Abigail and Isabel, too, I suppose, love my closet. I'm not sure what it is about the hanging clothes, the heaps of shoes, boxes stacked against a wall full of last seasons items that attracts them so, but it does. There is a draw to the room that pulls my girls in time after time, so that when Abigail is hiding from me I am sure to find her tucked away under my formal gowns, holding a single brown sequined shoe in her grasp.
There are also a series of shelves on which I have stacked and organized any number of things: belts and ties in a bin, work shirts for Josh and Army gym clothes, socks, and at just about chest high, my jewelry. It is by no means a large or stunning collection, it fits neatly into a small wooden box divided into two parts: the upper that holds my necklaces tucked to one side, rings on the other, sundry keepsakes and larger items stored under the tray. It is a plain box, ordinary in all ways and, I had thought, high as it was, simple as it was, above the notice of my eldest daughter.
She had asked to wear a 'mommy necklace' for Halloween so that she might look like Cinderella and I presented her with a string of pearls to wear over her yellow flouncy dress. After getting out of her costume she asked to continue wearing the pearls with her jeans and t-shirt; unable to explain the fragility of pearls to a toddler I, kindly as I could, said 'no.' She asked if she might wear another necklace of mine and I agreed, thinking that later I would run up to my closet and pick something of little value that she could play around in.
She ran off apparently appeased and I returned to whatever task I was at when she first came demanding finery. I was quite surprised to have her come back to my side mere moments later holding a small gold chain in her hands. "How about this Mommy? Can I wear this one?" She asked, full of hope. I was startled by her discovery, it was a chain I forgotten I had, one that had been a gift to me when I was about her age, perhaps younger even.
She was holding up a necklace that had been given to me by my father's mother, seeing the gold winking in my daughter's hand brought forward a rush of emotion I couldn't have anticipated. This chain was given to me in memory of my grandfather, a man who died before I could ever know him. This necklace that makes me think of the small woman who picked it out for me, who choose something thick and heavy remembering the rambunctiousness of childhood. I see her suddenly, her hands covered in paper-thin skin, a crochet hook working heaps of yarn and string into fancy things for my dolls to wear. A woman whose house smelled of talcum powder and tea and who always had crayons and the largest coloring books I had ever seen stashed in the most unlikely places, who made paste and salt dough in her kitchen to amuse her granddaughters. She who died when I was young, before I even knew this necklace existed tucked away as it was in my mother's sock drawer, who would never know the daughters I have borne.
Abigail is wearing the necklace now, running around the house oblivious to the metal flapping against her skin. But I look at her and think of my Grandmother and I hope that if she ever happens to peer in on me, to see what became of the gangly girl she left behind, that she would see her great granddaughter wearing her gift, proof that it can indeed withstand the rigors of childhood.
My daughter is too young to understand the significance of this chain, why I smile a slightly sad smile as I put it on her. It is a first, this passing down of keepsakes, the giving over of memories from my youth to hers. It is a start, this story of who I was when I was small and who that child became: a story to be told in pieces to my daughters over a lifetime.