When I was maybe three or four, one of my favorite “toys” had been my mother’s button box. (What was that box’s backstory? Was it made of sturdy cardboard or metal? Had it once held candy or tea? Had it been a biscuit tin? I don’t remember.) I’d loved the susurration those hundred of buttons made when I slowly trawled the box’s contents with my hand. I’d loved the randomness; the not-knowing what I’d discover in my hand when I extracted one or two buttons. Would I hold a large, plastic, Art-Deco button from a thirties-era jacket?A tiny, opalescent mother-0f-pearl memento of my babyhood? If I dipped again, would I perhaps find a duplicate to my first haul? What I’d loved most, though, was to treasure whatever I held.
Sunday night, my sister’s vast collection of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, pendants, and rings covering my living room coffee table, I was reminded of those individualized and reverent moments. Randomly picking up an exquisite ring or a necklace, I held my fierce and brilliant sister Deborah, who died from pancreatic cancer on June 7th. With tenderness and care her grieving ex-husband and son have been slowly dispensing her things; Sunday night, thanks to my daughter’s cell phone’s texting capabilities, our extended family had the opportunity to pick and choose a piece of Deborah’s jewelry.
Because my sister had already specified she’d wanted me to have her silver charm bracelet, my brother-in-law handed it to me beforehand. What I slowly realized as I picked up and admired Deborah’s collection, one by one, was that her laden, tinkling keepsake would be enough. (Although I did chose a couple of pieces I plan to pass along to two dear friends who have held me as I grieve.) Like admiring my mother’s button box collection, I loved, loved, loved cherishing Deborah’s jewelry. And that charm bracelet is enough.
This understanding may have been made more clear for me, I think, because of my recent visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Over the past fifty years I have visited “Mrs. Jack’s” hodgepodge collection many times; this most recent visit stirred up some concern: What happens to someone’s soul when she owns so much cheek-by-jowl, impossible-to-keep-track-of beauty? How could Isabella Stewart Gardner possibly love the thousands of things she’d collected? At some point, had she become inured to her breathtaking possessions? Become deadened to such overwhelming splendor? After the crowds went home, had she ever strolled through her higglety-pigglety gallery rooms and randomly picked up something small and exquisite? Had she held it? Loved it?
I hope so.
Just beautiful. ♥
Did Mrs. Jack see her collection of beauty like a huge tin box of buttons? Thank you for an exquisite description of how grief and beauty are linked.
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