I don’t have many family heirlooms. Last summer, my great uncle gave my a peacoat that belonged to one of my mom’s relatives. He wore it when serving aboard the U.S.S. Nevada, a ship that survived two world wars, kamikaze attacks, and two nuclear bombs. The coat seems just as indestructible.
My sister, Greta, has a bunch of costume jewelry from nearly all sides of our family. She acquired most of it rummaging through junk drawers and dusty attics. At least that’s what I’m told. I never joined her on her jewelry hunts.
The summer after graduating high school, I spent a long weekend visiting my Dad and Stepmom in Pennsylvania. Most of the details of that particular trip escape me, though I’m sure it was filled with jokes, home cooking, and possibly a tennis match or two. When I was getting ready to head back to New Jersey that Sunday evening, my Dad handed me a little something: a simple wooden handled bottle opener with a steel mouth. Or as I like to call it, The Howard.
The Howard belonged to his father, my grandfather, Howard Ackerman. I knew him as Pop.
Apart from surname, you wouldn’t be able to draw many links between Pop and me. He grew up a farmer, joined the army at 17, was a boxing champ by 18, fought five years in the Pacific, then returned home to support a family of seven by working in the Pennsylvania coal mines. It was a life straight out of a John Steinbeck novel, whereas I worked at Banana Republic and owe all of my military experience to Xbox Live. Actually, about the only similarity is our fondness for plaid. And when I say fondness, I mean love affair. I wear little else.
To put it plainly, it’s a sweet bottle opener. There’s something almost elegant about it’s simple design. The wooden handle has a hand made quality that makes it look more fit for the tool shed than the utensil drawer. And it’s about as unbreakable as the Nevada. Surviving four years of college living is more than enough proof.
I don’t use The Howard much any more, at least not for opening bottles. It sits on my nightstand next to some old photographs and letters from Nikkie. It’s instead become more of a healthy reminder that I like to wake up to every morning. A reminder that I’m here because of the back breaking efforts of people that love me. That sacrificing yourself for family is never really sacrifice. That miraculous things can come from the humblest beginnings. And that I have a lot of living to do before I can pass along this little piece of wood.
Pop passed away some thirteen years ago. With luck, there are plaid clouds in heaven.