The missing link: A birthday gift for the ages
My son turned 16 this week, and my mom (and dad) came through with a surprise none of us expected.
When I turned 16, my grandmother gave me her engagement ring string on a fine gold chain necklace.
It was the life-changing gift she received when she was 16 and a high school student in Springfield, Missouri. This was 1946, just after World War II ended and her would-be husband’s basketball career at Missouri State University was beginning. She went on to become a basketball wife, a dental assistant, a widow, a town treasure, and a doting grandmother to five.
It was a sweet gift, I knew at the time, but one that felt kind of irrelevant in my world. I loved her deeply, but I didn’t really care about jewelry. I wasn’t planning on getting married anytime soon, and the whole idea of rites and rituals — especially around a virtuous “sweet sixteen” — felt like a burden to carry, not a tradition to celebrate.
After I moved away from Missouri in 2006, the necklace sat in a toiletry kit that traveled with me to Austin, where I soon had Julian in 2007.
My stint on “What Not to Wear” in 2008 is what finally changed my mind about wearing the ring necklace. The makeover gave me the willingness to draw attention to myself with something shiny and delicate.
My growth as a mom, who was suddenly aware of the quickly passing generations, is what nudged me to start wearing it each time I wanted to feel connected to Gaga. On the days of big speaking engagements, or a ladies’ luncheon at the country club, or a trip to Sweden to see where her grandmother was born, I’d clasp that tiny latch at the nape of my neck and feel the warmth of her presence come over me.
I don’t have such a talisman from my dad’s mom, Grandma Shirley, who, at 16, was living in Kansas. She didn’t have a ring on her finger, but she carried a baby in her belly.
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