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Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I had lived with my grandparents and my mom until I was five years old in a big old two story house that was full of grandeur. By age three I was the constant explorer and questioner which no doubt drove all three crazy while their answers didn’t make much sense to me. My grandmother called me a plunderer which was a word foreign to me. By age five, I figured out what that word meant when she caught me going through a drawer in the huge mahogany buffet that was in the dining room.

“Quit plundering in your grandfather’s papers” she told me. Reasoned she meant looking for things for I was and for what I had no idea. It was the thrill of the hunt which would become a huge part of me later on as an adult but then it was just exciting.

Both of my grandparents had been married before and both had lost their mates. A lot of things in their house had belonged to my grandmother’s mother while much of the rest had been purchased by my grandfather or had belonged to his late wife. The latter part I knew even at age three for if I touched something I wasn’t supposed to my grandmother would say “That belonged to Bess.”

I remember asking her who was Bess and she told me that it was my grandfather’s first wife. I saw a picture of Bess and she scared me just looking at her.  Too young to ask my grandmother why those things were still around for what second wife would want her husband’s first wife’s things?

My mom and I shared the front upstairs bedroom while my grandparent’s bedroom was in the middle and the back bedroom was a guest room. Since my mom went back to work months after I was born, I found myself sleeping with my grandparents a lot in their huge four poster bed from age three and onward.

Their bedroom had aside from the four poster bed, a huge chest of drawers that was behind the door, a fireplace, a cherry wardrobe, a huge vanity with a gigantic mirror and to the right was a sewing machine that was covered up with a cover that my grandmother had made. Not a lot was out but I do remember a distinct mahogany box that had gold trim around it that sat on top of the chest of drawers.  Could I reach it? No. But my grandmother would take it down and show me what was inside: I will never forget the first time my eyes spied jewelry.

“Is this yours?” I asked her. “No, it belonged to Bess. Be careful with it.” The fear of what Bess would do to me frightened me for how could she if she had died? My grandmother and I were sitting on the big four poster bed as I saw a big shiny circle lurking in the bottom of the jewelry box. It had carvings on it—at least that’s what I thought they were. And it opened up. All in all, it was about the size of a silver dollar. “That locket belonged to my brother; he bought it for someone he loved but never gave it to her.”

The thoughts of that swirled through my five year old mind. “Why didn’t he give it to her?” I asked. “You’re too young to understand. I am the keeper of that locket. Those carvings were her initials.” All of that went over my head and although I would remember the locket, I never got in the jewelry box again. Fear of Bess had a lot to do with my actions.

There were so many things in their house that I loved for they were a part of my world as well. 

Years passed, my grandfather had died and my parents had divorced. I found myself staying a lot of nights with my grandmother to keep her company and besides I loved being with her.  I was not into jewelry although she had a huge amount of it such as pins, pearls and necklaces. Generally she only wore one ring and it was simple, platinum and had diamonds across the top. I learned that it had been her mother’s ring. Did I think about that jewelry box that had belonged to Bess? No but I did think often of that locket.

When my grandmother died, it was up to my mom and her sister to empty out the huge house. I was there along with my female and male cousins and I was the only grandchild that was married and had a child.  It awed me that my mom or her sister didn’t argue about who would get what: Each decided upon what they wanted and what they didn’t want, I was asked first. As my then-husband and I were living in our first house and it was large, I took the dining room furniture, a big rocker as well as other things—including that mahogany jewelry box.

Seeing those objects in my own house gave me pleasure and yet sadness at the same time. They had been a huge part of my life and now they were mine and I wished that my grandmother could have seen them placed ever so carefully. I was not teaching for I had decided to stay home with my young son. And the personal things I owned were minimal; it was then that I remembered my mom and her sister getting rid of all of my grandmother’s costume jewelry to a friend of my aunt’s. As I knew that woman it made me feel good that at least she received some treasures. My mom had taken my grandmother’s wedding band and her diamond engagement ring and I was shocked to see the engagement ring for my grandmother never wore it. But then neither would my mom ever wear those rings either.

One day when I had my young son out in the backyard, I was talking to a young couple: They were renting a house that belonged to our next door neighbors. The house sat far back and for me to get near it, I had to walk a long way back to talk to them. I’m not sure how it came up but I did know that their last name was Smith.

The next day I did the unthinkable: I took that locket with the initials on it and gave it to the young woman that lived out back. It was uncanny that the initials on her were hers as well. She was pleased and on my part, I had no idea what I was giving away at all. I never mentioned what I had done to anyone and am not sure if my mom ever knew the contents of Bess’ jewelry box.

Five years later my then-husband, my two young sons and I decided to buy another house located in a completely different neighborhood. Moved in and settled, I met a lot of new people and saw a woman wearing a locket that was similar to the one I had given away. It looked pink just as Bess’ locket. “What kind of metal is that?” I asked the woman. “It’s pink gold. Belonged to my mother.”

My heart sunk. How could I have been so stupid in giving away something that not only my grandmother had kept but also something so valuable? At the time I gave it away I had no idea of its worth or the fact that it was pink gold. Becoming livid, I jumped in my car to go to the young couple’s house to admit my mistake only to find out that they had moved. My former neighbors who owned the house in which they rented had no idea where the Smiths had moved to or if it were here or out of state.

I never told anyone what I had done although it made me heartsick. That was forty four years ago and there isn’t a time that I don’t wonder where the locket is now: Did the receiver keep it? Did she sell it? Neither question can be answered for I have no idea where the Smiths moved to or if they are even alive.

Wish that my grandmother had told me that at some point the locket would be mine and that I had to become its keeper for had she said those words to me, I would have kept it. I would have treasured it and I would have passed it onto my granddaughter. But none of that happened nor can it happen.

There is a moral in this story and I’m sure that it is evident: “Think before you give something away and know its value.” As for me, I will forever mourn not keeping the big pink gold locket but gone is gone even if I do reflect upon it too much.  No one knew anything about it but my grandmother and me. And now you know of the  action of a young twenty-something woman who had no idea of what she was giving away—a treasured piece of jewelry. Often times I wish I could find the woman to whom I gave it and explain it all: Is it a pipe dream? Perhaps and perhaps not. Maybe she’s reading this story. Who knows?

Sherry Hill              

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Sherry Hill

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