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.