Missing Antique Knives, and How Junior Gets Blamed For It

Excerpt from Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression:

Dale and Darlene turned twelve in May, which meant that Dale was old enough to carry a gun while hunting. And Darlene had started babysitting for Zedonna Neal, daughter-in-law of O.S. and Nellie and a home ec teacher, who lived in the neighborhood. Rawson was four years old and Jimmie wasn’t quite one.

Once in a while Leora was puzzled at how an everyday table knife got broken. “Junior keeps sticking them between the table leaves,” Darlene told, “and flips them back and forth. I told him to stop, but he doesn’t listen.”

“You’re not the boss of me!” Junior piped up.

Narrative/Creative Nonfiction

Narrative or creative nonfiction uses fiction techniques, such as imagined dialogue, to convey history in a more lively way. Leora’s World War II story uses narrative nonfiction, and her Depression Era story will as well.

The above spat came about because of two stories I knew about the family–Darlene’s babysitting job and bossing her younger brothers, probably just like she handled the Neal boys.

I ended up with an old set of silverplate that belonged to Grandma Leora Wilson. The only thing better than an heirloom is one with a story. I knew that Clabe had given Leora the tableware for their 1914 wedding, so was delighted to polish each piece and use it for a family gathering.

1913 Fair Oak pattern by Wm Rogers & Son

But we were short a couple of knives. I remarked about it to Mom.

“Well, while waiting for supper to arrive at the table, one of my younger brothers would absently stick a knife between table leaves and bat it back and forth. I know that at least one was broken that way.”

Working through the stories of the manuscript, I’d become acquainted with the personalities of Dale, Danny, and Junior.

Sorry, Junior. This episode was easily pinned on you!

The only thing better than an heirloom is an heirloom with a story. – Joy Neal Kidney

Junior is perched on the hood of the “roadster,” glancing at Rusty, their pet squirrel, on the fender. Clabe Wilson is in the driver’s seat, then Dale and Danny Wilson, holding their guns. This was the fall of 1934, to send to the two older brothers who were in the Navy. Clabe sold the roadster that fall, probably to have enough money to get through the winter. He never owned another one until after they moved to Minburn five years later!



  1. This reminds me that my godmother once found a silver cream jug half buried in the sands of the Australian Outback when she was still a young woman. In due course she left it with our family to look after. In her eighties she happened to visit a family in Cape Town and noted that their silver tea service lacked the cream jug – of the same pattern as the one she had found! They suggested it had probably fallen off the wagon while their ancestors were travelling … naturally enough she asked my father to parcel it up and send it to this family. What a fine story they now have to go with their heirlooms!

  2. Love the quote “the only thing better than an heirloom is an heirloom with a story. You inspire me to write more.

    • Well, lump in throat! It’s one of the things I love about all this is listening to others’ stories. Even better, when they’re written down! Send stories, Deb!

    • My mother had me (oldest daughter) choose between her baby locket (1918) and her grandmother’s “teacher watch” (1890). Well, they both have stories behind them and I wanted both, but my sister got the teacher watch. (Mom’s uncle had sent money home from serving in France during WWI for the locket–even has his name engraved on it.) Hmm, I need to do a post about that, don’t I?

      • I should say so. I inherited a great-great uncle’s business ledger. I think the years inside date from late 1890’s – 1920 or so. He was a local blacksmith in his small town. Handwritten in pencil mostly. I love reading what he worked on (ie: Wagon wheel hub) and the prices he charged. Amazing life he must have lived. I bet he had really strong, rough hands.

      • Oh what a treasure! The “seeds” for the Dexter Museum are items from a local man’s blacksmith shop. One of his step-sons also left $50,000 in order to get the museum started. I wish he’d left a ledger!

  3. Lovely heirloom, Joy! Very cute story. Speaking of heirlooms with stories, I would like to organize my heirlooms for my kids (etc) that way, but on top of everything else to organize I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed! But they aren’t really heirlooms without the stories, are they?

    • That’s good way to look at them. I’ve got a few things from my husband’s side, but his mother doesn’t even knows whose they were. Maybe a good way to think of them as we “downsize.”

  4. Great comments on this piece! I loved this story; I can picture the whole thing happening at the dining room table. It is so very true…the stories bring these heirlooms to life. Perhaps, they are so interesting to us because we remember so well our own childhood days spent at the kitchen or dining room table. Oh, if those tables could talk, the tales they would tell. So wonderful to write down the stories… It reminds us that people are not so very different even though they may be generations apart. Kids are kids and so, it goes…

    • Those Depression years were tough for the family, but life went on, so daily. I hope I’m capturing in the book all that their mother Leora went through daily, but I’m having such fun with just little vignettes of family stories. Recently I found a photo of kids with two of the little girls with less than charming haircuts. I realized that I knew the story behind those haircuts!

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