A most charming family history

Mother carried her history on her wrist. Long after the style waned, her charms jingled and tinkled. You always knew when she was coming. She took such joy in reciting to perfect strangers the events in her life by naming each tiny silver symbol, just as a curator might point out his relics.

She'd identify people as giver or participator in the event associated with each charm: "My daughter gave me this sewing machine because I taught her to sew," she'd say. "See? The wheel actually moves the needle up and down!" Or, "My husband gave me this silver bell on our 25th anniversary. Listen, it rings!" Yes, we knew only too well that it rang. "My kids gave me these skis because we taught them to water-ski. And this boy rowing his boat is from my son."

Obviously, when my mother finished her recitation to that innocent, perfect stranger sitting beside her on the bus (or wherever), they were strangers no longer. But I always noticed that no one seemed bored. On the contrary, they seemed fascinated by the tiny, intricately made replicas of real objects, brought to life by the stories they told.

Once, someone gave her a tiny camera, which was ironic because most of her charms re-created vacations for her as well as any photo could. She was proud of each reminder: a roadrunner from Arizona, a boy in sombrero and poncho from Mexico, scrolls from Israel, a clamshell from the seashore, an alligator from Florida, bagpipes from Scotland, the Statue of Liberty from New York City, a riverboat from the Mississippi, an oil derrick from Texas, a horsehead in a horseshoe from Virginia, a replica of the Confederate Memorial from Atlanta, a caboose representing a train ride somewhere.

Gift-giving became a little easier. It was a relief to know what my practical mother would like. When we filled up one bracelet, we started another. The challenge grew greater to find the perfect symbol - the one that could apply to her, to us, to some event. But as the challenge grew, so did the thrill of finding that perfect silver image.

Charms celebrating family events were her greatest pride: the tiny silver lantern (like the real ones my bridesmaids carried), the silhouette of her ponytailed granddaughter with her birth date on the back, the baby carriage, the pendant inscribed and given to her as president of the College Women's Club.

But my mother, more interested in giving than receiving, soon wanted to join in the act of gift-giving. I received a silver chain bracelet that began my collection of silver charms to commemorate anything of significance to me. Ice skates, tennis racket, sailboat, hockey sticks, VW Beetle, graduation mortarboard were added individually until each link was filled and a new bracelet begun. You could call it a life circlet! Our collecting paralleled both our experiences.

Now when I wear hers and mine together, I jingle and tinkle. Someone will say, "Oh, you have a charm bracelet!" Little does this poor person know that I'm wearing not one, but two or three, and I need no other invitation than those words to launch into a narrative that brings me joy and, I hope, charms my listener.

I love carrying both Mother's and my histories on my wrist. For me, the past slips into the present. But most of all, it mingles her life with mine. That is as it should be.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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