Necessary Things

By on Dec 2, 2013 in Essays

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Bunny, pink cleat and diamond earrings

Diamond Earrings

For reasons I still cannot fully articulate, I decide to mark my 45th birthday by buying myself a pair of diamond earrings. I’ve long since stopped waiting for anyone else to buy me diamonds, yet somehow I feel incomplete as a diamond-less woman of a certain age. I want to know how it feels to sparkle, to glint.

Most of my jewelry has more sentimental than monetary value. My favorite pieces remind me of somewhere or someone I’ve been: a silver necklace from Ireland, a bead bracelet from a pueblo near Santa Fe, blue topaz earrings to match the glacier I walked on in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve also kept school rings, pearls and stickpins from my suit-wearing thirties and a birthstone ring my parents gave me in grade school.

It takes several months — and a little coaching from my friend Luanne — to convince myself I should buy the diamond earrings. Luanne is well-practiced at making fine-jewelry purchases, and she gladly accompanies me to her favorite jeweler one day on our lunch break. She helps me select my earrings from a glittering case while the jeweler hovers nearby, trusting one of his best customers to make the sale. Luanne suggests something with a bit of a design — the flower petals or the small teardrops, perhaps — but in the end she supports my choice of simple diamond studs. I think she understands that I’m more interested in making a gesture than a statement.  

When I reach my 50th birthday, I find I can count on one hand the times I’ve worn my diamond earrings. It turns out my life does not include many diamond-wearing occasions, something I never knew before. I get a postcard from the jeweler every time he has a sale. He has no way of knowing I won’t be coming back.  

I hold on to the credit card statement that records my diamond-earring purchase, because it also records one of my favorite inside jokes: the purchase listed just below the earrings is a CD from a Joan Baez concert. The charge is to her record label, Diamonds and Rust, also the title of one my favorite songs. More than 30 years ago, Joan penned a somber ending to her ballad: “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid.”  These days she deadpans her way to an older, wiser (if less poetic) conclusion: “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ll take the diamonds.”       

Perhaps over time I’ll rewrite my take on the diamonds, too. For now, I like the way they sparkle in the gray velvet box where they mostly live — I open it occasionally, just to be sure they’re still there.


Taking Inventory

I’m writing this backwards, I suppose. The diamond earrings were tucked away in a drawer long before Erin came to visit. Gray Bunny didn’t disappear for some months after that. In fact, Erin and Gray Bunny crossed paths during the college-tour visit, although Grace did not have an occasion to see the soccer cleats — which is too bad, because she would have delighted in their utter pinkness.  

Sometime between those events and now, I come across a small, well-worn teddy bear in the cedar chest in my guest room — a gift brought from Europe by my Uncle John’s parents in the months before I was born. There’s a photograph somewhere of the bear propped up in the crib of my nursery-to-be. I have no recollection of carrying this pale pink bear around with me or giving it a name. My earliest memory of the bear is seeing it tucked away in my mother’s cedar chest for safekeeping. Because she saved it, I came to know it as a treasure. Eventually it moved from her cedar chest into mine. The pink has faded nearly to gray. Perhaps one day I’ll offer the bear to Grace — as a reminder of, not a replacement for, her long-lost bunny.  

Another day between then and now, I happen upon an ancient baseball glove in my attic, so creased with disuse that I have to pry it open to see the Willie Mays signature. I wonder why I’ve kept it for so long. I’d like to say it conjures up fond memories of my glory days as an outfielder, but unlike Erin, I never excelled at any sport, although I tried a few. The leather is worn with age, but the glove is barely broken in from use. Yet it’s moved with me from place to place, a reminder of a long-ago time when it was almost novel for girls to play in a softball league, and of later co-ed games on summer nights with work friends from half a lifetime ago.     

Like the Joan Baez song, my old possessions acquire new layers of meaning over time. If they hadn’t bumped into Grace’s bunny and Erin’s cleats in my mind, I might not have given either of them a second thought when I opened the cedar chest for a blanket or climbed to the attic to stash an armful of old papers in a box. I don’t think of these objects as necessary, and like my diamond earrings, perhaps they never were. Still, I keep them.  

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Perhaps Gray Bunny struck a chord because of the once-pink teddy bear stashed in my memory. Perhaps it seemed important to know why Erin’s cleats made that cross-country trip because I can’t explain my own attachment to a long-neglected baseball glove. In the end it doesn’t matter, because the bunny and the bear, the cleats and the glove, and even the diamond earrings all share one space in my thoughts now. Three ages, three girls. What we treasure, what we travel with.


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Eileen Cunniffe has been writing nonfiction for 30 years -- but the first 25 were without the benefit of a byline, as a medical writer, corporate communications manager and executive speechwriter. Her essays have appeared in journals such as Wild River Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Ascent, Superstition Review, Prime Number Magazine and Imitation Fruit; and in the anthologies A Woman's World Again (Travelers' Tales) and Prompted (P.S. Books). Her essay "Shifting Landscapes" was published in the 2013 Emrys Journal and received the 2013 Linda Julian Nonfiction Award. Read more at: