Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Empty Jewelry Box

Isn't this jewelry box cool? When I was home this summer, I helped my aunt clean the cobwebs from the rafters of her root cellar, and I came upon my uncle's old photography supplies. My aunt gifted a few of the tins to me and I brought them out of the cellar that they'd been resting in for decades. This tin had a gorgeous patina on the outside. I wanted to alter the tin, but I didn't want to lose the texture of the patina, so I painted it with a matte black spray paint. On the inside I used a peacock blue acrylic paint (the recipient is a big fan of peacocks).

I crocheted a peacock feather for the top, and I wish you good luck finding a peacock feather pattern--I couldn't find any! Instead I borrowed an old peacock feather fan from my mom and mimicked the shape and colors as best I could. I used eyelash yarn for the outside round and stem. The stem was a little too goofy, and I thought to cut it off before gluing the feather to the top of the altered tin jewelry box. But just when I was ready to do so, I thought perhaps I should make the feather detachable. I carefully attached Velcro to a circle of felt and glued it to the back of the crocheted feather. Then I glued a matching circle of felt to the top of the box. I wrapped the stem around the edges, to be used later, if detached. The Velcro clings to the felt on the top of the box enough to keep the feather in place, or allows it to be removed. I finished the project up by placing some cool little self-adhesive half beads on the sides and lid.

Looking at the pictures of the empty jewelry box makes me think of the four pieces of jewelry that I wear every day: my nose ring, my wedding ring, a toe ring from my grandmother and a ring on my thumb that I wear to honor my commitment to my husband's family. My jewelry box is empty (well, metaphorically anyway!) because I carry my jewelry with me through the day.

When I was tiny, I remember seeing a picture on the cover of National Geographic magazine of a girl with a nose ring. I thought she was beautiful, and felt drawn to her. I thought, "I wish people here could have that kind of jewelry." This was Ohio in the 1970's. Wheat bread was exotic, whole wheat bread unheard of, so a nose ring was not something I could ever expect to see on the people around me. But I continued to think that the nose ring (and the girl) were beautiful, and remembered the picture long after the magazine had left our orange-shag-carpeted home.

When I was a teenager, things began to change somewhat in my world. I  traveled out of the suburbs and met kids who grew up in urban areas. In Cleveland, my friend's step-mom (a step-mom! How strange and different that seemed) served us an exotic food: vegetarian chimichangas. They tasted like nothing I'd ever eaten before. "What is this delicious herb?"
"It's cilantro," she shrugged.
"I have to tell my mom about this! It's the best thing I ever tasted!" When I went home, my mother told me she knew what cilantro was, but that she hated it. I was perplexed.

In the early nineties, I began college and was earning the money to pay for it. I was on the Ramen Noodle meal plan, living in an apartment with others who had not experienced that particular rung on the socioeconomic ladder. One day, my friends invited me to go to Ann Arbor with them, where they said they knew a guy who had a piercing gun. I could get my nose pierced. I jumped at the chance.

A year later, I headed off to Alaska during summer break to try to get a job on a fishing boat. I found a position working on a floating processor. I remember that the company took us to the ship on a smaller boat and that as everyone strolled around talking and meeting each other, I wandered to the quiet stern and watched the wake pooling out behind us. I was so happy to be in Alaska, in the closest thing to a frontier that I was likely to ever see. I wanted to get away from the chatter and see the water seeming to grow larger as the shore shrank in the distance.

Later, my husband would tell me that that was the first time he saw me. A girl standing alone, with long black hair and a nose ring, staring backwards when others were looking not much of anywhere. I added a wedding ring to my list of every day jewelry a little less than two years later.

Back in the Midwest, my husband and I were living in State College, Pennsylvania while he finished school. My Hungarian grandmother sent me $10 as a birthday gift. I was working as a salad prep/bartender in a local restaurant while we tried to pay rent and out-of-state tuition. Ten dollars was a fortune. I found a tiny ring in one of the eclectic shops along College Avenue and bought it. I put it on my toe and have not taken it off. That summer I showed my grandmother. "Nagymama, look at this toe ring. You gave it to me."

"You're welcome, Dear."

When my husband finished school and began to look for a job, he said that he wanted to travel half way across the world to visit his family for three months. "If I don't do it before I find a job, then I will be working all the time and we'll never get a chance to go back for that much time." It was a wise decision and I will never forget the time I spend in my wonderful in-laws home, eating mangos and learning the language. Before leaving the US, I bought myself a large ring and placed it on my left thumb. I performed a silent ceremony as I put it on, telling myself that the ring represented my marriage to my husband's family. As long as that ring remained on my hand, I would remain committed to them. They are delightful, kind and loving people and I've never once felt like taking that ring off.

While visiting, I got the chance to visit one of the most densely populated cities in the world, to wander a gorgeous, long unsullied beach, and to eat my mom-in-laws cooking. But after only a week or so, my bread-raised soul grew tired of rice and, in the heat, I found I could no longer eat hot rice generously anointed with ghee. So I switched to the local fruit. I ate tiny prickly pineapples that had all the flavor of our large ones condensed into one bite. I had lychees by the bunch. And you know how each summer, you get to eat that one perfect watermelon, the one that tastes so good that you eat watermelons all summer long just trying to get another perfect one? That summer I had perfect watermelon after perfect watermelon. And the mangos!

Mangos were in season and the variety was as wide as the variety of apples I'd eaten each fall in Ohio. (I grew up a mile down the road from an orchard. An extensive orchard.) In my husband's family home, I ate tiny yellow mangos, and medium mangos that were mottled brown on the inside but creamy, sweet and tart on the inside. I ate oversized mangos with a slightly spicy bite to them. My mom-in-law chopped up green mangos and served them with onion and mustard oil. One day my husband's dad came home with two giant mangos the size of watermelons. The flesh was exactly the color that you imagine when someone says mango. It was so delicious, I ate an entire mango on my own. I also slept that summer. A lot. I later found out that mangos contain something that can make you sleepy when you eat too many of them. Looking back, that wonderful summer was like a dream. I slept that summer away, thanks to a glut of mangos.

This morning I woke up thinking about my permanent jewelry, and how each one defines me in some way:
the dreamer who loved nose rings even as a preschooler; the wife who gazes backwards; the granddaughter who misses the people she has lost; and the daughter-in-law, far away but still loving her other family. I enjoy each piece of forever jewelry, and wish you all equally empty (metaphorical!) jewelry boxes.


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