Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thoughts about Jewelry and Memories in the New Year

My father (who died 36 years ago) was a very smart man.  He studied hard to become a surgeon, and he read voraciously all his (too-short) life.  To me, he passed on a love of English literature and a respect for knowledge and fact.
Yesterday, I felt oddly compelled to go through my jewelry box.  Ostensibly, this was because last weekend, my mother asked me to return her wedding ring.  I told her I didn’t have it, and she asked me to check.
But I felt as though something else was urging me to take the box from the shelf where I keep it and pore over the tangled chains, lone earrings, and broken-latched bracelets I barely remember I own but can’t seem to throw away.

I’m funny about jewelry. I have pierced ears but a lot of hair, so I never wear earrings.  And I tend to wear the same pieces over and over: two cuff bracelets (one given to me by my son, another by my friend Jim), a ring with a silver horse on it that I bought in London, another with a dolphin, a gift from my daughter.  Plus a diamond watch and a couple of things Robert has given me.  I have lots of beautiful jewelry made by my friend Tracy, and I wear it often.  It makes me feel cooler than I am, because Tracy is one of the coolest people on the planet, and I know if she’s made something, it is unarguably fantastic.
In general, I wear jewelry that means something to me.  I’m not very good at buying a piece because I like the look of it or think it will go well with something else (which is what I love about shopping for clothes).  I like wearing jewelry that people important in my life have given me.

I never did find my mother’s wedding ring.
But I found something my father gave me a few years before he died: his Phi Beta Kappa key, inscribed with his name, his college (UC Berkeley), and the year he was graduated (1944, when he was 20).

Immediately on finding it, I dug around for a silver chain (with a working latch) and hung the key around my neck.  I have decided I will wear it for a while.  It makes me feel close to him.

Today is the second day of 2014—happy new year!!—and I find myself thinking about someone who has been dead more than a quarter of a century.  Someone I only knew for nineteen years, who never knew me as an adult, a writer, or a mother. 

My mother—soon to be ninety-four, with ever-worsening dementia—is losing her past.  It is slipping away, like the foam that washes up the beach and then ebbs, swallowed by the depths behind it.  Each moment disappears into a vast abyss of moments, all the same, un-remembered.

Today, moving forward, I am so grateful  to have that key—that link to an old time—and to remember why it was important to my dad and why he gave it to me.

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