For as long as I can remember, my Grandma Shirley has joked with my mom and I about who would get her jewelry when she died. We had a certain patter, almost a Who’s On First routine where my mother and I pretended to barter for certain pieces. It was always lighthearted, a game amongst the three of us, even though we’ve always known for whom special pieces were earmarked.
Over Thanksgiving, we looked through a couple of boxes of slides depicting images from a family vacation when my mom was a pre-teen. In them, my grandmother wears a series of fit-and-flare dresses and head scarves that I would love to have now. I’m sure they were only cotton, probably made by her, but she looked so put together and pretty and of the time. And though I’ve seen other images from the 70s where she’s a bit frumpy, the grandma of my teens and 20s was well put together and appropriately fashionable for her age, and always had a ring or three on her fingers. We used to shop together at every opportunity, and Grandma didn’t pull any punches when it came to giving feedback on the clothes I chose or how they fit me. She bought me my first interview suit. She used to give everyone sweaters at Christmas. (Another tradition I never thought I’d miss, but do now.)
Grandma’s jewelry is not particularly flashy, but growing up I thought her collection was better than anything I would have on my own. I used to try on her rings, sometimes in public, and people would tut-tut about how rude it was that we would joke about inheritance when Grandma was still alive. She still wears her rings every single day, one of which will go to me and one to my mom. Later there were sapphire and diamond bracelets from a suitor she met on a cruise with her friend Louise – the man was married, which is a story I love about my grandmother – and later still a sizable diamond engagement ring from a man she didn’t marry.
The jewelry has been so much a part of my family mythology, a part of the fabric that binds us together.
When my mom and aunt cleaned out my grandmother’s house, when they put her in the assisted living facility, my mom took on the boxes and boxes of jewelry my grandmother had collected over the years. Almost all of it is inconsequential. As she got older, she became a bit of a QVC hoarder, and mom found dozens of items that she had never seen before and likely were never worn. But hidden in the boxes of tangled necklaces and velvet pouches of silver bracelets were a handful of things that mattered, and so, just as we used to joke we found ourselves dividing up her things before Grandma is truly gone.
I have only vague recollections of my grandma wearing any of the pieces I brought home with me. They have little meaning to me, except that they were hers, or that I liked them. She still wears the things I am most familiar with, though the Alzheimer’s has stolen the who, what, when and where. And even though we no longer joke about how one day I’ll have to resize her rings to fit, or how I’ll have to fight my mom for the best pieces, I’m glad she still has them and hope the familiar weight of them gives her comfort each day.