The past isn't just told through history books and documentaries but also through the clothes on your back, the shoes on your feet and the rings on your fingers. Putting your grandfather's sunglasses on, you can see the world the same way he once saw it, and in that way, his memory lives on.
Here, four individuals tell the stories of different articles of clothing and accessories that were passed down to them from previous generations and what those pieces mean to them today.
Written by Ashley Fisher | Introduction by Rana Alsoufi | Photos by Martha McHaney
"When I was younger, my mother was always meticulous about her jewelry," UK College of Communication and Information Assistant Professor Elizabeth Spencer said. "She'd ask me to pick out her jewelry, so I'd go digging through her jewelry box and find the perfect accessories to go with what she was wearing. It's one of those sweet memories I will always have with her."
Spencer's mother, Georgia Deer, passed away in 2017 from Alzheimer's. But during the last few years of Deer's life, Spencer recalled her mother always wearing a ring with a silver band and a dark red gem in the center.
"Eighteen months before she passed, we transitioned her to a care facility. When we went to take off her ring before taking her there, it wouldn't come off, so she brought it with her," Spencer said. "A week before she passed, I went to stay with her and the ring went missing in the care facility."
The ring was found three days later. Spencer described it as a completion of all the memories she was trying to hold onto.
The first few years after her mother's passing, Spencer rarely took off her mother's ring. But when the ring became fragile, she started to only wear it on days that she really needed to feel her mother's strength and encouragement.
In 2020, Spencer decided it was time to get the ring reset.
"It was a long process, but one day I came across a crown setting and knew it was perfect," Spencer said. "My mother was spiritual and knew she would be renewed in heaven after passing. The crown setting represents her being healed and healthy, and wearing the new setting feels like a symbol of healing. Wearing it gives me a lift and makes me feel strong. It gives me a feeling of hope."
Gannon Diggs, father of current KRNL Editor-in-Chief Allie Diggs, sits in a bright sunroom at his home in Paris, Kentucky, with his father's pilot aviators in hand.
Gannon's father was a captain in the Air Force and was gifted the sunglasses after graduating from the Air Force Officer Training School. The sunglasses have seen multiple bases and were also worn while he was stationed in Udorn, Thailand, during the Vietnam War.
"He wasn't a big sunglasses guy after he retired from the military, so he only wore them on occasion, but he was so proud of these sunglasses," Gannon said. "He was very proud of serving this country."
Gannon remembers seeing his father wear the sunglasses to baseball games and NASCAR races.
"Seeing him in these were always really good memories," Gannon said. "Now when I wear the sunglasses, I can't help but think about all they have seen when he was wearing them."
Linda Huseman, the mother of University of Kentucky junior Natalie Huseman, passed down two wedding dresses to her daughter.
The first wedding dress was Linda's and the second belonged to Natalie's grandmother, Joan Fischer. Fischer was married in 1956, but her wedding wasn't the only time her wedding dress was seen.
"My parents had ten kids — six girls — so for every bridal shower, my mother would put her wedding dress on a mannequin," Linda said. "You would walk into every bridal shower and it would look like a person was standing there, but it was just her dress."
Linda's parents were happily married for 50 years. Linda got married in 1992 and will be celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary this June.
"My mom's wedding dress is special to me because it symbolizes their marriage," Natalie said. "They're still together and have a great relationship. It's an important symbol of what I hope to have one day: a good loving relationship. I look up to them."
Ella Webster, a UK junior, discovered her love for vintage clothes and Appalachian music music from her grandmother, Cheryl Webster.
"My grandparents were old-time musicians from rural Kentucky. They played a lot of Appalachian-like mountain music. My grandmother was really into fashion and hasn't really gotten rid of any of her clothes since the 60s or 70s," Ella said.
Following in her grandparents' footsteps, Ella is a fiddle player and her favorite clothing to wear while she performs is clothing her grandmother passed down to her.
"When I was younger, my grandparents would take me to Appalachian festivals and my grandma would show me all her vintage clothes. At first, I honestly thought it was annoying and didn't have much interest in it. Then I realized it was actually really cool," Ella said.
After that realization, her grandma started giving her bags of clothes every few months. Ella's favorite pieces are a blue, floral Gunne Sax dress and the green dress her grandmother wore when her husband ran for district attorney in Pikeville, Ky.
"I have so much of her clothes, pretty much everything I wear is hers," Ella said.