The Jewelry Box
One of the worst days of my life was when I had to put my elderly mother, several stages into Alzheimer’s, into a senior living facility. My Dad was in a Florida hospital near their home with a 50% chance of survival. I lived in Ohio, a single parent with a 60 hour a week job. My brother, in Maryland, had used up his vacation time visiting our folks the prior week at the beginning of this emergency. The place we found seemed just right. If Dad survived, he’d join Mom there. If he didn’t, she’d be taken care of. Mom was angry, even throwing grapefruit at me in preparation for the move. But once I had her settled in her new apartment with her familiar things, she calmed down. We tidied her clothes and dresser. That’s when she grabbed her jewelry box, dumped the contents on the mattress, and slid onto the bed to survey all of it.
“There. This is my life. Not much to show for it,” she declared, a tear running down her cheek. She picked up her first small, delicate wedding ring. “I was very thin when we got married. This is all your father could afford.” She fingered a gold brooch with a center flower. “I bought this for your grandmother. During the war. I spent a whole week’s salary on it – $25.00. You should take this home, I don’t want it around here.” Then, a Delft pin, Dad bought her on a trip to the Netherlands; a golden locket with a broken chain that she thought had been her mothers. She went on and on, remembering each precious bauble – her favorite wristwatch, earrings from a vacation, a silver snowflake pendant from when they lived in Vermont. All these memories when at this point, she’d forgotten how to cook, sew, and work the washer and dryer.
Until that day, it had never occurred to me that a woman’s life is in her jewelry box. After all, whatever she has, most of it represents special occasions – a birthday, anniversary, vacation, holiday. Some gifts from someone special; some personal purchases to remember that big trip, voyage, festival or life event. And there’s the pieces passed along in a family. Like the gold brooch I still have. A concrete timeline of a life.
I look at my jewelry box differently now. It’s a box full of stories. So many stories.