Polishing Off the Silver by
(29 Stories)

Prompted By Aunts & Uncles

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I was the only niece of an only aunt who, I was given to understand, intended to gift me her gorgeous charm bracelet one day. I loved charm bracelets, and—I’m ashamed to admit— the thought of this one left me breathless.

Sadly, several decades later my dear aunt passed away, her bracelet’s fate unknown. I had no “thing” to remember her by.

I had forgotten the bracelet incident until today. Today, as the aunt of an “only” niece myself, I am standing at the kitchen sink warily polishing her grandmother’s sterling flatware and regurgitating the charm bracelet incident to see if it has any wisdom to offer me.

“Caroline” had asked me if I would be willing to give her the silver. Of course I had said yes, I’d be happy to. Happy because she’s a sweetheart and happy because she, like her mother and me and our female forebears, enjoys the domestic arts and their accoutrements. She would use it and treasure it into the future.

Now I am wavering. Was I too eager to say yes? Would I regret it later?

I will confess to occasional pangs, most particularly when going to family parties and holiday dinners and finding “my stuff” around relatives’ necks, on their dining tables and affixed to their walls.

How did this happen? Surprisingly quickly. House moves, memorials, birthdays, Christmases, graduations—each has occasioned the sentimental transfer of this object and that.

I am reminded of my favorite John Cheever story, “The Lowboy,” which I recommend for its veritas and its wit:

It is traditional in our family to display our greatest emotional powers over heirlooms—to appropriate sets of dishes before the will can be probated, to have tugs of war with carpets, and to rupture blood relationships over the subject of a rickety chair.

Thank goodness that’s not us! But still the question nags: are our memories secured by these mementos, or can we be certain they’ll survive, safe and snug, in our hearts?

Excuse me, but here is my aunt up in my face, jingle-jangling that bracelet. Okay, okay, I get the message.

I have no doubt that eating off of the stainless going forward will prove just as satisfying as eating off of the sterling. Maybe more so: I won’t have to polish it.

Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    Finding items you have given away with others, still used and appreciated, is a gift in itself. The other side is still having “stuff” laden with memories and no one to pass them on to. I have clung to things, thinking I would cherish them someday—sometimes true, but often it becomes easier to let go as time goes by. The things I don’t want to let go are those handed to me by others—like your polished flatware—unless I am really ready and there is someone who will appreciate it. Your writing is lovely and you describe the dilemmas so well.

  2. Susan Bennet says:

    Thank you, Khati. I’m afraid I come off as pretty selfish in this story. My real fear, with giving these things away, is that a part of the (often departed) loved one goes along with it. But of course this is not true. Best not to wait too long to gift these things, and have hope they will find their best new steward. As accidental “curator” of these family objects, I tend to think of them protectively and temporarily as “my stuff”!

  3. Suzy says:

    Susan, I thought this was a wonderful story, and I didn’t think you came off as selfish. It’s a mixed bag, giving away treasured objects – you want the other person to enjoy them, but you aren’t entirely ready to part with them. I think you are lucky that you have relatives who want these things. I suspect that when I die, my children will send everything off to Goodwill or some equivalent.

  4. Thanx for your very thoughtful and as always wonderfully-written Susan story!

    No you’re not selfish, on the contrary it seems to me you care deeply about the people in your family and it’s their memory , not their jewels, or furniture or silverware that you want to hold on to.

    When my mother died I was stuck with her sterling silver in a pattern that was not at all to my taste. . So I sold it and bought a set in a pattern I love.

    I use that silver every day and although it was never actually hers – nevertheless when I see it, I think of my mom!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    I agree with Suzy – not selfish; lucky that you have someone who wants the silver. My kids won’t! Better to give it to someone who will cherish while you have the pleasure of giving and know that it is still being enjoyed.

    And I enjoyed the way the lost charm bracelet looms in your memory as the reason to give your niece the silver now.

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