It has never been like me to lose things of import – or un-import, really. But not even the best keepers of shit have flawless track records. And last spring, I made the fatal mistake of getting into the shower still wearing my earrings – small diamond studs I had worn every day for 13 years. This day, only one came home.
I was devastated, not because I had lost a diamond earring but because I had lost this diamond earring – a little piece of my Grandma Ethel I carried around every day. Jan had specifically given the earrings to me and not my sister when Grandma died, because she trusted me and not my sister to keep them safe. Now, as usual, I had completely failed her. The earrings sat in a dark green velour box from Marsh & Sons in Millburn, even though they actually came from the less upscale Walter Baumann in West Orange. Just like Grandma seemed to be doing for much of her life, the earrings were posing as something “better” than what they were.
Grandma Ethel was really the only grandparent I knew (that’s another blog post). She valued appearances and labels and titles and thought her ginormous gold, diamond and eilat stone ring was the ultimate sign of taste and class. She missed the Friday night service of my bat mitzvah so she could go to the beauty parlor. Rich people impressed her, and she aspired to be like them (hence the ginormous ring). She didn’t cook in her apartment; she used her oven for storage (sometimes of cookies, which was nice). The only food she ever served us was boiled hot dogs, or grilled cheese, when she babysat at our house. Grandma didn’t winter in Florida or live in a retirement community. She didn’t brag about us to her mah jong friends, but she bragged about her mah jong friends and their families to us. She referred to said friends as “the girls,” even though their average age was 86. She used all kinds of derogatory Yiddish terms I can’t spell. She was known for ending every meal with, “I couldn’t eat another bite,” then eating another bite. Or four. She chose which “Jeopardy” contestant to root for based on which one she thought was Jewish. Nevermind if said contestant was not actually Jewish, or was, but also happened to be a serial killer/child molester – “I hope the Jew wins.”
But she was also a third parent to us – the kind you could confide in, the kind to whom you could confess your real whereabouts, the kind who would talk to you on the phone for as long as you wanted on Saturday nights when you were lonely and sad. I still know her old phone number by heart. She let us stay up late to watch “Fantasy Island.” She picked us up from school when Jan couldn’t, including on the day of the Great 2nd Grade Barf Incident of 1980. She waited on endless lines and went to every store north of the Raritan to find us Cabbage Patch Kids (which she finally did, at Caldor’s). She sat with us at the kitchen table making macrame braclets and ribbon barrettes in hideous color combinations Jan would not approve of. She pretended to care that John Taylor’s birthday was June 20th and she listened intently to endless middle school dramas as if the were the plot of her “stories.” Jan’s beauty supplies were totally off limits, but Grandma let us play with her Final Net and teasing brush. She took us to lunch at Diet Works and for ice cream at Friendly’s (she liked coffee Fribbles). When I was bracing for one of the most difficult challenges of my life – a pre-K swimming lesson at the Fanwood Y – she told me she had faith in me. (I still cried.) It was not uncommon for her to call us “Doll.”
When I lost the earring, I felt like I had lost a part of her.
Last Saturday, I awoke to find that Keith was already out and about. He called and said he was “running errands,” which made me suspicious, because he usually provides specific coordinates. A little while later he returned carrying a jewelry box – not a green velour box from Marsh & Sons, not a blue box from Walter Baumann. This was a brown box from a place, no doubt, where no New Jersey Jew had ever set foot: the cross-wearing Italian diamond dealer from whom Keith and his brothers purchased my engagement ring and my SILs’. Sparkling inside was the surviving earring from the pair Grandma had worn, plus a new, perfect match. Neither of which will EVER see the inside of a shower, it should be noted.
I love having that lost piece of Grandma back. But what I love even more is the idea that now “the pair” is half Grandma, half Keith – as if they collaborated. It’s ridonculous, I know. But it comforts me because it makes me feel like she’s a little closer to still being part of our lives.