Monday, April 12, 2010
Today my sister and I went through Mom's jewelry (or most of it, anyway). I've mentioned before that shopping for jewelry was a favorite shared activity. Mom had been at it longer than her daughters, and had amassed a huge collection.
She kept the jewelry in many decorative boxes on and in her dresser. We started going box by box, dumping each out on the bed and divvying up the contents before moving to the next. This was a lot of fun; we both imagined Mom watching us and beaming, since she loved showing off her stash and had often told us, "You two can fight over my jewelry when I die." There wasn't any fighting, though. Each of us really wanted a few particular things, which the other happily granted. We spent a lot of the rest of the time trying to convince the other to take one piece or another: "Come on, that looks really good on you, you should take it," or "Mom would want you to have that one," or "You gave that to Mom, so you should have it."
The pieces I really wanted were:
* A sterling pin/pendant, with intricate cut-outs and etching, that I acquired for a song in junior high or high school -- I could afford it on my allowance! -- and gave to Mom for Christmas. I'd noticed it right away in our favorite jewelry store, and I was thrilled and disbelieving when I could actually afford it, and I was even more thrilled when she loved it as much as I did. And after all these years, I still love it.
* A carved-bone cat-head pendant I bought for her on Maui.
* A chunky gold-link bracelet with two charms on it. One is Mom's 90-Day pin from AA; the other is a gold locket with tiny photographs of me and my sister. Mom got sober in 1964, after twenty years of alcoholism, so she wouldn't lose access to us. To me, the bracelet symbolizes the fact that we were her reason for sobering up. Tonight I told Liz, "You know, we saved her life," and Liz allowed as how I was right, although she'd never thought about it that way. I hardly ever wear gold, and this bracelet really isn't my style, but I'm wearing it now, and I cherish it.
So those were my must-have pieces, but Mom had a lot of jewelry, so I also wound up with: a ton of gorgeous earrings in all kinds of styles, my father's gold Coast Guard cufflinks, a large variety of beaded necklaces Mom had strung herself, her own mother's baby bracelet (Mom's mom died when Mom was twelve, so I never knew her), a gorgeous jade bracelet and necklace set we think may have belonged to Mom's grandmother, a sterling art deco necklace, several beautiful and very unusual silver pins and pendants with a variety of stones, and a silver ring she particularly loved. Also all the pretty little boxes she'd kept everything in, because my sister has no patience for pretty little boxes. Also the sagebrush sachet I'd made and sent her for Christmas when we first moved to Reno in 1997: she'd kept it in a drawer, and it still smells great!
Mind you, Liz had at least that much stuff too, and we'd put at least that much again aside as pieces neither of us adored. Mom and her home healthcare aide, Lucille, shared a love of jewelry, so Liz wanted Lucille to be able to pick some things out. We removed our own picks and spread the rest out on the bed so Lucille would be able to see it more easily.
When we were done, I felt bereft. It broke my heart to see Mom's dresser without all the pretty little boxes on it, and to think that she'd never buy herself any more jewelry. "I always thought Mom's jewelry was inexhaustible," I told Liz, "and I thought Mom was, too. But neither of them was."
"That's a good way of putting it," she said.
Lucille came over, admired everything, and carried away a small shopping bag of goodies (along with nine boxes of Depends, which her current client can use). She told us funny stories about looking through clothing catalogs with Mom, amiably arguing about whether something was blue or purple. She told us how particular Mom was about matching her jewelry and clothing, how proud Mom was at the end when she managed to dress and adorn herself without help. She told us how proud Mom was of us, how much she talked about us. "I have two good daughters. They're a blessing to me." She laughed about Mom's directness. "She didn't hold anything back!"
She also told me that near the end, when Mom's dementia was worsening, she had lots of conversations with me when I wasn't actually present. I asked Lucille what these conversations were about, but she didn't know. "She talked to you all the time, though."
I wish I knew what she said! Maybe I'll find out, someday. For years, when Mom was in good health, we spoke on the phone every day. Lately we hadn't done that: my conversations with her were so short and one-sided that I grew to dread calling. Maybe she never had anything to tell me because she thought she'd told me already; maybe the dementia conversations filled in for the actual ones we weren't having.
After Lucille left, we went out for dinner to a place Mom liked, because all of us needed a break from the house. When we got back, Liz and I settled down to divvying up the jewelry Lucille hadn't taken. We got pretty punchy pretty quickly, and wound up each taking a lot of stuff we don't think we'll wear, to give as gifts to friends who will.
Then I noticed a bedside table with a large lower compartment. "I wonder what's in here?" I opened the compartment. "Oh, no! Liz, there's more!"
More pretty little boxes. Cross-eyed by now, we pulled them out and started sorting. They weren't as full as the others, and contained mostly inexpensive costume jewelry Mom hadn't worn any more, which is why they'd been in storage. There were a few good pieces, though.
Underneath all the pretty little boxes was a stack of paper. "What's all this?" I said, lifting it out, and immediately recognized a printout from my college computer center. The stack contained copies of college papers and stories I'd sent Mom, along with some letters, notably a really embarrassing one I sent her about a half-baked date I went on; I can't believe I told my mother that stuff! Poor Mom. Children don't want to hear about their parents' love lives, but I doubt Mom wanted to hear that much about mine, either. She always said with a sigh, whenever she compared me and Liz, "I have one daughter who tells me everything and another who tells me nothing." Guess which one I was?
I was avidly rereading the old letters when Liz announced that she was going to bed. And now, having blogged far too much today, I'll do the same.
Still to come: Clothing. Shoes. Wall decorations.