Hallmarks of Meaning

Lighting up the meaning of our possessions.

Lighting up the meaning of our possessions.

We’re in the midst of the eight days of the year where lighting a progressively increasing number of candles requires a pause in the normal routine of these long nights. And for our family, preparing for this ritual involves cleaning up the remnants of candle wax left on our menorahs from the year before.

I don’t mean to leave one year’s wax in place for clean up a year later. I always intend to return our lovely collection to their places of display perfectly polished and cleaned. And I never do.

So I was standing at our sink earlier this week, ensuring the water was hot enough to soften up the hardened colors as I thought through the year since that wax had landed in place. It has been a year filled with change and renewal. Of saying goodbyes and embracing hellos. And that’s when I noticed the hallmark on the silver piece I was cleaning.

I’ve had an unexpected education in hallmarks this year, as we have worked our way through the collected possessions of a lifetime in my dear departed mother-in-law’s home. I had always known that those little dimples at the base of silver and other metal pieces meant something about the purity of the metals they marked.

What I didn’t know was that there are also maker’s marks along with those purity assurances that tell a story of the creator including country of origin, intent of the piece – export or not - and those have become an intriguing part of understanding the life journey of my in-laws. 

We’ve found marks that originate in Hungary, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, and even Vichy. They tell us something about the family or friends who may have purchased or given the pieces to Sziga and Sol. The truth is that none of us – not one of the children or spouses of my in-laws – know the actual story behind any of these pieces. We don’t know what travels or visits led to their being purchased, so we’re left with the hallmarks and maker’s marks to piece it together.

We may have our own memories of certain items – when they were used for dinners or gatherings that we attended - but by not knowing the genesis story for any of them it has been very hard for us to know what should have meaning from the last generation to the next. It has led to an emotionally difficult series of decisions.

During this holiday of rededication, we’re committed to ensuring our next generation knows the stories of those things in our collection of belongings that have family meaning. This week, when the kids join us for latkes and challah, we’ll share with them the story of the menorah we will be lighting. It was the first of our married life, given to us by Uncle Andre and Aunt Vera who wanted us to have a beautiful piece to mark the seasons of our marriage. And it has.

And we will also dedicate ourselves to cleaning up our stuff so that future years aren’t left to remove old wax.