To Have Or Not To Have

Is it acceptable, do you think, to ‘inherit’ something before the person who owns it has gone?

It’s probably a bit late to be asking that question, given I inherited my mother’s piano some years ago and she is still with us (see here).

Following the death of my father recently, my mother, in trying to accept this new reality, is trying to simplify her life. I think I would be the same.

So, as a result, she has told us to take whatever items we have always wanted now rather than wait until she is also gone.

It’s awkward. And uncomfortable. And upsetting. But understandable.

The piano was different. I could not live in a house without one. As the only child to learn the piano, it was a given that The Piano would come to me. But when would that ultimately be? I couldn’t wait. It was inherit early or buy a different piano.

I was lucky and my mother understood what The Piano meant to me and allowed me to take it when I left home. And every time I see it, play it, I love the connection to the past it gives me. An impersonal purchase from a piano store would never have been the same.

But raiding the house for everything I might want? Not in my make-up. When we packed up my grandfather’s house when he went into care, while my siblings took away books, furniture and knickknacks, I helped wrap up my grandmother’s glassware for my mother. And left with the toaster (ours had just died).

I am sure the same would occur now except that there is one item (other than the piano) that I have coveted my whole life (well, ever since I knew of its existence). And so, when my mother said I could take it, I did.

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It is a red leather-bound set of the works of William Shakespeare. It was given to one Henrietta Pierce, as a farewell gift from her students when she left The Friends (Quakers) School in Hobart, Tasmania in 1897.

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It includes a letter from the school. And this is what I love most about it. The set is beautiful and wonderful but it is the personal aspect of the letter that makes it so precious to me.

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Henrietta was, we think, the sister of my grandmother’s Aunt Margaret with whom my grandmother was sent to live when she was eight years old. As there seems to be no mention of Pierces in the family history we have, Aunt Margaret was perhaps an ‘adopted aunt’.

My grandmother never went back home. Aunt Margaret insisted that she must have an invitation to return and it was never forthcoming.

How did my mother come to have the books? She remembers being taken to the Quakers’ Meeting House in Melbourne where the service went for two hours. To keep a then four-year-old quiet, my mother was given a stack of books to read. Books were always important and she was always given one whenever they went to the meeting house.

Henrietta and Margaret lived together near the Hawthorn railway station. They obviously knew of my mother’s love of books and consequently gave her a number of their own, including the set of Shakespeare, whenever she came to visit.

This set is unbelievably precious and important to me, well beyond its value as a set of books. It is a strong part of my history, a strong part of who both my grandmother and mother were/are as women and I feel blessed and privileged to be given this link to our family history.

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