access to water, the crater left after dynamiting the largest stumps provided a handy space for a root cellar. Engelbert and Barbara settled in to a pioneer’s life. The summer and fall of 1871 were unusually hot and dry. Overpowering the tangy scents of pine and plowed earth that autumn was the smell of smoke as burning slash piles ignited the tangled network of roots just below the surface and the smoldering embers traveled for miles. It all came to a head the morning of October 8, 1872. A firestorm of unprecedented size and fury swept through the town and surrounding fields and forests of Peshtigo. Barbara and Engelbert had enough warning to pile all their belongings into the root cellar, and the wisdom not to take shelter there themselves. They and their children survived that night of terror in the river, although more than 1,200 of their neighbors did not. When they returned to their homestead, all that remained were their buried possessions. Among those items was an inexpensive, English, made-for-export tea service. Engelbert and Barbara gathered what they could, and rather than remain in the grief-stricken community, moved a short distance to Stephenson, Michigan. There, the following year, their daughter Emma, my grandmother, was born. Emma’s inheritance upon her marriage to my grandfather, John Kexel, was a the teapot and a cup and saucer from the tea service that had survived the fire. Emma brought those items with her when she came to live with my parents and older siblings during the final years of her life. My mother gave the cup and saucer to my oldest sister and the teapot to me. It’s a common enough antique; I have seen many like it in antique stores priced at just $40.00…but to me, it’s priceless.

    Historical note: the Peshtigo fire occurred on the same day as the “great” Chicago fire that took just over 300 lives compared to the more than 1,200 lives lost in Wisconsin. Many of those who died were people who took shelter in their root cellars or wells. The firestorm was so huge, it sucked out all the oxygen and the suffocated.

  • 01/01/2016
    Kathy Kexel said:

    1871, not 1872.

  • 01/02/2016
    Angela Breidenbach said:

    Wow, Kathy, that’s an amazing story!! Even more amazing that the Chicago fire had so much media and historical reference and one that took 1200 lives did not. I don’t remember ever learning about that fire in history class, but I did learn of the Chicago fire. How precious is the inheritance you and your sister were given. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Print this page and keep your story for your children and future generations!!


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