By: Samantha Albert
While sitting on my sofa and listening to Grimes one evening last week, I started moving my shoulders to the rhythm (obviously) and noticed my grandmothers locket swinging side to side like some sort of sparkling crystal ball. I stopped and opened the locket at its hinges, and the sphere unfolded a long golden link of empty spaces where the photos ought to be. There is room for six miniature photos in this locket. This is not your average locket. None of my grandmother’s jewelry fits into the ‘average’ category.
My grandma, Thelma Albert (née Kornreich), or Mrs. Martin Albert as was often addressed on her incoming mail, died last October at age 92. The jewelry this woman wore was delicious, as she might have said in her Bronx accent. Her collection transcended eras and styles, from a giant Mexican turquoise ring to her Chinese jade necklace. Some pieces were tokens from her worldly travels others she got in New York City where she was born and raised. My grandfather Marty, a lawyer who often worked late, would make up for time lost time by surprising her with a brooch or string of pearls. It was how he showed her his love, and boy was that her love language. Sometimes, his clients (who may or may not have been involved in the mob) paid him in diamonds, or watches, or diamond-encrusted watches. All of it had a place in Thelma’s jewelry box.
When she died, I was the one to clean out her apartment. Of all her precious belongings – old photographs, furniture, china - her jewelry is my most favorite. Some of the backstories I know, but I mostly have to invent tales about where she got this ring or that necklace. I wear her jewelry and am instantly wrapped in her love and essence, and not only do I travel through time, I bring her adornments back to life.
Now it’s 2014. I am a young woman with hopes and dreams—finishing a book, beginning my career, envisioning a husband and children and a “grown-up” life… and then, yesterday, as if the Gods of time-travel were working overtime, I found a letter my grandma wrote at the age of 18 with my father’s handwriting on the envelope: “This is the letter Grandma wrote when she was 18 years old. Happy birthday.” I don’t remember ever reading it—so here it is, as I transcribe her 1930s cursive for you and me…
Jan 14, 1939
I’d like to write a book. It might be a novel or a character sketch. Why can’t I make characters show life as I see it now? Adolescent life—hope, ambition, lack of ambitions—escape—excuses. What a life. On second thought—I’m afraid it’s been done before.
Strange what influence others can have. Received a letter about two years ago in which the writer used dashes—suddenly I have developed an affinity for dashes.
Why is it that there is such a great difference in all things between older people and youth? When young people—or rather when I—look at a group of pictures—as Stanley’s public school graduation picture—I first look at it haphazardly & then skim from row to row at random in an effort to locate Stanley, whereas older people—Aunt Mollie—methodically scan from left to right beginning from the lowest row. Is there any significance here I wonder.
Back again to the book I want to write. My life has not been unusual but it hasn’t been really uninteresting. Only Aunt Molly’s story or my boy-friends & lack of things or my relationships with other girls—they should all make interesting reading even if they aren’t breathtaking. Also, perhaps it would help people who have complicated complexes, like the ones I’ve been trying to outgrow, to realize as I am beginning to—that most all girls of about the same age and in a similar environment have almost the identical problems, the same joys and the same sorrows. People on the whole are a quite friendly lot. They are inclined to like you until you prove to them that you aren’t worth their affection. So long as you don’t look too deeply into the characters of the general people you run into, you can like people too & get along well. Character counts only in your best girlfriend or two—and it’s hard to find many more than two—and in your best beaux.
Talking about best beaux. I often wish I had one. Sometimes I get to remembering that about five or six years ago—is it that long?! —I looked forward to 19 being an eventful year.
Well I’m not 19 yet. Anyhow, I don’t know if I really & truly would like to be engaged or anything just yet. Oh—I have my moods. There are times when instead of coming home from school to an irritating brother and the same good old mom—I’d much prefer to welcome or be welcomed by a loving husband. It gives me the warmest feeling thinking of the peace and security that my own home & husband could give me. But, then are many things pointed out in everyday life to show me that perhaps I’d be better off as a career woman and the longer I stay independent and free from marital ties the happier I’ll feel. A happy compromise would be—I feel—to stick to my career—may it be a successful one—for about 4 or 5 years after I get out of school, going out with many boys—worthwhile young men with something to offer—and then toward the end of the 4 or 5 years, have the right one come along and then I should be ready to take the turn in the road. But things so rarely turn out as we hope and plan. Perhaps no one will even want me—or vice versa!
I can tell you now: Thelma was happily and devotedly married to my grandfather, Marty—and had a successful career as a dental hygienist, though she could have been a writer or a poet or a great many things. Marty was struck by Thelma’s legs at a party in 1942, and they dated for years and he hesitated to pop the question. After he received a letter from Thelma’s father stating something to the effect of, “You either shit or get off the pot,” Marty asked for her hand. Their love story is as good as any, and Thelma had great legs until the age of 92. She passed down to me not only her legs and her jewelry, her love for literature and travel—she passed down her fondness for dashes, too.
Samantha Albert is a Seattle-based baker, maker, and writer.