What To Do With These Family Treasures?

On a frozen lake in Wisconsin

Last week, I was at my mom’s house, our family house on a lake in Wisconsin–a frozen lake, I might add. “January in Wisconsin” isn’t exactly what most people think of when they contemplate a vacation, but when it comes with family hugs, shared history, and family treasures, there’s no beating it.

Readers of Emilie Loring’s novels already know some of her family’s treasures. There’s a red, Coromandel screen, for example, that appears more than once in her books.

She could care for that gorgeous screen before the door leading, she presumed to another cabin; it must have come straight from the Orient.” 

Lighted Windows

Her glance fell on the Chinese Coromandel screen of vivid red lacquer which stood at the entrance of the garden room.  She prickled with imagination.  Always it had that effect upon her.  Always it seemed to whisper mysteriously: “Dare you to look behind me!  Dare you!”  And always she had forced herself to look before she dashed away as though a legion of imps were at her heels. Of course she had outgrown that foolishness now, but–that bit of Oriental color still exuded an aura of sinister mystery.  

The Solitary Horseman

The original didn’t remain with the Lorings, but can you picture it?

“Always it seemed to whisper mysteriously…”

Coromandel is a stripey wood that is native to India and Sri Lanka and widely used in China. Victor Loring’s brother might have brought back such a souvenir when he traveled from Hong Kong to India and Egypt in the 1870s. Or it could have come from Emilie’s great-uncle, an early 1800s sea captain who traveled many times around the Cape of Good Hope.

A kindred keepsake is this tea box, intricately decorated outside and with an air-tight tea container inside. What stories would it tell, if it could?

Antique tea chest

I struggled with how to include Emilie Loring’s treasures in her biography. Items she wrote about could have been hers, someone else’s, or simply made up. I worked to figure these out and have included some in the book, some in blog posts.

But how about the items she kept but didn’t write about, the personal treasures that she kept for her own enjoyment and their meaning to her? By their very keeping, year after year, aren’t they important to an understanding of Emilie? And how might they enter the narrative? When she acquires them? As she ponders them later? Both?

Historic New England devotes a portion of its website to family treasures–theirs and yours. Emilie Loring saved examples of each of their categories.


On the wall was a shelf of books. She smiled as she recognized an old, tried and true friend, The Swiss Family Robinson. She must have thrilled over it an hundred times.

Swift Water

It’s no surprise that books were among Emilie Loring’s favored keepsakes: her father’s books, her siblings’ plays, her own books, and her son’s. But she collected books, too, like her Everyman’s Library volumes that she kept in Stone House and added to, year by year. If we had them all, we could see when she read them by her penciled notations at their ends.

As happens with collections, though, these have been divvied up over the years. Some were spread among Lorings, some went with the Slavens who lived in Stone House after her–a few of which came to me as gifts from Captain Bob Slaven–and some may yet remain where they started in the nineteen-teens, in the old, granite house on the East Blue Hill Road.


“EL” – Emilie Loring

I wish I knew who made this crocheted dresser scarf for Emilie. There are hours and hours of work in it, and how precious, that it has survived the years.

Silver horse and cart

I also wish that this miniature, silver horse and cart came with a story. Even without that, it is dear–so detailed, so quaint. Does it date to Emilie’s days as an Arts and Crafts metalworker?

Craftsmanship shows: Stone House’s grandfather clock.

“Handmade” is an interesting category when you remember that everything was handmade before a certain time in history. As such, early items represent individual craftsmanship often not seen today. This grandfather clock spent decades in Stone House, then Lexington, and now the North Shore of Massachusetts.

Post update: Karen recognized this as the Grandfather’s clock in The Solitary Horseman (see comments below–Great job, Karen!). A monkey jumps onto the clock and then:

… a brass ball on top of the clock caught his roving eye. He worked it free… [Peter] flung up his arms to protect his head as something round and hard and shiny whizzed past his ear. His mother struggled out of a nightmare of amazement:

“Anthony! Nick! Peter! Don’t let him ruin Grandfather’s clock!”

She ducked as a second ball pitched with the precision and despatch of a big-league outfielder struck her shoulder. The monkey, who looked as though his face had been lathered for a shave, chattered and mouthed horribly as he seized the third ball.

The Solitary Horseman


We know that Emilie liked her rings “splashy,” but this ring, nevertheless, spent a good deal of time on her right hand. I have found it in photos of her from several time periods. Does it look like a lobster to you?

The dragonfly pin appears to have pink tourmaline eyes and small pearls along its back. I remember Prue Schuyler’s description:

“Enamels. Transparent and opaque. They are ground in a little water to salt-like consistency in that mortar, washed thoroughly before they are applied to metal, and heated until they melt. When I want them especially jewel-like, I use them over gold leaf.”

Hilltops Clear

Real prizes to find, of course, would be her pearls. Over time, she had single, double, and quadruple strands, but I have only seen them in photos. Would she have given them to her daughters-in-law?

Sir Peter had given her the pearls when she was married.  They had been worn by his wife and before that by his mother.

The Trail of Conflict

Encounters with Fame

Emilie Loring, herself, was pretty famous in her time, and she and her family had first-hand dealings with many celebrities you would know. The stories would take days to tell…

Unlikely Stories

A particularly unusual story had to do with Victor Loring’s cousin, Fred W. Loring, a young poet and feature writer who traveled west in 1871 to write jaunty stories for Appleton’s Journal. I won’t give it all away here, but suffice it to say that a mule, a stagecoach, and a pretty prostitute are involved in young Loring’s untimely end.

In Their Own Words

Emily Boles to her mother, Rachel Boles: “everything is as neat as wax.”

In a family of writers, published works abound, but especially dear are the handwritten notes, corrections to manuscripts, and occasional letters. This is one from Emilie’s mother to Emilie’s grandmother in 1854, two years before she would marry George Baker. She had gone to Baltimore for a cousin’s wedding and had a very pleasant day with a Mr. Cushing.

Still sparking joy

Late in her life, Emilie thought about her belongings, their meanings to her and what they would–or could not–mean to the next generation. In her last, full novel, she wrote:

Gay boxes held hats in which she and her small friends trailing their mothers’ long skirts had fared forth to call on the neighbors. An old-fashioned dressmaker form in front of the narrow door that opened on the secret stairs had an uncanny resemblance to a human watching her. Framed pictures, a motley score, were turned faces to the wall; the head and foot boards of a spool bed leaned companionably close to a dark chintz-covered wing chair. Vases in infinite variety, plates, colorful dozens of them, vegetable dishes of her great-grandmother’s set of Canova were loaded on an oak dining table… 

To Love and To Honor
“…the cupboard banged open with a force that sent treasured plates of mulberry and black Canova to the four corners of the room.”

She was the last of her family, there were no relatives to whom it would mean anything…

To Love and To Honor

Would she be surprised to know how many of us remember the Canova dishes, her silver boxes, and the red, Coromandel screen? Would she be surprised to learn that her books are among our meaningful keepsakes? Could she have imagined that someone would spend years researching her life, looking for just these sorts of personal details?

When my granddaughter was born, I gave her a few, small treasures in a wooden keepsake box. Her name and birthdate are carved into the lid and framed by a circlet of cherry blossoms, because her town was pink with the happy blooms when she was born. I don’t know what she will keep in the box as she grows older, but already she knows that special treasures are inside, and she wants to see them. You can be sure I’ll tell her their stories.

Happy Landings, everyone!

8 thoughts on “What To Do With These Family Treasures?

  1. I always treasure all the beautiful treasures I have from the Loring family, and seeing then in your interesting blog makes them even more dear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tuulikki. The Loring heirlooms make Emilie’s story come alive. For you, of course, they speak not only of her but also of Selden, your long life together, and your shared interest in his Loring history. I will always treasure our time together and the way that you and Selden have supported me and my work. Much love.


  2. Aloha! A very touching letter. I think I will remember that any of Emilies stories are like walking into my Nanas home. I can still walk through it virtually in my mind. It begins with pulling up to the driveway, smelling the pungent scent of ivy and checking for any peeling paint that might need a fix. Then holding onto the bannister post as I walk up the stairs to the first landing, remembering the stories told of my father changing the orientation of the stairs. Then turning to face the front door, looking for the red geraniums and pink begonias that were always there. The scents mixed with the vision of suns rays hitting the beveled glass of the doors three little windows as I watched for a familiar face. Then as the door opened and I was enfolded in her arms in a warm , loving hug, I could smell the welcoming aroma of her fresh cooked anise cookies! I miss her dearly. It doesn’t stop there because in my mind, I can walk into her foyer with the knowledge that every nook and cranny holds a dear memory. Each item brings a story or feeling. Even my husband was so affected by the comfort he found in her home, that he insisted he needed a Black Forest cuckoo clock just like hers. It is his delight each day to hear that sound and be the caretaker of its operation. I think Emilie might have known just how important setting the scene for each story would be for her readers too. Perhaps, like me, she experienced such feelings about the items in her life that triggered good thoughts too. One thing that I come back to often when thinking of her stories, was a description of a copper bowl of rust colored chrysanthemums on a table, and the descriptions of the many wonderful flowers in the gardens. I would love to create the cut flower gardens of her experiences. My Nana had a small cut flower garden. Growing up in Hawaii, I did not have those type of flowers available to me. So I am excited every spring to learn about what flowers I can grow here in Oregon. I love the big blousy blue Hydrangea blossoms. I planted two of those and have been watching for the buds. It’s exciting! I have a purple one to plant soon. Fuchsia, rosemary. Columbines, and of course red geraniums. As soon as the weather warms I will begin to experiment with new flowers. I have been nurturing a white gardenia on my covered porch. I hope it will bloom this year. And that the jasmine will bloom again. Hoping! Thank you for sharing new insights into Emilie. Have a lovely week, aloha , Pam

    Sent from my iPad



  3. Might that grandfather clock have been the one in The Solitary Horseman? “As [the monkey] replaced his head covering at a rakish angle a brass ball on top of the clock caught his roving eye. He worked it free….[Peter] flung up his arms to protect his head as something round and hard and shiny whizzed past his ear….[His mother] ducked as a second ball pitched with the precision and dispatch of a big-league outfielder struck her shoulder. The monkey…chattered and mouthed horribly as he sized the third ball.”

    I seem to remember a grandfather clock with three balls mentioned at least one other story, too.


    1. Karen, what a great catch! I had never noticed that before. In fact, when I’ve seen the clock in person, I’ve always focused on its painted scene, not the brass balls on top. Now, I’m curious to see where else it might appear–and I want to post more Loring keepsakes, in case others notice more, too. Thank you so much for noticing and writing in. I love this sort of thing!


  4. the minute you mentioned the screens, I thought “silver boxes!” Sharing family things is so hard. Today, I’m wearing one of my mom’s splashy rings – turquoise surrounded by white sapphires my dad bought in Iran in the seventies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Turquoise and white sapphires! It sounds gorgeous! Raised in Arizona, turquoise feels like home to me. I wear a Ceylon sapphire (periwinkle) with diamond baguettes (like in Hilltops Clear but sapphire instead of emerald). I’ve never seen a white sapphire–new search!


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