Jewelry is one of my passions, and I especially love wearing jewelry that belonged to someone in my family because it connects me to them in such a tangible way. For a long time I wore two slender gold wedding bands on the middle finger of my right hand - they belonged to my mother in law and my aunt, and each morning when I slipped them on my finger I gave these two women a tender thought. In June of 2011, I took the rings off and put them into a heart shaped box I keep in my nightstand - it seemed like time to move on, to let them rest quietly in my memory without that daily nudge against my heartstrings. This month I’ve been wearing my grandmother’s pearl ring on my right hand, because April is both the month of her birth and the month of her wedding anniversary. My grandfather bought the ring for her birthday, and although I can’t remember which birthday, I wonder if it might have been her 60th. I was old enough to recall going along on the shopping trip he took with my mother to pick it out. If she were turning 60, then I would have been 11 years old, and that seems to fit with the physical memory I have of myself in the jewelry store with my mom and my Granddad.
Wearing my grandmother’s ring this month has given me a chance to reflect on how important she was to me - how important both my grandparents were in my life. They lived with us for most of my childhood, and became my de facto baby sitters and playmates. My grandmother spent most of her time in the kitchen, but she would always stop what she was doing, wipe her floury hands on the cotton apron she wore over her housedress, and take the book I had proffered to our favorite chair where we would cuddle and read for as long as I liked. My grandfather took me on daily walks through the woods where we imagined elaborate games of hunting wildlife, me carrying my little plastic Winchester cap rifle, our cocker spaniel trotting happily ahead with nose to the ground.
She taught me to sing - the hymns she once played on the piano at the Baptist church in their hometown. He taught me to play poker and hold that toy rifle steady. Fifty years later, those memories bring back a feeling of contentment, of being loved and valued.
I was luckier than most children in those days, and certainly luckier than most children nowadays, who more often than not have grandparents in different states or even different countries. My own grandson is one of those, and when I feel badly that we live 1500 miles away from him, I remember that his maternal grandparents live about 15,000 miles away in Thailand, and have never even seen him.
The other day I was out shopping with my friend when a Face Time call came in from her daughter and granddaughter in another time zone. The baby, an eight month old, looked seriously perplexed, staring at our faces in the little box on the phone screen. “All of these kids are going to grow up thinking their grandparents live in a tiny electronic box,” I joked. And while technology is a wonderful aid to see and hear in real time what the little ones are doing and how they are growing, sometimes those Skype and FaceTime calls reminds me of TV shows where people are visiting their family members in prison, talking to one another over a telephone, pressing fingertips and lips to the plexiglass screen that separates them.
It’s easy for me to have a personal pity party over the fact that I rarely see my grandson, that I can’t babysit for him while his mom and dad go out, that we won’t have many holiday traditions or regular sleepovers. But when I think about how much my grandparents taught me, how much I loved listening to their stories about life when they were children, what a close relationship we had based on the things we did together every day, then I realize that Connor and all the other little ones like him are missing something too.
Parents try so hard to give their children every advantage - the best schools, creative toys and playthings, access to every sport and enriching activity imaginable. In the modern world it’s easy to lose sight of other things that also important. Extended family can provide a quality of unconditional love and attention, a legacy of family history, a wise and calm perspective that is- well, in the words of the famous commercial - Priceless.
Each morning this month when I put my grandmother’s ring on my finger, I connect with all those wonderful memories I have of her and with what I know about her and my heritage. From her came my desire to play the piano, my understanding of the importance of books and reading. I don’t think I inherited her ability to bake (although admittedly I’ve not given it a fair shot) but I’m afraid my generalized anxiety and impatience are all hers!
I like knowing where all that stuff in me comes from. But I love having memories of the of hours, days, years, I spent in the company of my grandparents. Their love made me feel cherished in a way I’ve never felt since - as if I could do anything, as if I could do no wrong. It was a wonderful feeling.
Sometimes, when I put the pearl ring on my finger, I can still feel it.
How about you? Do you wear any jewelry that connects you with someone special in your family history?