My Grandmother’s Treasures by
(16 Stories)

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

A Family Heirloom, treasured, but never used.

Grandma  Rose was a bit of a snob. An immigrant, she  arrived in New York harbor in 1906 with my 5 year old father and 3 year old uncle in tow, to be reunited with my grandfather who had made the voyage a few months before.  Unlike most immigrants,  the family did not come to the US for  economic or ethnic reasons,  but because of  political pressures. In Rose’s mind,  this gave  her more intellectual status.    (Rose  bragged  that they did not sail to America  in steerage,  but when I recently found  the manifest of their ship, it clearly noted that they traveled in……..  steerage. Yes indeed,  Grandma Rose was such a snob)

My grandfather, a barber, evidently made a good enough living to buy a house in the Bronx.  No lower east side tenement for their  family.   And to add to their status, Rose had shlepped  some really high end belongings  from their  home in Odessa.   My  father took possession  of two of the  things that were impressive:  a large brass samovar and an enormous sterling silver ladle.

We  never used either of these items.  Using the samovar for boiling water for tea was highly impractical in a modern American 1950’s kitchen, since coal had to be heated in an  attached narrow chimney.  And the ladle, although lovely, was too heavy and awkward to use.

So the samovar was stored in the closet, never to make an appearance in our home.   But my father would polish the ladle and admire its great heft and shine.  I imagined the great dinners my Russian grandparents has hosted with the impressive  silver ladle and I would run my fingers over the Cyrillic letters engraved on the back of the handle.  It was so grand and elegant  and spoke to me about the  life they had left in Odessa.  The ladle would then be put away, never, ever to be used.

My mother was very much the opposite of Grandma Rose.  She was so  efficient and  careful with money that I would  call her “cheap”.  “No”, she would say “I’m frugal.”  She would walk blocks and blocks to save a few cents  and meticulously kept track of every penny she spent.

Mom would regularly attend a senior center called “JASA”. One day I called her and she excitedly told me that a gentleman had addressed the senior group and offered to come to the house to appraise and buy items.  And the item she had sold him was the Russian sterling silver ladle!  And he paid her the  ridiculously low price of 15 dollars!  I was apoplectic with anger. How could my mother have sold this family heirloom?  Even though it was never used, it was a connection to our family history and my roots.  And the shyster had  paid my Mom  only $15!  I was furious. I called JASA to get his phone number and  luckily the goniff picked up the phone.  As politely as I could, I explained that not only was this a treasured family belonging, but was worth far more than $15!  I told him how proud my grandmother was of this ladle and all it represented. He returned the ladle and I gave him $15.

I have packed away the ladle in a protective covering, and like my father, I love looking at it.  I have never used it, but I will never sell it.





Profile photo of Sara Gootblatt Sara Gootblatt

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Wonderful Sara! Love the image of your snobbish grandmother Rose – who despite her bravado did travel in steerage!

    And the juxtaposition of the large unwieldy samovar in a 50s American kitchen!

    As for the ladle, I have one that belonged to my husband’s mother – altho not silver, and large but not overly so – that I do use. She was a wonderful cook so am always hoping to channel her skill when doling out my own (actually not so bad) chicken soup!

  2. Thanks Dana! Lenny wants me to get rid of lots of items (you could come over and help me clear the clutter!) but I call myself a “neat hoarder” and cannot part with items I love.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I enjoyed getting to know you Grandma Rose, the snob. Read my story – my grandparents actually did come over second class (my mother, who wasn’t born yet, used to brag about that). But your grandmother was right to treasure those beautiful artifacts that she had brought with her and cared for through the years. I cannot believe that your mother SOLD that gorgeous ladle! I am so relieved to learn that you were able to buy it back immediately. Whew. I understand why you love and value it, even if it is too heavy and awkward to use. It is beautiful indeed.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific story, Sara. I particularly loved your honest depictions of your perhaps slightly less than perfect mother and grandmother. And, given that they seem to have very different senses as to the value and importance of family treasures, I’d be curious to know how they got along with each other.

    I also admit to loving any story with a reference to a samovar. I immediately imagine that I am in the middle of a Chekhov play.

    • Samovars are absolutely a Chekov prop……. I seem to recall samovars in many Russian plays. They make great props but are useless in today’s world. (I’ve read that some people electrify them, but that seems too inauthentic.). My niece now has possession of Grandma Rose’s samovar.

  5. Marian says:

    I’m so glad you got the ladle back, Sara. There are so many parallels in both our families. My grandma Rose did indeed come to New York in steerage, with next to nothing, but never tried to sugarcoat the experience. My grandma Leah came from Odessa, with a samovar and candlesticks. The samovar, which was never used, went to my uncle’s family, while my dad took the candlesticks, which my mother still has.

    • My other grandmother (whom I would have called “Bubbie” if she had lived) also emigrated from Russia. But that side of the family was dirt poor…She brought over her brass Shabbos candles which I still use. They have great meaning for me, probably more meaningful than the ladle (I wrote about the ladle to write the story about almost losing it!)

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I totally relate to your story. My treasured items, like yours, came from my grandparents. I loved your description of them.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I loved that you commandeered the ladle back into your possession after your mother SOLD it. And still cherish it, never used, in its protective covering. My kind of hoarder.

  8. Suzy says:

    Beautiful ladle, Sara, I’m so glad you got it back from JASA after your mother sold it. And love the idea of the samovar too – do you still have that?

    • I loved the samovar! I some ways that was even more of a connection to my roots. After my parents died I had “custody”of it, and I had it on display in our living room in our vacation home. When we sold the house, my niece took it and displays it in her large dining. So happy it’s still in our family.

  9. Susan Bennet says:

    Wow, Sara! Kudos to you for not “letting it go” to the unscrupulous buyer. And it is a simply beautiful sterling ladle. I loved your story. My grandmother was also something of a teeny-tiny fabulist when it came to details of her history. She purchased things at estate auctions to create a somewhat more refined persona. Now these things carry with them her imprint. But we love them (the ladies and their treasures), right? Lovely story.

Leave a Reply