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costume jewelry, the mother lode

By 7:23 PM , , , , , ,

costume jewelry - mother
Originally uploaded by looseid
I at last tackled this formidable box this weekend - my mother's costume jewelry. This is separate from the semi-precious and precious jewelry stash (much much smaller); the kitschy in-your-face stuff was her true signature. She had fun, got noticed, received praise and was distinctly remembered for this accessory category.

My mom died in 1989, over twenty years ago. She was a colorful and dramatic lady with eclectic taste. Turquoise, opal, silver and gold. Pearls, amber, acrylic and crystals. She adored all the colors of the spectrum and lots of plastic bangles, shells and rhinestones. As gauche as it sounds on paper, she worked it rather well in person.

I used to think that I could don these unique pieces myself one day. I'm all grown up now, but that day never came. Whenever I tried something on, I inevitably felt like a little girl playing dress-up in an over-sized fur coat and heels. Everything is too iconic for me to reinterpret for myself. Not knowing how to handle such heirlooms has been a thorn in my side for as long as I can remember.

Inside this big box sat smaller tin boxes and accessory cases. When I removed the lid off of each container, a stale ribbon of Nina Ricci's L'air du Temps wafted out. And within those four walls were plastic bags crammed with more jewelry. There was that one broach she always wore on Christmas, another set of earrings she wore when she was channeling Coco, a man's wristwatch for when she was a Sporty Slacks Mom, and on and on the parade of moms filed out.

I laid out each and every piece on my large drafting table. Within minutes, the entire surface was covered. Faced with the bounty, I had absolutely no idea what to do next. Have a garage sale? Take it to a pawn shop? Call around to my friends who "thrift" for a living and have them point me in the right direction...donate it. 

None of these options felt right, nor did it do justice. And by justice, I mean respect - not diminish her memory. And value? How do I calculate the compound interest on twenty bloody years of jewelry that I'll never ever wear. How much does well-worn, perfume-infused, dime-store baubles appreciate in the open market.

There were three things I knew for certain about this process over the years, and they were:
  • I didn't want to haggle with anybody.
  • I didn't want anybody to devalue the items.
  • I didn't want to throw anything out.
These criteria always left me with no option but to keep everything, indefinitely. Time after time I walked into this same brick wall; yet, I knew what that brick wall felt like and I always chose that dull pain over making a grave mistake, like premature disposal, since I feared her putting a curse on me.

I was at a loss, so I went upstairs. Perhaps I'll go to the store and pick up a couple hundred Ziploc bags into which I'll pack everything individually. By then, I might come up with an apt solution.


Asako happened to stop by in the afternoon for coffee. I told her what I've been up to and to go check out the stash, and if she'd like anything for herself. I figured I'd start by doling out pieces to my friends, albeit a drip and a trickle process. She went downstairs and I heard her gasp. Sure, it was a lot to take in.

She picked up a couple of things and turned to me, 
"Is any of this 70's style?"
I looked at her and said, "um...most of it."
"I'm going to a 70's costume party. Can you pick out something?"
I reached across a section of the table like a craps dealer, and raked it all into a bag.

Asako is a Montessori teacher and designed an arts program for her pre-schoolers this year. So with each discovery she made on the table, I heard her say things like,

"The kids could use 'these glass beads' for their next art project."

"...'those clip-on earrings' would help develop the children's motor skills."

"...and grouping items by color, shape or size will develop their cognitive skills."

"The different textures and clasps stimulate their sensory development."

Each statement allowed me to shovel more trinkets into the shopping bags. And before too long, my drafting table was cleared.

It started out with Asako doing me a favor, but by the end, she was thanking me for her unexpected windfall. She said she couldn't have dreamed of finding such "learning tools" for her students as they develop over the years. 

We've been friends for as long as I've held that box in my clutches, yet not once did it occur to me to do what I did this afternoon, unclench my fists and let it all go. In turn, I found the most amazing home for my mother's personal effects, which even satisfied all of my criteria that used to leave me in a deadlock.
  1. No haggling - no exchange of currency.
  2. No devaluation - treasured refrigerator art across San Francisco - obtained immortality, really.
  3. No trash. 
It's been a few days now, and no lightening has struck me dead, and no curse placed. In fact, one may have even lifted. I'm unsure what I was protecting all these years, but I know that I feel better without it today. It wasn't a big box by any standard, but it was a weighty one. Hell, it could have been a sheet of kleenex but carried the weight of a 137 lbs Japanese woman, because I gave it that weight.

I get the distinct feeling that I'm now pulling on a string that could unravel more myths that keep me in a comfort zone I no longer want to inhabit.

I happily welcome that change.

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