I carefully open the little jewelry box that belonged to my mother. It does not contain things of monetary value, but rather, keepsakes of past lives. There is a whole pecan in its shell, first saved by my grandmother, then by my mother, and now passed on to me.
It has a message inked in small block letters on the outside that reads: “In Memory of By-Gone Days” and below that “Nov. 3-30 to 11-11-30.” I know the significance of these dates from family history told to me by my mother, who was 10 years old at the time.
Her parents (my grandparents) met and married in Mississippi in 1913. They ran a small dairy farm and had five children. My mom was their third child, born in 1920. It was a good life until the Great Depression hit. They lost everything when people could not pay their bills, including bills for milk from the diary they owned. So, my grandparents left everything behind, put their kids into their car, along with a few possessions, and drove west to California because they had heard there were opportunities there. One of the few personal things my grandmother kept was this simple pecan, a reminder of pecan pies, better times, and her roots in the South.
The other items saved in this little jewelry box are mementos of other parts of my grandparents’ lives: a circular brooch with rhinestones and a flower made of opaque blue stones (costume jewelry from the 1950s, but called “vintage” now), a gold circle lapel pin (which my younger son wore at his wedding), and my grandfather’s gold belt buckle with his initials ECH.
My mother later had this buckle made into a pin she could wear. There is also a tiny pharmacy box from Bechtel’s Rexall Store in Grants Pass, Oregon, that once held medicine for my grandmother. The typed instructions read “Take one tablet three times a day.” This little box now contains four tiny, clear gems and is labelled “DIAMOND” (they aren’t). I took these “diamonds” to a local jeweler who told me they were not diamonds and were too old to be cubic zirconia, but were probably white sapphire or white topaz.
Finally, the last keepsake saved in this little box is a silver 1964 Kennedy half-dollar. It is made of 90% silver and is very heavy in my hand. This is the first year these were made, to honor the former president assassinated in November 1963. I suspect my parents, who were Democrats, got this as a keepsake to remember a young president we lost so suddenly and so tragically.
I am now the keeper of this coin and all the other mementos in this little box, a job that I cherish.