Friday, February 6, 2015

Curiously strange gifts from my eccentric great aunt.

A couple of people asked me to follow up on my statement about my great-aunt's gifts:
My grandfather's twin sister was an interesting character. She was a mother figure to my father and we used to visit her in Pasadena when I was a kid. After we moved away from California, I kept up with her through frequent letters. Every Christmas she sent gifts. Odd gifts. Generally things she pulled from her packed house.  Many were from her stint selling Avon so often the gifts to myself, my sister and my brother were old Avon products. Perfumes, compacts, and the like. The one that made me laugh the most was the decorative soaps I received. It was a box of six hand soaps carved to look like flowers. So old that they were cracked. Oh, and one was missing.

And then there were the the random items. Old toys she had around the house, for instance. And sometimes clothing. I wish I had a photo of the orange and brown crocheted skirt and long vest. So stylish. Or my sister's funniest gift - a package of 1950's bullet bras she must have held onto all those years. You never knew what you'd find when you unwrapped a gift.
But sometimes there were really cool things in those packages. Like this embroidered silk kimono robe my grandfather had brought his sister back from Japan. I still have it. I never knew how she chose which item from her house to send to which niece or nephew, but once I really hit the jackpot. I was in grad school, living in a basement efficiency and came home to find a very small box left by the mail carrier on my doorstep. The label stuck to the brown paper said it contained Avon products, and it had been insured for fifty bucks. Avon does have costume jewelry among its offerings so I assumed that's what I would find inside.
But it was this ring. I stuck it in my pocket and made a trip to a jeweler for an appraisal. A little over a carat, perfect color, perfect clarity in the "old mine cut" popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This style of diamond was hand-cut so that when light shines on it through the top plane, it acts as a prism and sends a shower of colors outward. In fact, I have amused myself in many a boring meeting by angling the ring to send sparks of color around the room. My great-great uncle had been a jeweler in San Francisco and he made this ring for his bride. She left it to my great aunt who in turn passed it along to me. I wore it for almost 20 years and then, a couple of years ago, had it re-set in white gold so that it would not be a reminder of my previous engagement. Except I could never bring myself to wear it on my right hand as I planned because it still looks exactly like an engagement ring. I know, it's a diamond solitaire in a simple classic setting - what did I think it was going to look like? When I look at it, though, it doesn't make me think of my former marriage. I think about a long-ago jeweler, cutting a gorgeous diamond by hand to give to the woman he loved. And then given to me by an aunt I loved dearly. There's family and love in that ring. My eccentric aunt sure got it right with that gift.

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