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Jewelry links families through generations
As I try to keep my kids out of my jewelry drawer, I am reminded of my mother's jewelry box and her mother's jewelry box. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
There is a drawer in my bathroom that is top secret, off limits, do-not-touch protected.

And my children love to get their hands on that drawer just as often as they can. When I was a child, my hands were paddy paws, as my mom liked to say as in, my little paddy paws left fingerprints all over the place and touched things they shouldnt. My childrens hands are like little raccoon fingers, sneaking in and sneaking out like little bandits. Their paddy paws dont like to listen and obey their mother when she asks nicely. Their paddy paws sneak over to that drawer and go exploring for shiny things, rings and lipstick whenever they can.

Get your paddy paws off of my necklace, I like to say when theyre caught red-handed. Actually, Ive never said that. Im not usually that convivial when theyre twisting my chains into knots I cant undo.

Nevertheless, the three necklaces I have are in that drawer, and my children know it, and they peer at that drawer like the secret prize that is perfectly in reach but guarded by a dragon who bellows when she gets mad.

I need a jewelry box.

I had a jewelry box as a child, and it was my mothers. My grandmother Lenore bought it for her so that she would have a place to put her own jewelry and leave my grandmothers alone. Its wise thinking, and perhaps I should follow it.

My mother kept her jewelry box, bought sometime in the mid-1950s, adding little trinkets to it over the years, until she passed it down to her three daughters to use as costume jewelry. As the baby, I played with the box for the longest, and I still have it.

The cover of the box is adorned with little flecks of opal and stones and glitter in the shape of Mount Fuji. The wood is painted black with Asian-themed decorations around the sides, and the inside is lined with red velvet. When you open the box, a geisha dressed in a kimono twirls in front of a line of rectangular mirrors as a music box tinkles away.

The whole box was very entrancing, mysterious and exotic to me as a child. I gingerly looked through the necklaces, sometimes trying them on. I wondered about their value and imagined great stories behind each piece. Sometimes Id add a trinket of my own, but mostly I kept the box exactly as my mother did in 1955.

As I was recently rummaging through my collection of boxes under the stairs, attempting to put away the items I saved from the box my father sent, I found that jewelry box again.

This time my daughter was with me.

She, too, was entranced. She picked up the delicate gold chains and gasped at the wide silver bands my mother saved for decades. And I, too, handled my mothers high school charm bracelet with wonder. I pictured that bracelet on my mothers wrist as she went to a home football game, or the malt shop, or whatever kids did back then. The images looked a lot like a replay of Back to the Future or American Graffiti, full of Hollywood glamour.

I asked my mom to tell me about the pieces of jewelry she saved. I was particularly interested in a bracelet made of a bunch of links of the letter c turned on its side. It was shiny gold with a secret clasp holding it together.

It had to be something my dad gave my mom when they started dating again, I visualized the Hollywood drama. Maybe he bought it when they first met. Maybe he got it from his mother and passed it on to mine when they started going steady. Maybe it was made of real gold.

I put the bracelet on, and it fit perfectly. I decided I would wear it for longer than a moment if nothing else, to see if it turned my skin green even though I usually dont wear much jewelry.

Sadly, before the day was through, one of the links broke and the bracelet fell off of my wrist. I guess my hands are still paddy paws, even after all of these years.

Ill get it fixed and put it back since my parents cant remember how that bracelet came to be. That way, in 30 years when my daughter shows her daughter her great-grandmothers jewelry box, the mystery, fascination and imagined Hollywood drama will still remain.
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