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Rachel Janfaza: A Personal Narrative On Heirloom Jewelry

by Rachel Janfaza

 

I remember the first time my great grandmother was really sick; I walked into her hospital room and tried as hard as I could not to cry. I was shocked by the breathing tubes the doctors had her hooked up to. Her vibrant glow, which had been a pillar of the first twelve years of my life, was clouded by exhaustion, and she was pale - as white as a ghost.

But, even then, my Grammy’s golden heart necklace sat below the nape of her neck. It caught a glimmer of light and illuminated her whole face.

That necklace gave my family a sense of reassurance. Even though our Grammy was sick, she was still the same Grammy she always had been. The golden heart was a constant, sitting just above her actual heart. It remained perfectly symbolic for her tendency to love.

We all used to joke about our Grammy’s vanity. No matter what, we knew she would have her blush pink lipstick on and her hair perfectly blow dried. That was until her health deteriorated, and then, the lipstick and blow dries came to a halt.

But my Grammy’s commitment to her jewelry was different. This habit was more durable. She wore the heart shaped necklace on even her most uncomfortable days. That piece of jewelry was with her and remained on her until the very end.


Passing down jewelry is often romanticized, with good reason. Heirloom jewelry tells a story. Whether it’s the heart necklace, or other pieces of jewelry my grandmother and mother have passed on to my sister and me, my family has a longstanding tradition of regifting meaningful pieces.

When my Grammy passed away, the heart was given to my mother. My mom doesn’t wear it everyday like my Grammy did. But when my siblings and I look at that necklace, we think of all the Sunday afternoons spent in our Grammy’s North Shore apartment, the Hershey kisses we could count on being on her coffee table, and the way she would always call before the start of a snow storm to make sure we were home and safe. Sometimes if I’m lucky, when I look at the necklace, I’m even able to hear her famous deep belly chuckle.   

Jewelry doesn’t have to be passed down after a death in order for it to be significant. The ability to see one’s jewelry on their own granddaughter or daughter is extra-special. At least that’s what my grandmother and mother tell me.

Most recently, for my 21st birthday, both my grandmother and mother gifted me their favorite watch. Much like my grandmother and mother, these timepieces are different.

But when I put on either of the watches, I time travel. I’m transported to an era before I was born. I replay various snip-its from my own imagination about stories they’ve shared from their earlier days. I’ve strung these scenes together like an old-school video tape.

The watch from my grandmother, whom I call “Nini,” is more serious. It has a rectangular face, with sturdy gold plating. The band is a dark leather. This piece is strong. It elicits attention and commands respect, but subtly, without shouting in your face. In fact, it’s just like my Nini.

On the other hand, the watch from my mother is more dainty, but just as elegant. It’s a bracelet watch: gold all over, light, and far more petite than the leather timepiece. Its face is a small square shape and its analog digits are delicate too.

When I wear this piece, I feel like my mother circa 1992, when she was a recent college grad, hopeful about what surprises the next decade would bring.

 

 

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