Grandma’s Jewelry Box 3/22/06

It was forbidden when I was a child. Don’t touch it; don’t even think about touching it; don’t even think about thinking about touching it. It was a guaranteed smack on the backside for even the slightest breach of the perimeter: we couldn’t get within five feet of the dresser upon which the box rested, dead center. My cousins thought that since I was the eldest grandchild that meant that I had special access to the jewelry box. What it actually meant was: everyone else could try to sneak a peek, but if they were caught it was my fault because I was the oldest and I wasn’t keeping an eye on them.  Sucks to be the oldest sometimes.

So, I invented my own little game in my mind. I was the Pirate Captain and that damn jewelry box was my treasure—it wasn’t hidden or buried, it was in plain view. I just had no idea how to breach the border.  I never did create an actual pirate name for myself (I was happy just to be the captain), nor did I involve my brother or my cousins.  It was my own private game, one I’m sure baffled my Gran when she did happen to catch me staring at the jewelry box as though it was full of gold coins, diamonds, pearls—and all that other sort of pirate booty that I read about in books.

The funny thing was that my Gran had at least two diamond rings for each finger. My favorite was the black oval with a diamond chip. So I guess it really did have diamonds inside—well, sometimes. Most of the time, the rings stayed on her fingers.

The box was never left open when we were small. It had a flip top that opened to a two tiered compartment, and a drawer that slid out on the bottom. It was always so hard to tell what was inside the box because, well, if I ever did get close enough to try to open it—and believe me, my pirate game got bolder as I got older—I would invariably hear my name called from the living room followed by: “Get away from my box!”

And I would think: How did she know?

I really began to believe that my grandmother had eyes everywhere. It was really annoying, not to mention that it put a big monkey wrench in the quest for my treasure. No matter where my grandparents moved to, whenever I would visit their home I would make it a point to at least sneak a peek at the box. I wondered if I would ever get to know what was inside—the Pirate Captain’s treasure. In spite of its juvenile tendencies, I continued my little private game well into my adult years. I probably just could have asked Gran what was in the box once I passed eighteen, but that would have ruined the game. No Pirate Captain asks for treasure; they just take it, right?

In late 2002 Gran went to the doctor and discovered that she had a tiny cancerous mass in her lung. It would require surgery to remove it. She immediately became sentimental—something Gran was never known to do. She was more of a “do it my way or else” kind of person; which is one of the reasons I think, in retrospect, I wanted to defy her so much with my pirate game. Well, that, and it was full of treasure.

In January 2003, my Great Grandma Teresa—Gran’s mother—passed away. Ten days later, Gran went into the hospital for her surgery. She never recovered.

Gran and I were in her room talking one day, a few days before she went into the hospital. She said to me:  “Take a look inside that box and pick out something.”

To my amazement, I declined. “No Grandma, I don’t need anything.”

So much for being a Pirate Captain.

“Go ahead on and do it.” She insisted and I detected a hint of fear in her voice. She stepped out of the room for a moment.

I was always a defiant child, but the one person I never argued with was my Gran. I never won—even when I was in the right. So, I opened the box and almost started to cry. Here I thought it would be full of diamonds and pearls—and, don’t get me wrong, there were some of those things there. But the very first thing that I saw was a silver necklace with a double-sided charm on it. One side of the charm was a photo of me as a baby, the other side was a photo of my mother and me when I was a baby. So, this was my treasure.

“You should give this to me one day, Gran.” I said to her, holding up the necklace.

She came back into the room. “You may have it now.” She told me and then she fastened it around my neck.

Gran passed away—after a 49 day battle for her life—on March 22, 2003 .

My Grandpa divided her things amongst my mother, her sisters, myself and the rest of the grandchildren. He asked me to go through Gran’s jewelry box. It’s great to be the oldest sometimes.

I was surprised to find her Girl Scouts pins, badges; a receipt for the daily newspaper from 5 months before I was born; an alert ID bracelet. I expected to find just gold and diamonds. My cousins and I divided the jewelry we found—yes, the Pirate Captain shared her treasure—and I really didn’t keep much; just a couple of necklaces—and the Girl Scouts pins and the newspaper receipt. Somehow, that seemed more important than diamonds or pearls.

When the box was empty I placed it back on the dresser, dead center. I’m not exactly sure how the subject came about, but when it came time to give the box away my Mother spoke up for me. “I know she’ll want it.”

The jewelry box now sits on top of my dresser, dead center. And it’s full of all of the silly costume jewelry I never wear, and the chokers that I love to wear; rings, earrings, bracelets—I tuck everything I can fit into that box. My own private treasure.

Today is the three year anniversary of my Gran’s death. This morning I got up to get ready for work—a feat that was incredibly difficult as I prefer not to acknowledge this day at all. I went through the jewelry box, trying to decide what to wear. I pulled open the drawer on the front and found a note that my mother had written: “I am so proud of you. I love you.”  And, I realized something:  that was the greatest treasure of all. It wasn’t the rings or the necklaces; it was the memories of this box and my Gran that I treasure most of all. So, I still can be the Pirate Captain because I possess the ultimate treasure: love.

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