I spent part of my Sunday draping my best friend Kristin’s daughter in jewelry. I was in Winnipeg spending some time at home, and my favorite little 6-year-old in the world had come over for some tea and scones. We all noticed that, upon arrival, Greta opted to explore upstairs rather than stay in the kitchen where the tea party was taking place. Upon joining her there, I think I figured out the reason why.
“Would you like to put on some jewelry?” I asked her and she immediately nodded. Then she made a beeline for my mom’s jewelry drawer, one she hadn’t seen in at least a year, maybe two.
We opened up the drawer, which is specially made to house jewelry. It’s velvet-lined, shallow and compartmentalized so you can play a good little game of house deciding what pieces should live where. Greta knew exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to wear it all and, since my mom has a pretty hefty collection, wearing it all meant wearing a lot.
As I helped her slip on bracelets and fasten clasps, every finger eventually sporting a ring, her left arm heavy with bangles, I remembered what jewelry meant as a kid. Was there anything more magical than an hour spent peering into your mom’s jewelry box? I never tired of it, not only for the pieces themselves but the stories behind them.
For example, my mom had a charm bracelet on which she had affixed darling charms from her trip around Europe in her early 20s. The charms were absolutely fantastic, a little wooden shoe for Holland, a castanet from Spain, a tiny Eiffel Tower from France. I was enchanted by the charms, entranced by the idea that one day maybe I, too, could have a similar collection. I’d slip the bracelet on my arm and feel it dangle around, imagine my mom wearing it while touring Europe with the canvas, metal-framed backpack she still had in the attic.
Then there was the Jewelry I Made Her When I Was Little. This was the assignation I gave these kindergarten crafts when at age 8 I would pull them out and examine my handiwork. One of these gems was a broach in the shape of a hamburger. I have no recollection of either crafting this conversation piece or the reason behind why I chose to gift her with a representation of ground chuck, but there you have it.
Its bun was made of homemade pink Play-Doh, the meat was kind of purple and the lettuce was bright green. The whole thing had then been aggressively varnished, with a pin back glued on so vigorously the Elmer’s had seeped through the pin back holes and made you want to dig your nail into it to see if it would give a little.
Then there were the dangly earrings I bought “her” for Mother’s Day around the age of 9. These navy blue wonders dangled nearly down to the shoulder and were shaped in the signature 1980s ripple. They represented my first foray in selfishness awareness, since I knew full well that I was manipulating Mother’s Day in order to get earrings I would never be allowed to wear otherwise. My mom, of course, never wore them and every time I would see them in the box, I would feel a pang of guilt, a reminder that gifts are for the recipient, not the giver.
As I watched Greta dress herself in jewels, I was reminded of how gorgeous you think you look covered in them. Is this learned? Or is it something that is genetically ground into little girls? Greta would have some influence with movies like “Frozen,” but otherwise she’s a pretty sheltered kid when it comes to television exposure. Kristin and I had Barbies and I suppose I did get a big kick out of sticking earrings into their ears (i.e. heads), but otherwise Barbie was pretty unadorned.
I guess we did have our moms though, and God knows I spent a good amount of time watching mine get ready for parties, applying frosty eye shadows and stripes of blush and then, at the end, her rings and pendants. Is that where the appreciation is nurtured? Or was it always there and this just uncovered it?
I do know one thing: When I’ve gone to museums and they have a gem and jewelry collection? Oh boy, am I all in. And when you look around, you see all of these other women staring too, of all ages, their eyes dewy and wistful. I’d say that’s part of the exhibit.
When Greta had put on every last piece of jewelry, and we’d coupled her look with eight shades of lipstick, she was ready to go downstairs and have a spot of tea. She was met with oohs and aahs and smiled so big she revealed the gaps where her front teeth used to be. And my heart, oh my heart, I thought it would burst.