I don’t usually give much thought to jewelry. I regularly wear one necklace, which I bought for an aunt’s funeral six years ago. I put it on when my week begins every Tuesday, and take it off when I get home Saturday.
It wasn’t always this way. As a child, I was obsessed with rifling through my mother’s jewelry box. While she was working at her studio, I would sneak it out of her dresser and look through the pieces she’d collected during her youth: a locket, her high school class ring, a pair of bear claw earrings with turquoise accents. Once, when she caught me trying them on, she explained the stories behind each one of them.
I’ll be the first to admit that my mom’s memory wasn’t the best, even before her chemotherapy treatments. She was so absentminded, at times, that she would brush her teeth with diaper rash lotion and put salt on my Cheerios.
But that day, and every time she gave me a piece of jewelry — which happened more and more often as she neared the end of her life — she was able to remember the exact circumstances surrounding every piece.
She recalled not only the store or vendor, but also my stepfather’s reactions (usually anger, or bewilderment at why she would spend so much on, say, a necklace made entirely of seashells), how she felt at the time, and unrelated details that made the jewelry seem more beautiful than it actually was.
Inspired by my interviews with the artist at the Paducah School of Art, I decided to look through my own jewelry box for the first time in over a year.
I found many items of value — Russian amber earrings, African chevron beads, a garnet brooch from Prague — which I carefully set aside in favor of my mom’s old charm bracelet.
To anyone else, the bracelet looks unexceptional. To me, it’s a glimpse into what my mom found notable about her life, made all the more valuable by the fact that I can’t ask her directly.
The meaning behind some of the charms is clear — one commemorates her 16th birthday; another is a locket containing a picture of me as a chubby infant — but some, like a longhorn steer, remain a mystery.
I may not know the meaning behind the longhorn, but I am certain of one thing: I would sell any diamond before I would give up the charm bracelet my mother wore as a young woman.
Call Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641.