My family has a set of silverware that has been handed down from generation to generation - l'dor v'dor in Hebrew. My great grandfather apparently took all the coins he could gather together, and had a set of silverware made from it - beautiful, gorgeous, heavy silverware, with the initials AW for his wife, our great grandmother, Anna Wyrobek. Possibly spelled a different way.
At any rate, this beautiful silverware was used by our great grandparents, who emigrated from Germany (they lived in Frankfurt-on-Rhine) with their two daughters, arriving in the US some time in the early 1900s. The daughters grew up, married, had children (my father being one), and each received half the set of silver.
Fast-forward 20-something years, my father married my mother and they eventually were given half the silverware. We used our set of six pieces for special occasions, and I remember my sister and I playing with the salt cellar, being intrigued by the teeny tiny doll-sized spoon and what looked like a mini-soup-tureen.
Then zoom to about twelve years later, my family moved from New York to Washington state, my great aunt and great uncle came to visit, and lo and behold, my wonderful great aunt gave my parents her half of the silver, because she felt the entire set belonged together. Her generous act re-joined what was essentially her parents' entire fortune when they left Germany, not only a financial legacy but also a family history and memoir encased in cast- and etched-silver.
I inherited this fabulous set of silver. I hand-carried it from Washington to St. Thomas, and used it for many Thanksgiving and Passover dinners. This is the silver that is stored in tarnish-proof fabric, lovingly re-rolled so that no piece of silver touches anything but fabric. This is the silver that is always kept in a safe deposit box at a bank, and brought out to adorn the table for special occasions. This is the silver that is hand-washed, hand-dried, counted, and then missing pieces are searched for in the garbage, because even one accidentally tossed teaspoon is that important.
Because Richard and I have downsized. We no longer have a key on a keyring. We don't own cars. We don't own dishes. We don't rent a house or apartment. We are rolling luggagers, with only the items in the luggage and the clothes on our backs.
Which meant the silver had to come with us on the trek from St. Thomas. We hand-carried that heavy heavy box of silver, rolls of fabric with stacked forks, spoons, knives, serving pieces, from St. Thomas to Washington DC to Philly to Jersey to New York to New Orleans to Minneapolis to Las Vegas to Seattle to Bellingham. We broke two handles on a bag, carrying this silverware, and had to buy a nylon bag to carry the silver on the plane. Of course, the carving fork and knife were in checked luggage - but there was no way I was going to risk this silverware in my checked luggage, or in the mail, or even in a FedEx box - no, this was carried across the country.
Image a small box full of silverware. Send that box through the x-ray machine at any airport. The TSA agents can't really see anything beyond a huge pile of metal being x-rayed. So of course, an agent is dispatched to search the box. And unroll each group of silverware - the knives (which are so blunt they barely cut turkey); the forks; the soup spoons that look like serving pieces; the teaspoons; the dessert forks (my favorite, they look like Apollo's lyre); and all the varied and sundry serving pieces which include a cake server, pie server, meat fork, two-sided gravy ladle, vegetable spoon complete with draining holes (unless that's really for making tea), and a soup ladle that could be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
So yes, at each and every airport, I stood and watched as a TSA agent unrolled the silverware, piece by piece. I explained that this was a family heirloom, and I was bringing it home. I patiently re-rolled the silver so no two pieces were touching, so that nothing could scratch another piece. We learned to budget extra time for the silver inspection ritual, because this added a good twenty minutes to our time through the lines.
And now my brother is the Keeper of the Silver. And he is responsible for finding someone in the next generation who will eventually become Keeper of the Silver, who will watch over it, hand-wash and hand-dry it, count and go through garbage to find a missing spoon, and who will tell the story of our great grandparents, who wanted to save their wealth and turned it into a set of silverware, which will be handed down from generation to generation. And who will, if need be, hand carry that silver from city to city, plane to plane, just as our great grandparents carried it from town to town and boat to boat as they came across the Atlantic.
It is a heavy responsibility, being Keeper of the Silver.