“Holy shit!” These are the words that flew out of my mouth when I came across my diamond earrings that had “gone missing” for over seven years. When we were packing up our house in Indiana back in 2008, I carefully put them in a special place for safekeeping during the move and thought “Now, am I going to remember they are here?” Obviously I didn’t and it annoyed me all those years. Perhaps that box never got unpacked in Pennsylvania, it could have been one that remained in storage. But years later in New York, I was sitting on the dining room floor, unpacking once again, and there they were. Yay!
Mine in not a family rich in heirlooms, these earrings were my sole inheritance from my mother. A gift from my father to her, a legacy I hoped to pass on to a granddaughter. My mother didn’t live long enough to meet any of my grandchildren. My plan had always been to pass these earrings on to one of my lovelies, telling them stories that focused on the strengths of their great-grandmother and not her weaknesses, creating a link between the generations of women in our family. These connections can be forged with stories and memories, but sometimes an actual memento is a concrete reminder of a life.
One memento I truly treasure I actually rescued from the trash. I was visiting my dear Aunt Ruby in Illinois. There in a corner of her kitchen, piled up with items to go out to the garbage, I spotted what looked like a quilt. When I asked her about it, she said it was not worth keeping and was in her way. Turns out, it was a handstitched quilt she made when she was a young woman. The individual blocks have the name of a state, each colorfully embroidered with its official flower. She had started it so long ago there are only 48 state blocks! After a little persuading (whining) on my part, that beautiful quilt became mine and I treasure it to this day. There have been low moments in life when I wrapped myself up in it and imagined wrapping myself up in her love. I have never doubted her unconditional love but having something that she created is sincerely one of my most cherished possessions. It has the power to transport me back to a time of being fussed over and feeling like one of her treasures.
What does discovering an old treasure make a 78-year old woman feel? My sister has also moved several times including trips across the ocean. She has purged and curated, packed and unpacked. One day while going through a box of old stuff of no particular value, she found a shoebox with a collection of small, ornate opera purses. Thinking it really was time to let go, she paused a moment to open and check each one. Suddenly she spied a small orange ticket. But it was what was on the ticket that made her realize the meaning of the word serendipity. It was a ticket to an unforgettable concert on March 15, 1969. The headliner, her favorite, the amazing Janis Joplin. The ticket is now framed in a small cherrywood frame with two musical sons eyeing it for when she kicks the bucket. But today it still makes her smile to remember that incredible night.
But it is a treasure I recently unearthed from my past that may be the most valuable to me of all. When cleaning out my mother’s apartment after she passed, I came across an old school assignment of mine that she had saved. Just the fact that she had saved it was miraculous as she wasn’t one to squirrel away keepsakes or relics of her children. At the time of her death, I tucked it away, just recently coming upon it again. I can’t remember what grade I was in at the time, but I remember the assignment. Write an autobiography! I do recall being gobsmacked, frantically trying to figure out what to say. Reading this assignment 50 years later, I am first struck by my false bravado. I don’t think I was ever in a fist fight and I know I never beat up any of my sisters. What I remember of that time was often feeling insecure and uncertain, grasping for confidence.
But finding this half-century old writing shifts my perspective of myself at that age. I admire my pluckiness to say, “my country needs me” and the audacity to state, “I turned into the sophisticated woman that I am now.” I am misty eyed to see the burgeoning determination that was there all along. It is a reminder that our lives are full of forgotten treasures that may require digging a little deeper into ourselves. And yes, Johnny Depp, that is a treasure worth more to me than silver or gold.
C’est la vie.