She rarely wore jewelry.
Her face was a perfect oval; with large round deep-set eyes and a Roman nose. That face possessed a genuine beauty far exceeding the allure of any gemstone. The wedding band she wore was gold, small and unobtrusive. Her hair was always simple, pulled back or loose and wavy around her face. She was, in fact, of Roman descent.
My mother. If I close my eyes and think of her, I picture her in a pair of Bermuda shorts, blouse tucked in, sneakers on–headed out to the garden to weed. Or dressed in a pale yellow shift dress with a simple pair of pumps and a handbag.
Her skin was medium olive and she tanned easily. As a girl, she spent summers in Milford, Connecticut where her father, an Italian immigrant and New York merchant, had a summer home. There, she learned to seed the garden, look for plover’s eggs and listen to the sound of the sea as it strummed the shoreline. Raised in the city, she was a country girl at heart. The youngest of six children, two older sisters brought her up upon her mother’s passing at her 16th birthday. We often pondered her life as a girl in Manhattan with a busy father and all older siblings, but she rarely spoke of it. The here and now was her focus: she loved her family with genuine devotion.
Each of us had our own little piece of her. Those pieces were our gems, each one different. For me, she was my shoulder, my respite, my refuge, and my confidante. She used to call me her rock. But it was she who had the real strength. Mom had a knack for letting each child feel her dedication was special, just for them.
All three of us sisters were married in a three-year period. My youngest sister was first, right out of college, marrying her high school sweetheart. I was her maid of honor. She celebrated her 31st anniversary in October. The next year, my older sister married an artist. She wore a dress of Mexican lace and a crown of flowers, both offsetting her astonishing turquoise eyes. I was her bridesmaid. She’s been married for 30 years. The next year brought my Tommy and me to the altar. We were married for 24 years.
My mother looked beautiful at my wedding. She wore a simple dress and the one piece of jewelry she owned. The lavaliere. That necklace was very old and intricate. Platinum, with small diamonds and emeralds. It rested gently at the base of her throat and shimmered ever so slightly when discovered by a piece of light. My sisters and I had tried that necklace on in her bedroom countless times. I’m sure she knew it.
I remember one day in particular. It was rainy and hot- a steamy summer day ripe with humidity. My little sister Patty and I were bored and fidgety. Mom was doing her chores and she spent a good part of the day in the basement sorting laundry and ironing. I had an idea that wormed into my 11-year-old head and bore into my brain. I wanted to dress up in one of Mom’s pretty dresses and wear the lavaliere. Believe me, I knew we weren’t really allowed to try on that necklace. But I wanted to wear it, even for a few minutes. And I would.
I planted Patty in our little bedroom with crayons and sneaked into my parent’s bedroom. It was cool and dark in there. The shades were drawn and the bed looked enormous. I pulled Mom’s desk chair over to the closet and stood on my toes, desperately trying to reach the jewelry box. I was sweating a little and my shorts were bunched up and uncomfortable. I got it! I pulled out the lavaliere and jumped down. God it was gorgeous. I draped it around my moist neck and posed in front of the mirror with it. Of course, with my pixie cut and round face, it didn’t quite look like it did on Mom but I felt like a movie star.
I was lost in my own reflection looking this way and that when suddenly the door flew open. “Uhhhhhh..I’m telling Mommy!!! “ screeched Patty. With that she spun around took off for the stairs. I grabbed her as she was just about there. “Listen you,”I said darkly. “Ill let you wear it for 3 minutes if keep quiet. And I’ll give you my dessert tonight too”. She assessed me quietly and deeply. I held my breath. “ Ok” she muttered. “But I still might tell”. “No, you won’t” I said. With that, we fastened the lavaliere around her tiny neck and stood in front of the mirror. For a moment, we were both almost as beautiful as our Mom. Almost. But not really.