I opened what turned out to be a treasure chest. Small rectangular boxes, some nearly square, others long and narrow filled the cavernous antique drawer. White, silver, and burgundy, many engraved in gold: Feldman’s Jewelers, At the Clock Since 1871. Dozens labeled Etcetera, an artsy shop in Southport, North Carolina. Among the stacked boxes snuggled dainty drawstring pouches. My mom’s costume jewelry, meticulously protected and stored, had remained dormant more than four years since her death. The grieving of my mom has proceeded in stages. By now, my sister, Tami, and I had healed enough to examine and disperse the collection.
The first winter following my mom’s death, we encouraged my dad to continue with what had been their annual visit to Florida. He went reluctantly. He would mourn no matter where he spent that winter, and we hoped a sunny climate would be healthier than a cold, dismal one. His silence on the subject of Mom’s personal belongings told us he could not face that issue. Neither could we.
By the time we set to the task of moving Mom’s clothes, eighteen months had passed. Dad was spending his second winter alone in Florida. Still, I felt Mom would call next week and gush about the bargains at Beall’s Outlet. Despondently, we emptied a closet-full of Capris, cardigans, and purses in all colors. We ogled over a drawer that held only T-shirts, four stacks of them, sorted by color, and folded in perfect origami. Even her socks and pajamas looked as if J. Crew had arranged them. We had teary moments encountering a dress from a particular event or finding her favorite shoes. And we laughed at our mom’s extensive multi-colored collection of jean jackets. Into the pocket of every outdoor coat, canvas, wool, or down, she had tucked a pair of knit or leather gloves. So like her to prepare and coordinate. Soon we had created an apparel mountain in my dad’s living room.
Handling Mom’s clothes was the best approximation we had to touching her. A faint whiff of White Diamonds comforted and pained us. Relinquishing her things meant letting her go as well. Yet, neither of us could fit into those size 4 clothes. Overwhelmed with indecisiveness, we drank wine and hugged one another. At last, Tami selected some items for a petite friend of hers. We set aside classic pieces to offer another friend. We garnered our courage and divided the remainder among the Humane Society Thrift Store, Salvation Army and Goodwill. Dad returned to Pennsylvania and we did our best to fill the gap in his life.
Always creative in interior design and sewing, my mom had become a textile artist. She created multi-colored rugs from strips of wool, hooked through a woven cloth. She discovered this art form in her forties and produced rugs into her early seventies. When my parents down-sized into a small apartment, just a few of the rugs remained on display. Tami and I each had a couple, but we had lost track of the others. When Mom died, we discovered about twenty of the rugs, each carefully rolled in a bit of sheeting and stored under her bed. It wasn’t until the third winter following her death that Tami and I agreed to divide the rugs between us.
My dad headed south for the winter and once again, we chilled bottles of wine and set aside an afternoon for the rug division. As we unrolled each vibrantly colored piece of art, we celebrated and admired Mom’s talent. In addition to floral and geometric designs, some rugs featured a primitive scene, a whimsical pig, a Scottie dog, several of patriotic flags in red and blue. We found hooked chair pads and table mats as well. We took turns choosing. Any interior designer would have been envious. I selected for color as well as pattern, not even knowing at that time how well these rugs would suit the wood floors of the house in which I now live.
Dividing the rugs differed completely from sorting Mom’s clothes. First, we did not give any rug away. We revered each one as fine art. We received them as gifts of the most personal sort, made from her hands. I regretted that I had not more fully honored my mom’s talent during her life. However, I now cherish each rug as an heirloom worthy of passing on through generations.
We determined to examine Mom’s jewelry this winter during Dad’s Florida sojourn. Stored out of sight in her former chest of drawers, jewelry could be dispensed with no visual change to the apartment. Although, this time, I transported all that I found in the drawer to Tami’s house. Tami’s oldest daughter, Stevie, joined us. We sipped our wine, admired each bauble, and selected the ones that spoke to us.
Mom had coordinated accessories for every outfit and occasion, which explains the 100-plus pieces we examined. Boxes of sterling silver chains and hand-forged bracelets, inlaid with turquoise, spoke to her taste for clean design. Another box of gold chains, with the accompanying charms and dainty bracelets matched her elegance. All lengths of pearl necklaces, chokers, and earrings represented her traditional roots. Any number of colorful shell collections or whimsical beads reflected her artistic flair. For more formal occasions she had statement stones and metal medallions. Among the three of us, we barely reduced the inventory.
So we set aside pieces for special family friends who might appreciate a memento from my mom. And we filled a gift bag with items to reexamine when Holly, my other niece, is available. When Tami and I grew weary, Stevie urged us on to every last box or cinched bag. “But where are all the earrings?” Stevie asked. Oh no, I had forgotten to bring another large jewelry box which must have held that entire category. Earrings will go on next year’s agenda.
Emotionally spent, yet satisfied, we had revived Mom’s treasures. Her style will live on. We agreed to each wear a piece of our newly-claimed jewelry the next day. I am not one to wear many accessories. However, a silver coiled-snake bracelet conveyed to me a mystical chi. I suggested it travel among us. Each will possess it for a year, beginning April 1. I have the first honor.