Day 17—Earrings without a Story

I don’t remember where I bought these earrings. They have no special story. I didn’t lose one of them. They aren’t connected to a family member or a friend.

I bought them about five years ago, from a place I don’t remember, for no particular reason.

I wore them today because they don’t have a story, so I hoped to write this blog quickly.

I’m a quilter, and a quilting teacher once told me, “Honey, I’m not trying to offend you, but if you had to sew for a living, you’d starve.” She had worked in a garment factory in the South before the garment industry moved overseas and she moved north.

I wasn’t offended. She was correct. My sewing machined hummed a slow tune, never a fast jig. Her philosophy applies to my writing. If I had to produce words for a living, I’d starve. My writing, like my sewing, is slow and measured. After sixteen days of producing a blog piece every day, I have new respect for writers who do this every day.

I need to write today’s blog quickly because I have my four grandkids today, and in the evening, I have a two-hour writing class. I had my grandkids yesterday, then I had a board meeting for a nonprofit that I serve on. Time is scarce. I provide daycare for all four of them, ages three to ten, and homeschooling for the oldest two. At the end of the day, my brain is worn thin like an old T-shirt.

As I write this, the homeschooled grandkids are reading science and history stories in the back room. The three- and five-year-old grandkids are playing with blocks in the front room where I’m writing. They’re steeped in a world of imagination, their voices giving life to the stories they’re creating with blocks and Little People characters.

Soon I will stop writing this story to make breakfast, then begin lessons with the older two kids.

In between lessons, I will

settle disputes between the younger two kids

help the three-year-old with potty training

let the younger two play with Play-Doh

dole out hugs to anyone who gets an owie

make lunch

let my dogs in and out a bazillion times

read to the little ones

clean up after Play-Doh

serve water

sweep the floor

wash dishes

correct lessons

and revise and edit this blog story.

This Saturday, three of my grandkids will get the first of their COVID-19 vaccines. After Christmas they will be fully vaccinated and return to their classrooms. Another step toward pre-pandemic normalcy.

But the three-year-old will still keep me company when his parents work. And he doesn’t nap anymore.

By the way, I like these earrings, even if they don’t have a story.

Day 16—Earrings with a History

Mom discovered these white gold, diamond earrings in an antique shop in southern Wisconsin not long before she, Dad, and my siblings moved to Tucson, Arizona, in 1977. She told Dad about them, and he bought them for her. They’re very old earrings.

After moving to Tucson, Mom lost one of the earrings during a house party she and Dad hosted. The house they lived in had a spacious backyard with a pool, an ideal spot for an outdoor party after the desert sun set behind the Tucson Mountains. She lost the earring in the backyard.

After Mom discovered the earring was missing, guests helped her search for it but without success. She needed outside help from a woman with influence. She called her mother (my nana) who lived in Milwaukee, and asked her to pray to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.

Mom wasn’t a practicing Catholic, but she had faith in her mother’s connection with St. Anthony. It had worked for Mom before. Nana hung up the phone and sent a prayer to St. Anthony. The prayer worked. Mom found the missing earring shortly after Nana’s plea to the patron saint of lost things.

Several years after the episode of the lost-and-found earring, my parents divorced. Mom gave me these earrings after the divorce. She also gave me five small diamonds that had been set in her wedding band.

I thought I lost these earrings once during a move. It was a couple of days before I found them. I had wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them in a plastic margarine container for safe keeping during the move. I didn’t call Nana to ask her to pray to St. Anthony. Maybe if I had, I would’ve found the earrings sooner. I don’t know why I didn’t call her. Perhaps I didn’t want to believe the earrings were lost. Perhaps I thought Nana’s prayers to St. Anthony only worked for Mom.

A few years after Mom gave them to me, I became curious to know if the diamonds in the earrings were real, so I had my jeweler look at them. Three were real and one was fake. I asked why that might be, and he had two explanations. First, the practical reason: A diamond could’ve fallen out, and the owner had it replaced with a synthetic diamond because she couldn’t afford a real one. Second, the nefarious reason: Someone sold the earrings and claimed all four diamonds were real to increase the profit margin.

The small diamonds my mother had given me were the same size as the fake diamond in the earring, so I had the fake diamond swapped out for a real one.

These earrings have a history that precedes me, but they’re not talking. I wonder about the woman who owned and wore them before my mother and I did. I wonder if she loved them as much as I do. I wonder if she ever prayed to St. Anthony for help in finding lost things.

Day 14—Icy, Pale Blue Earrings

Purchased summer 2019 from Waters of Superior, Duluth, Minnesota. Closed permanently in September 2020, because of the pandemic.

The icy, pale blue crystals of these earrings remind me of NASA’s eyes. She was a Siberian Huskey and a loyal companion to a man named Tom. He named her after the National Aeronautics Space Administration because space exploration thrilled him.

Tom was a steelworker, who helped build the Sears Tower in Chicago, among other structures. He was also a private pilot and a skydiver. That’s how my father met him. My father was a private pilot who had a business hauling skydivers. Tom made lots of jumps out of my father’s plane.

Tom and NASA seemed made for each other. They were both strong, muscular, and compact, with piercing blue eyes, Tom’s being a couple of shades darker than NASA’s. They were both independent. NASA was protective of Tom and didn’t welcome other people or dogs into their circle. And that was fine with Tom.

NASA had an interesting life. She went almost everywhere with Tom, and when she couldn’t, she stayed with his mother.

In the early 1970s, when Tom spent a year in Hawaii working on a construction project, NASA went with him. She had to spend time in quarantine after arriving in Hawaii, but Tom wasn’t going to be without her for a year.

Tom had an apartment in Chicago, but sometimes slept in the back of his pickup truck with NASA when he came to Franklin, Wisconsin, to skydive. His truck had a topper and under the topper, he always had sleeping gear. They sometimes slept in the truck in our driveway or at the drop zone. Once when my parents offered Tom a bed or couch in our home, he chose to sleep with his dog in the back of his pickup truck.

When Tom moved to San Francisco in 1977, NASA went too. When she passed away after a long happy life, he buried her on a hill with a beautiful view.

Funny thing, I remember more about Tom than other skydivers who came to our house for meals or to have my father fix their vehicles. This is because of NASA. She intrigued me because she had a lifestyle that no other dog I’d ever known had. She was the only dog I knew of that slept on the packing table in a skydiving shack while her master went up in a plane, jumped out, and floated back to earth. She’d wait without moving, until Tom came back to repack his parachute.

And anyone who remained in the shack gave her space.

Day 13—My Diamond Studs Get Jackets

Earring jackets. The posts go through the small holes at the top.

Yesterday I wrote about my husband surprising me with diamond earrings for Christmas.

He had one more bit of jewelry magic up his sleeve. When he bought my earrings at Christmas, the salesperson told him about jackets for stud earrings. Yes, it’s the Northland. Winters are cold around here. Diamond earrings need jackets, don’t ya know.

My earrings got their jackets in March, when I had my birthday. March is plenty cold, so jackets were appropriate. When I opened them, he called them something so cute that I wish I could remember what it was, but it wasn’t jackets. He had substituted some other word.

I remember my oldest son called the grill a congrilla. And on warm summer days, he’d ask me, “Can we get Grandpa George and cook something on the congrilla?” If I had time, we’d get something from the store to grill then pick up his great-grandpa George. My son still loves to grill. Sometimes I still use the word congrilla for grill.

I remember my youngest son, when he was about five, would announce, “I’m thirty.”

“You’re thirty?” I’d ask.

“No, I’m thirty,” he’d say.

“Oh, you’re thirty,” I’d say.

“No, I’m thirty,” he’d say, getting frustrated and near tears.

“Oh, you’re thirsty,” I’d say.

“Yes!” he’d say, relieved his mother finally understood.

I know. I was bad. But he still talks to me.

When my grandkids ask me for a drink of water, I ask them if they’re thirty. “No,” they’ll say, “we’re not that old.” I laugh and give them water. They look at me like I’m the Madwoman of Chaillot.

I wish I could remember what my husband called the earring jackets because his word was better. But he only said it once. It didn’t become part of an Abbot and Costello routine between us. So, the word is in my brain, but the pathway to retrieve it is permanently corrupted. But the imagine of him presenting me with the elegant jackets for my Christmas earrings remains. And so does the moment of humor, even without remembering the funny word.

Day 12—Christmas Surprise Earrings, Circa 1999.

Diamonds are difficult to photograph.

I opened my last gift, a small box that had been tucked under the tree in the back. Inside a pair of “mama-bear” diamond stud earrings winked at me.

I had long wanted a pair of diamond earrings, but the reality is two diamonds cost more than one, like double the price. I didn’t want to settle for tiny diamonds because I wanted them to catch and throw light. But I didn’t want diamonds so big they looked fake. I had wanted mama-bear-sized diamonds, which were still in a fairy tale beyond my budget.

I gushed, and told my husband they were perfect. But I worried they cost more than our Christmas budget allowed. He’d won the money on a football pool. He’d guessed, correctly, the outcomes of more football matchups during the season than anyone else. And he used the money he won to buy me diamond earrings.

“I’m sorry they’re kind of small,” he said.

“Are you kidding?” I laughed. “I was just thinking they’re so big.”

I put on my new earrings. My husband gave up his winnings to buy me a special gift. I think of my diamond studs as my O. Henry earrings.

Day 11—Winter Earrings

I wasn’t looking to buy earrings. (Ho, ho, ho.) I was just looking at the rack, passing time while my mother shopped for clothes in a boutique in Harbor Springs, Michigan.

But when I saw these silver-colored drop earrings with hints of black peeking through the cutwork, and set with white crystals, I changed my mind. At just under $30, my wallet agreed.

But my mother and I arrived at the checkout counter at the same time, and she bought them for me.

I call these my winter earrings because they make me think of snowflakes, silver bells, and icicles.

They pair nicely with a black-and-white winter sweater my mother bought me for Christmas in 2018, three months after she bought me the earrings.

This year I hope to wear the earrings and the winter sweater while sharing Christmas dinner with my mother.

Overlooking Lake Michigan, Christmas Eve morning, 2018

Day 9—My Earring Gets a Bruise.

Today’s earrings were a gift from my son, circa 1991. He doesn’t remember selecting them for me because he was about five and a half, but he did go to the jewelry store with me.

I’d gone to the store to have a watch battery replaced. While I talked to the jeweler, my son stood by a stand of earrings and slowly turned the display.

“Mom,” he said, “you should buy these. They’re pretty.”

I turned to look and started to tell him I wasn’t buying earrings. But he was right, they were pretty.

Very pretty. Fourteen-karat gold. Inexpensive, considering.

“They’d look pretty on you,” he said. He wanted me to have them.

I bought them.

A couple of months later, I bruised one of the earrings.

I’d cradled the handset of a rotary phone between my shoulder and my ear, never thinking I could damage the earring because it was small.

When anyone had complimented me on these earrings, I’d smile and tell them my son bought them for me.

The bruised side of my earring

Now, I’d been careless with his gift.

I tried to buy another pair, but the jeweler couldn’t get another pair.

I asked if it could be repaired, but the jeweler said trying to fix it would make it worse.

I looked at the tiny dents located on one side of the earring.

Facing a mirror, I put on the earring and twisted it until the indentations were facing the floor. I looked into the mirror—I couldn’t see the damage, so no one else would.

I still wear them. They’re still pretty.

My small son wanted me to have them, so abandoning them was never an option.

Day 7—Earrings and Associations

Today’s earrings came from my mother. She received them as a gift from a friend who’d taken a trip to Fiji. My mother wore them a few times, but they’re not her style.

My mother, her friend, and I have spent time together, going to Mackinac Island, eating meals together, watching fireworks from a deck on Lake Michigan. So, a few years after my mother received these earrings, she gave them to me.

I haven’t worn them since the pandemic started in 2020. They aren’t wear-with-a-pair-of-blue-jeans-and-a-T-shirt earrings. But today I think I pulled it off. I wore a navy-blue turtleneck, a pale blue sweater and blue jeans. And when I left the house in the afternoon rain, I wore a dark-blue rain jacket with a sophisticated yet subtle tone-on-tone print. The earrings and rain jacket could be soulmates. (If you’re wondering, Anna Wintour never worries when I talk fashion.)

These earrings remind me of a ride in the backseat of a rented midsized sedan from Kohler, Wisconsin, to Milwaukee in July 2010.

I sat in the middle of the backseat because it was my turn to sit in the middle. And because no one cared about my moderate claustrophobia.

As I slid into the center of the seat, I remembered a surgeon’s advice before I had an MRI: “Close your eyes before you enter the tube and don’t open them.”

My mother drove out of the parking lot. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes. I asked my sister-in-law, who sat to my right, to tell me about her scuba diving trip to Bali.

I asked why she wanted to learn to scuba dive. She has lived in Arizona all her life.

I asked her how she learned. Pools were involved.

I asked her about the dangers. There’s a lot that can go wrong on a dive.

I asked her about the world under the waves.

For fifty miles, a blue-green ocean teaming with exotic fish, coral reefs, and scuba divers screened on my eyelids. For every question I asked, she wove a narrative taking me out of the middle of that backseat. I kept my eyes closed.

These earrings remind me of Fiji, my mother, and her friend.

These earrings remind me of Bali, my sister-in-law, and fifty miles of scuba diving adventures.

I know Fiji is not Bali. My sister-in-law hasn’t met my mother’s friend. These earrings didn’t exist in July 2010.

Doesn’t matter. Neurons forge our networks of memories.

Every time I wear these earrings, I return to my happy place in the waters of Bali among fish and reefs and divers—a place I’ve never been.

Day 6—Traveling Teardrop Earrings

I bought these earrings in Tucson, Arizona, in 2003. I went with my husband and sons to visit my mother and stepdad in Phoenix and my father and siblings in Tucson.

These earrings have traveled to Rhode Island, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Hawaii, and Canada. These are hockey earrings. They’ve seen my youngest son play lots of hockey games in many cities. I have a rule about jewelry when I travel—only one pair of earrings and one necklace. These are the earrings that almost always made the cut.

I’ve worn these earrings more than any other pair of earrings I own, so maybe that makes them my favorite pair. As my mother would say, “You can wear them with blue jeans or an evening dress.”

I wore this pair to Winnipeg, Canada, to a hockey tournament. On Saturday morning, I was waiting in the car for my husband to come out of the hotel, so we could head to the rink.

After he got in the car, he said, “Do you feel naked?”

“What?” I hadn’t forgot to put on my pants. (This was long before COVID-19 and pants-less Zoom meetings and endless jokes about people forgetting to wear pants.)

He laughed and asked again, “Do you feel naked?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He extended a closed fist toward me then opened his fingers. Nestled on his palm were my teardrop earrings.

“I thought you might want these, so you didn’t feel naked,” he said.

“Yes, thanks.” I lifted my earrings off his palm and leaned over to kiss him before dressing my bare earlobes.

He had remembered that I had once said I felt naked if I forgot to wear earrings when I left the house.

I’ve never forgotten that he remembered.

Day 5—Sleepy Thoughts on COVID and Earrings

I almost didn’t write today’s post about earrings. I received my COVID-19 booster yesterday evening at 5:15, and today I had aches, low-grade fevers, and major fatigue. Last March when I had my second shot, I was so tired for two days that even getting out of bed to go to the bathroom was exhausting. Today was better than last time, but I still needed four substantial naps. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to have a serious case of COVID.

I chose today’s earrings this morning but didn’t put them on until 6:15 this evening when I started writing this blog. I can’t wear earrings when I sleep.

Today’s pair are Black Hills Gold, a pink-colored rose encircled by golden leaves. I bought them around 1990 with birthday money my father gave me. Every year he’d send me birthday money, and I’d buy something for myself. I couldn’t tell you what else I bought over the years, but I remember thanking him for these earrings.

My father passed away in September 2016 from a heart attack, but dementia had begun to stalk him. If he were alive, he’d be in a nursing home and probably isolated by surges of COVID.

My dad, me, and my cousin’s baby, May 2005

Yesterday on my way to the vaccine clinic, I listened to a story on public radio about sailors who are stuck on cargo ships that can’t get into port. And when they finally do, the sailors aren’t given shore leave because they aren’t vaccinated. The nightly news reports on hundreds of ships stalled in the ocean, but I haven’t heard them talk about the sailors on the ships.

The public radio journalist interviewed a maritime chaplain who comforts crew members stranded on ships. These people can’t see their families, can’t get off a ship to wire money home, can’t walk down a sidewalk. I’m embarrassed to say, I never thought about the people on those ships. One sailor’s wife is divorcing him because she hasn’t seen him in so long. These sailors don’t have the freedom to get off the ship, and they don’t know when they’re going home. I remembered a history lesson about the impressment of American sailors being one of the causes of the War of 1812. I wonder how little a sailor’s life at sea has changed over the last few hundred years.

When I arrived home, I told my husband, “I can’t believe I never thought about the people on those ships. How could I not think about them?” The focus is always on the cargo.

Today was a difficult day. Feeling lousy makes me feel blue, and I spent the day—when I was awake—close to tears.

But . . .

I’m thankful for my vaccines.

I’m thankful I remember the earrings I bought with birthday money from my father.

I’m thankful public radio aired a story about sailors stuck on ships.

I’m thankful that my biggest worry about COVID is being laid low by a vaccine.