Summers come and go in a sleepy little Midwestern town. It was no different in the town where I grew up. If it was possible I would have not been surprised to find kids down the street named Jem, Scout or Dill. Or a father named Atticus. We even had our own version of Boo Radley, and just like those kids we ran wild in the neighborhood, in the cornfields that surrounded our houses and on the gravel roads that led in and out.
When you wanted to go downtown, you boarded the one and only bus that made the circuit. You could walk downtown in a half hour and across town in an hour if you were impatient to wait or late and it had already gone. You were walking slow and savoring every crack in the sidewalk. It was cool under the cathedral drape of the mature elm trees and you didn’t mind. Crawdads were under the bridge over the creek that you had to cross, and you had to stop and poke a stick at them until they grabbed hold and you lifted them out.
Hopscotch or jacks ruled the day, and Annie Over the night. When it got too hot and humid to do anything outdoors during the day, we spent hours in the cellar reading all the Life magazines my mom saved from the first date of publication. But what stirred my imagination the most was Mom’s jewelry box. It stayed on her dresser top at the back next to the mirror and I’d go in there and look at all her things.
The box was carved oak wood that looked old even when it was new. It had a kind of Currier and Ives landscape scene decoupaged to the top that was tattered and peeling at the edges. Maybe it had been passed down to her from her mother or grandmother. Maybe it caught her eye at a rummage sale or department store. She never told us and we never asked. Years later I wished that I had. It would have given the box that much more history.
Mom didn’t just have jewelry. She had memorabilia from the travels she had made and precious items that reminded her of her children. A lock of my sister’s baby hair. A picture block of her used for printing a newspaper article. A souvenir from a road trip to Mexico City. Spoons that she fed us kids with as babies that tarnished over time. It was my mom’s life in objects. In amongst her odd assortment of doo-dads and her double band wedding ring were the items that told a story of some fabled land or adventure she had made.
Mom wasn’t a pearls kind of person. She was an artsy, craftsman kind of person. Her jewelry reflected that. She had heavy silversmith jewelry of Hopi turquoise. She had a ring that was set with carved and polished black obsidian. She had a brass alligator brooch that came from Cameroon. All these items were picked out by me and tried on and fantasized about. Nine years old I gazed at myself in the mirror with a little bit of lipstick and rouge from the antique compact she kept and thought myself the Queen of Sheba.
Mom never stopped or scolded me. I think she trusted me and knew that the careful oldest daughter would put things back the way she found them. When Mom passed away, her two daughters were able to save the box and now when we look at the things Mom put in there, we are instantly connected to her. It’s almost as if she’s in the next room and might all of a sudden walk into the room and with a little smile on her face and say, “What are you girls doing?” We know we’re not in trouble. It’s just Mom.