When I try to think back to what started my love of jewelry, it brings me to a very specific memory. Our family trip to Mexico.
I grew up in Oklahoma. My father was in the military and while stationed in Germany, met and married my mother. When my German relatives would come for a visit, we would have to really show them the Wild, Wild West. On the agenda would be any rodeo or pow-wow within driving distance. Our town was about 20 minutes from the Wichita Mountains Wild Life Refuge. Trips included sightings of long horn cattle, buffalo and prairie dogs. We would take a picnic lunch and ride up our little mountain, Mount Scott, which rises to the glorious height of 2,464 feet. We would stop at the strange little souvenir store at the base of the mountain to see the real live rattle snakes in a box with a plexiglass front. There were holes drilled in the plexiglass. The holes could have been for air, but I think they did it so you could hear the snakes shake their rattles as you walked by. We would find a picnic table and make sure that there weren’t any rattle snakes nearby. My mother would “set the table” with paper and plastic wear. We would then spend the rest of our meal trying to hold down the paper napkin and paper plate and paper cup in the whipping wind that never seems to stop in Oklahoma.
When I was 15, my grandparents on my mothers’ side came for another visit. We had already shown them all the local wonders available. My father brought out the maps and a serious trip was planned. We were going to Mexico!
The trip was planned, our bags packed and into the car we all went. My father driving, my mother – co-pilot/navigator, and the grandparents in the backseat. Where was I? The hump. You know, the middle of the backseat with my feet balancing on the hump that housed the drive shaft. My family car at the time was a Plymouth Volare (Italian for flying.) with after factory air conditioning. First stop was White Sands, New Mexico. Travel time is approximately 10 hours.
Sitting in the back seat with my chain smoking grandparents for 10 hours with the windows cracked, would have been bad enough. Being crammed into the back seat with barely operational air conditioning would have been bad enough. But both grands liked to stretch out their arms and rest them over and around my shoulders. A picture was taken of me in front of a vast and beautiful amount of white sand in White Sands, NM. In the picture, you can clearly see two giant sweat stains on the tops of both of my shoulders. My fun meter was registering negative.
Oma (Grandma in German) could see the misery in my eyes and moisture in my blouse. She took me into the souvenir shop and took me right over to the jewelry counter. “Pick out something.” She instructed me. “Pick yourself something nice.”
I peered into the glass cases at all the Native American jewelry and saw a small pair of silver feather earrings. They had beautiful gemstone inlays in turquoise and coral. So pretty, so small, and so very precious. “These, Oma.” I pointed to the pair. “These are the ones I want.” She put her money on the counter and the clerk rang them up and put them into a bag. “Don’t you want to put them on?” Oma asked. “No”, I said. “I want to look at them.”
I didn’t have them on when we drove the remaining distance to Mexico and crossed the border. I didn’t have them on, when someone offered to buy the white-haired girl from my father. I didn’t have them on for the three hours that we stayed in Mexico before we were rounded up and put back into the car for the return trip. I didn’t have them on for the 10 hours back to Oklahoma. Why? Because they made me happy when I looked at them. When I looked at them, the hairy armpits on my shoulders, were the loving arms of my grand-parents hugging me. When I looked at them the 10 long hours, were 10 hours that I got to listen to my mother speak her native language and tell stories and remember with her parents. And now when I take them out and look at them, they make me remember.