Heirlooms

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When I was a child, I never dreamt that my mother’s beautiful peridot and pearl necklace would ever be mine.

I imagined wearing her fur coat – I even asked her if I could have it when she died. A little precocious for an eight year old, I know. I asked for her stiletto shoes, long before my feet did much more than fill the toes, and I spent hours twisting her lipstick open and holding it to my mouth. But that necklace, somehow, was out of reach.

When my mother made a will, she made a provision for the necklace to be left to me. She was in relatively good health then, and she never spoke about it – I found out after she died. When we were going through her things we found a copy of the old will.

Then, when it became clear that she hadn’t got long to live, she decided to set her affairs in order. She didn’t have much, apart from the house and what was in her bank account, but she decided to bestow what she did have on us.

She announced that she would get out her jewellery box and let us all choose something from it. I wanted her to decide what she wanted to leave each of us, but she wouldn’t have any of it. It felt all wrong – we shouldn’t have been picking over her possessions before she had died, even though we knew she would very soon. It was too painful to contemplate.

“Us” was my brothers and their partners, their children, and me and my partner. As I lived in another country, everyone else got to pick before I did.

I have to admit, my mother and I argued about it. It wasn’t about value – there wasn’t anything much worth anything, if the truth be told. But I wanted something that would be a lasting reminder of her. My mother didn’t seem to care.

“Tell me what you want,” she said one evening when we talked on the phone. But I couldn’t, not without being there with her. Even if I could remember her jewellery, it felt wrong.

I asked her to wait until my next visit – I got over as often as I could, but I could only manage a flight every 3 weeks or so.

I can’t help it, if you’re not here. I’ll show the others when they visit,” she told me. She didn’t exactly say that I’d have to make do with what was left, but she was good at leaving things unsaid.

I cried myself to sleep, that night. It shouldn’t have mattered – but it did. I was her only daughter, shouldn’t that have meant something?

The time for the visit came. I steeled myself for the moment, telling myself that no matter what there was, even if it was a ring with no stones left in it, I would be happy to have something to remind me of her.

She got the box out, and I took a deep breath.

“I kept this back, I thought you might want it.” It was that necklace, and the matching earrings.

She put the necklace in an envelope with my name on it. “Take the earrings now,” she said.

She didn’t need to say, “So you can wear them and think of me.” During those last months she was never out of my thoughts, but those earrings, in that maddening, yet endearing way she had, made me feel closer to her.

Now when I wear them I still have mixed emotions, but that makes sense. Just like the complicated, annoying, endearing relationship I had with her my whole life. It wouldn’t be right if it was any other way.

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5 comments

  1. Beautiful post Deb. I think we all have memories like this of owning “stuff” after our people have moved on but you’ve captured it here perfectly.

  2. This is lovely and so heartfelt, Debra. My family has many, many heirlooms, and I remember as a kid every time we visited them back east, my grandparents would let each of us pick something to keep. Now I have a house filled with tangible memories and I can’t wait to pass them on to my own kids as they get older.

  3. Thanks, Dumbfunk. I’m glad to know I struck a chord.

    Patry, I guess you must get an whole new perpective on things when you have your own daughter.

    Sharon, I love the image of your home filled with ‘tangible memories’.

  4. Hi Debra. This struck a cord with me too–and made me think of the necklace my mother-in-law promised to me when she was dying. Such bittersweet memories. Thanks for writing about this.

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