After my father’s mother died, my own mother brought a few trinkets home from the nursing home where she had spent her last days. Though Grandma Corley had once had a lot of lovely pieces, the Corley girls of my household got mostly costume jewelry. But somehow, my mother came away with a cameo and a locket that she believed belonged to my great-grandmother Corinne Hahn Hayes. Somebody apparently thought I deserved them, being named after her.
I held the items in my hand for a long time, sitting at the breakfast room table while my mother washed dinner dishes. The cameo had been broken. It had no back but even at eighteen I understood it to be valuable. On the other hand, the locket seemed to made of brass with an enamel painting on the front and slightly damaged filigreed edges. I ran my finger over its surface and then put them in my pocket.
They’ve traveled with me ever since then, to inner-city apartments, to Boston, home to Missouri, to Arkansas, and back to Kansas City. Twenty-years ago I started wearing the locket on a silver chain, with a picture of my son inside. One day during a trial, the chain broke or the locket fell off; I can’t recall quite what happened. I scurried around looking for the thing, with a few people helping me and the judge letting us take a little break from testimony so we could find it.
The client’s mother said, Let me put that on a better chain for you, and took it home with her. A week or so later, she stopped by the office with my locket clipped to a long green string of beads which I took for plastic. I thanked her and took it back, and have worn it that way ever since. Occasionally I open the back and study the snapshot of my son’s face, thinking about his childhood, wondering how he’s really doing, 2500 miles away in the windy city.
I never met my great-grandmother. She died in 1944. I have pictures of her that suggest a formidable personality, but that could just be how they posed in her time. I think I look like her a little, maybe. I study her face and wonder what she would think of me.
A while back, the string of beads gave way to the shenanigans of a cat that I had for a few weeks. I frantically searched for the locket, which had skittered under a cedar chest. I commissioned my friend Rachel Warren to create a more suitable piece for the locket, gave her my thoughts, and patiently waited, with only a few opinions solicited and voiced back and forth.
She brought the finished work to me this weekend. She had also repaired the chain made by my client’s mother, which turned out not to be plastic but a type of Jasper, to my infinite embarrassment. I held Corinne’s locket to the light and watched the new beads shimmer. When I opened the tiny oval door on the back, my son studied me with his child’s knowing eyes. I smiled at my friend as she sat across from me in a rocking chair that another lovely comrade here in the Delta gave me. Rachel might not have known this, but I could barely hold back my tears.
I didn’t inherit riches, or land, or a house filled with saleable antiques. I have a garnet pin from my mother, miscellaneous china and silver-plate which once belonged to my maternal grandmother, my mother’s Cub Scout Den Mother pins and Defense medal, and Corinne’s cameo and locket. I don’t need much more than this to remind me, now and then, that I come from a long line of strong women. When life overwhelms me, I shall don Corinne’s locket, tilt my chin a little higher, put my best foot forward, and keep walking.
It’s the sixth day of the ninety-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.