Family Heirlooms: A Life in Jewelry

21 Jul

I am an accessories whore. Plain and simple. In college, I would happily skip lunch so I could buy a new pair of shoes or a cool ring. Heck, I sometimes still do that now. So imagine my delight when my lovely mother-in-law told me she had a big store of jewelry she wanted me to go through from CityBoy’s grandmother’s collection.

gorgeous, no?

But first, a little backstory on the fabulous Mrs. B, CityBoy’s grandmother who passed away in December 2011, as feisty and riled-up as I imagined her to be when she first came into this world in 1913. She was a tried and true Manhattanite, a real city girl, who grew up in the Lower East Side and moved back into the city from the suburbs practically the very second her sons were grown and out of the house.

I only knew her in the very last years of her long life, but she was always impeccable dressed when she went out, her hair perfectly coiffed by the same lady who’d been doing her hair for years. I admit that when I knew she was joining us for dinner, I dressed with not a little trepidation and care, making sure to wear a skirt or dress (because a lady doesn’t wear slacks).

She was in her 90s when I met her, so her fashions were a little more sedate than the fabulous outfits I’d seen her in from 1950s and ’60s family photographs, when women wore “ensembles” with matching hats and accessories. This was a woman who knew how to make a statement, a woman who demanded to be seen. You can probably guess that we got along very well.

I’m so blessed to have several of her pieces in my jewelry collection now. Here are a few more photos:

dramatic necklaces – right up my alley

the “B” pendant, a signature piece

This pendant was one of Mrs. B’s signature pieces, of a very flexible young girl shaped into the initial “B,” made by a sculptor friend of the family. It’s probably not something I will wear on a regular basis – the pendant is at least three inches long and screams, “Dramatics!”

But I thought it was important to save. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law both have pretty simple taste in jewelry, at least from what I’ve seen them wear. I’m a “B” now too, having taken my husband’s name  in the whole marriage deal (my maiden name moved over to my middle name) so I could wear it if I wanted.

For now, I just like to look at it from time to time. Maybe one of my sister-in-law’s daughters will want it when they’re grown, something to connect them to the great-grandmother who loved them so much.

I don’t have anything from my mother’s mother, the grandmother I saw on a regular basis when I was growing up, so I’m happy to have these links to my husband’s grandmother’s past. I think about the amazing places she must have gone to in New York wearing these pieces, the plays and fabulous dinners she and her husband must have enjoyed. That’s the beauty of these heirlooms, not only are they beautiful to look at and wear, but they connect you, in a very tangible way, to the things we loved back then, the life we lived when we were young.


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