The flow of family artifacts.
In my own house, like everyone's, the bits and pieces of our immediate family history are everywhere -- the kids' baby pictures, the misshapen pieces of pottery made in elementary school, the outgrown toys that still sit on bookshelves.
Widen the lens a bit, and you find the flotsam and jetsam of another generation Co or two or three.
My husband and I have always preferred old furniture to new, and what once matched our budget now fits in well in the older home where we live. So we have dressers we found at different times at different antique stores on different winding back roads that are practically identical, clearly the product of the same unknown furniture maker.
Thirty years ago, we bought an old maple kitchen table with rickety metal extensions for $80 because it reminded me of the kitchen table where I once did my homework.
We use both as desks.
My grandmother's piecrust table from the 1920s, the love seat we brought from his mother's when we moved her into assisted living; my parents' coffee table, the lamp from the apartment in the Bronx where he grew up. His mother's chairs match the kitchen table he found on the way home from a funeral deep in the country.
There are more personal things, too, of course. My husband wears his father's wedding ring. I wear my mother's engagement ring as well as the ring made from the tiny ruby that had once been in my grandfather's tie clip.
I'd like to say these odd pieces of the past mean that we are keeping those we have loved and lost with us. There is a truth to that, though it isn't always the things they themselves most valued that we impress into new places, new lives.
My mother loved dressing up and setting the table with her mother's china and her mother-in-law's silver. I wear jeans and keep the good stuff for Thanksgiving.
And memory is a tremulous and faulty human trait.
As an only child, I have boxes of photographs of the unknown or the vaguely known. Most of them are small black-and-white squares of pale-faced Texans, my great-grandmother and her siblings, the odd cousin or two, friends now long forgotten.
They deserve their own frames, but who are they? I hope that other relatives, their nearest and dearest, have remembered them better.
And what of the letters? My mother was an inveterate letter writer; my father, too, in a hunt-and-peck way on his typewriter, with xxxxed out letters and the occasional handwritten addition.
Will these letters mean anything to anyone in years to come?
Maybe not, but in a day and time when the most personal element of communication is often the selection of the font or the color of the text, I can't throw them out. Like any anachronism, their very rarity makes them valuable -- or at least strange.
In the meantime, I'm watching as the flow from one generation to another continues, this time right out of our back door.
Our son is on his own, his apartment the same conglomeration of family odds and ends that his father's and mine once was. He has the table and chairs his grandmother once bought with pride for her new Manhattan condo, her dresser, and the bookcase she took from the Bronx. He uses the black chair that was his grandfather's -- and that means the most to his father.
He has our second set of stainless steel and knives, a couple of cookie sheets, the double boiler I took from my parents' kitchen and a big frying pan that I'm pretty sure I didn't give him.
In the background lurks his sister, who is soon to move with friends into a long-term apartment for their senior year of college.
She wants to take her bed and her dresser, and she has her eye on her great-grandmother's old maple end table and the rocking chair that once sat next to her crib.
There have been preliminary questions about pots and pans and mugs and glasses and silverware.
It's all going the way it should -- from older to younger, shades of the past imprinted on the brighter, optimistic canvas of the future.
But it certainly will feel empty around here.
Laura Porter's Dispatches From the Home Front column is published the first Sunday of the month.