It’s all about stories.
More and more, Jeeps and I are finding this out. Him in his business; me with this blog. I like to cook, here’s what I made for dinner. So what. Any fool can google a recipe; I’m not inventing anything new here. “I really don’t even try many of your recipes because I’m vegan,” said my friend Rachel once. “So I tend to like your personal posts more than your foodie ones.” She’s right: it’s not the food, it’s the story. Life is a series of moments, a collection of stories. I have been reading Adam Gopnik’s The Table Come First and was struck by this paragraph, penned in an imaginary email to the food author Elizabeth Pennell:
In your beautiful book, though, you offered both the method and the object. The method, which you invented, of turning every recipe into a little story, a bit of narrative, shows that recipes need not be neat tables of chemical interactions but short stories of mixed emotions: what I did that day, and why I did it.
What I did that day, and why I did it.
Yesterday was Panda’s birthday. My baby is twelve. Her big present was one of those bead/charm bracelets that are all the rage these days. I went with the poor-girl’s Pandora from Kohl’s but still a very nice jewelry investment for a young lady and one she can keep adding to. My mother sighed at it. “Just like the charm bracelet that I had; my parents would buy me charms for my birthday or Christmas.”
May I show you my mother’s charm bracelet?
Isn’t it wonderful? This lived in the bottom drawer of her jewelry case, and I would go visit it regularly. It was, and is, just the most awesomest thing ever. All the charms work, that is to say, the Hope Chest opens, the spinning wheel spins, you can turn the handle on the coffee grinder, and raise the lid of the piano. This bracelet is a little girls’ dream. When I became the mother of a daughter, it was bequeathed to me, to live in my own jewelry box, and be visited.
This got me thinking of a conversation I had with someone recently, about the things a woman keeps in her jewelry box. Jewelry, obviously, each piece of which can carry with it a story of acquisition or occasion or symbolism. But in addition to the baubles, most women have, in the bottom drawer or the secret compartment or a velvet drawstring bag, other treasured swag. Silly things. Sentimental things. Private things. Bittersweet things.
So I thought I’d invite you into my jewelry box. And tell you a few stories.
This is the Collection aux Sapphires de JeanPierre. The bracelet was the first piece of jewelry Jeeps ever gave me, our second Christmas together; it was a boyfriend’s gift. The ring he gave me Christmas of 1996 and carried with it a more significant symbolism. We had been broken up for some months, and then reconciled. Though committed to being together, we were living apart: him in Boston, me in New York. It became clear that if we were going to continue being together, one of us was going to have to move. He had a job he could do from anywhere while I was deeply entrenched teaching dance with my mother. He called me one night to say he was breaking his lease and coming home. The ring’s story is, “You’re my home. I’m staying”
This is the Edwin Roens collection. Eddie was a distant cousin my father and I made contact with during our family tree research project. He was an eccentric old coot, but at that point in his life, in his eighties, he had no family left of his own. He took my father to his crotchety old heart, and made him the beneficiary of his will. Eddie passed on some years later, leaving my father a Hoarder’s Nightmare in Beacon, New York. Mom and Dad bravely cleared out the house, chock full of art, music, books, souvenirs, junk, and not a few treasures. I was given the Passover china: a grand dining set in cream with gold bands. Mom also put aside for me this cameo pin, I had always wanted one and every girl should have one. The ring was Eddie’s mother’s wedding ring. She must have been the tiniest woman because it barely goes on my pinky. It’s inscribed with her initials and her wedding date, and I wear it on a silver chain sometimes.
This was my great-grandma Lou’s ring and my mom gave it to me about ten years ago. We weren’t really sure what the stone was, or if it was a stone at all. So I took it to a jeweler, who very kindly told me it was glass in a filigree setting, but he put the sizer on for me and pressed it back into my hand, saying its story and its sentimental value made it priceless. “Keep it for your daughter,” he said. And I will. This ring has grown on me over the years and I find myself reaching for it often. I don’t really have what you’d call ladylike hands; they’re kind of large and square and strong and they do a lot of things, and I think the size of this ring suits them. I think Lou would agree.
Ah. Yes. (Laughing). My channel ring. This is not a ring, this is a trophy. This is my “congratulations, you survived 2003” prize. That Christmas, Jeeps and I sat on the couch in the living room of our new house. We had moved two weeks prior. Boxes were piled everywhere, pieces of furniture placed haphazardly. The Christmas tree was a hastily flung-together affair. Panda didn’t like her new room. Jeeps was mourning his father, lost to us in June. I was nine months pregnant and had just gone through surgery for thyroid cancer. Jeeps and I sat together on the couch – just the couch, the rug, the coffee table and the television were set up in the living room, an island of refuge in a sea of confusion. We sat there shell-shocked, wondering what the hell we had just done to our lives. And then Jeeps reached in his pocket and gave me a little black box. “This is for everything you did this year,” he said softly.
I wear it on my right hand, I just put it on my left for the picture because I can’t take a picture lefty. It also has a stone missing, which I don’t replace, for the same reason I don’t take my wedding ring and engagement ring and have them soldered together the way they are supposed to be. I love my rings; my friend Bridget refers to them as “industrial chic” which just nails it. You can see my band has a little notch cut in it where the short edge of the diamond is supposed to fit. I’m married fourteen years, I haven’t done it yet and probably won’t. Why? Because love isn’t perfect. Stones fall out, things don’t always fit, they shift and slide around backwards. But rings remain a circle, and just as love is here to stay, rings stay on your finger. There, that’s my big love sliding-ring missing stone theory.
Now. Let’s go deep.
My jewelry box is three stackable levels, and it’s the bottom compartment that has the magic. Or the insanity, depending on how you look at it.
(Opens it up) OK. Whoa. I’m vulnerable. OK. Here we go:
OK, so let’s start out easy at 9:00. Those are the earrings I wore on my wedding day, and clipped to the cardboard thingie is a Blessed Mary medallion that Frank, my matron of honor, gave me for “something blue”; I wore it pinned inside my bra. Because that’s what you do.
Peeking out from under the earrings are my father’s dog tags. I went through a phase in college when I wore them all the time. Now I just keep them in here. Jeeps has his dad’s tags and always wears them when he flies. On business trips or when we’re flying to Florida, the kids always ask, “Dad, do you have Grandpa’s tag?”
At high noon…well that needs no explanation does it? The ol’ EPT sticks. Who doesn’t keep and treasure that bit of pee? And yes there are three, and yes I have two children. If you’re a woman who knows, then you know, and if you know, then reach out and hold my hand.
(Holds your hand)
OK, now, we have 2 of the 65 bobby pins that were stuck in my hair on my wedding day. We have a paper clip that I took from the desk of a very dear co-worker when he left Verizon, because we’d worked together for 8 years, we were tight, we were partners and…I felt like I just needed to have something out of his desk to keep. This is the bottom drawer, OK? It gets weird!
Then, in a little clear bag, we have a gold pendant with a pearl that my very first boyfriend in high school gave me. Then there’s a man’s collar stay. I’m gonna skip over that. Long story. And then there’s that little, organdie drawstring bag, which contains a very sweet, slightly sad, but ultimately triumphant story:
Once upon a time in my early twenties, there was a boy I loved. And he gave me a ring. A little gold ring with two entwined hearts. Our hearts were entwined, and probably always will be on a certain level, but ultimately, it all fell apart. Quite badly. We left each other, but I kept the ring, because that’s what you do, and I put it away in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box.
Time went on, and new jewelry boxes were bought, and the ring just transferred along with the other souvenirs of my life. I got married, and one day I had a young daughter who would go “visit” the treasures in my jewelry box. She’d play with my mother’s charm bracelet, try on the necklaces. And this little girl took a shine to that little gold ring. One day, she tried it on, walked out of my bedroom, and, as these things happen, the ring was lost, somewhere in the expanse of the living room floor, unbeknownst to the mother…(drifting into third person, I feel like Cate Blanchett should be narrating this)…
The unknowing mother came along with her evil vacuum cleaner and heard a terrible noise. The ring was retrieved from the depths of the machinery, but it had been defeated. Squashed. The mother was sad, and tried to bend the ring back into shape, and the squashed ring broke into pieces. The mother was very sad then, but she put the pieces into a little bag, and put the bag back in her jewelry box, because that’s what you do. Things fall apart, but some pieces are worth keeping.
Fairly recently, the boy, who is now a man (and a lovely one), got back in touch with me. I told him what became of his ring, the ring he gave that girl.
“First of all,” he said when I was finished, “that’s the greatest story ever. Second of all…you kept that? All these years? You…kept me?”
“Of course,” I said. “That’s what a jewelry box is for.”
“What do you mean?”
“Every woman has a secret treasure or two in her jewelry box. It’s where she keeps her swag. Her stories. Funny, I keep meaning to write a blog post about that.”
“You should write it now,” he said.
So I did.
Love isn’t perfect. What you thought was a precious stone turns out to be glass, but you love it anyway because it has a story. Diamonds fall out, but you flaunt the empty spot as proudly as you would a medal of bravery. Rings shift around and don’t fit perfectly together, but you let it go because they are yours and no others can fit your finger the way they do. Sometimes treasures are lost, squashed, or they break in pieces, but you keep the pieces because they belong to your life. The boy and girl had fallen apart badly, but twenty years later, the man and woman discovered that each had kept the pieces worth keeping, and from those pieces, something new could be built.
This is what I did today, and why I did it.