Saturday, July 01, 2006

What she left behind

I was sorting through some more of Mummy's jewellery today and thought of the saying that what you leave behind tells a lot about who you were. So as I sorted, I listened: what was in this huge jumble of bracelets, earrings, rings, pendants, chain and bangles?

Cloisonné. Lots of cloisonné. Earrings, bangles, pendants, chokers. My mother loved flowers and this art form, with its floral motifs, always appealed to her. She also loved bright, contrasting colours, especially unusual combinations that surprised you because you wouldn't expect them to look so good. My father travelled a lot throughout their years together so a large part of her collection is from overseas.

Jade. My mother's name meant "Jade Dragon", and I don't know if her liking for the stone arose out of being associated with it from the moment of her birth; or if it was just aesthetically pleasing to her. Her favourite piece was a bangle, like those you'd see on ladies of her generation or older - a circle of cloudy, green-white stone, completely round and smooth. The bangle was special to her because of a transparent dark green spot. Maybe in her heart of hearts, this piece of jewellery represented herself: She was a woman like any other on first appearances, but on closer examination there was a unique beauty that you'd miss if you walked by too fast.

Or maybe it was just a nice piece of jade to her.

Necklaces she made herself. I can still remember her making them. It was about 20 years ago, and my mum and aunts were on a whole DIY jewellery kick. I couldn't get my head around how many crocheted bead necklaces there were in that drawer. And then there are the ones with the big porcelain beads and the Chinese knots. I'm sure if she'd decided to make a living from her jewellery and other crafts she loved, she would've earned more than her desk job paid her. It was a risk she never dared take, and I wish she had. Mummy didn't take many risks, preferring the safe and the known.

Gold. Chinese woman that she was (and I don't mean that in a derogatory way; I'm Chinese, too!), my mum loved gold. To her, it was both adornment and investment. She'd save up to buy herself something new every few years. She wasn't a flamboyant person, so she bought what she could wear every day: things that wouldn't need much maintenance, that weren't overly eye-catching, but that gave her pleasure when she looked at them. When she was hospitalised for the last time and had to take off her jewellery, one of the pieces she was wearing was a gold chain with a locket in the shape of the Chinese character of her surname, Su. She was always proud of her identity and to her, marrying and taking on my father's name didn't diminish who she was or where she'd come from.

Costume jewellery. Of the whole collection, this is the bit I don't understand. For someone who otherwise had exquisitely fine taste in everything, my mum had a lot of really tacky jewellery, too. (I used to tell her this to her face, and we agreed to disagree on this this part of her jewellery collection since I wasn't the one wearing it, anyway. No guilt here!) Some of her costume jewellery is well-made and understated, but some literally made my eyes pop out. Huge dangling earrings with some kind of stones set in them; we're talking about eight mid-sized stones per side, and I don't even know what they're supposed to be because they've gone from clear to dull and I can barely tell the colours apart anymore. A hematite bead choker with pieces so big that if one had fallen onto Mummy's dear pet Whiskey, he'd surely have gone to kitty heaven on the spot.

I'm sure each piece tells a story, and I wish she were still around to tell me. But knowing her and the way her life was before she was diagnosed with cancer, I doubt she would ever have had the time. I miss her more as time passes, as the image of her blurs and the memory of her laughter gets softer in my ears. I wonder what each of us would end up buying if I were to go jewellery shopping today. Would she end up with a pair of plain silver hoops, and would I for some unknown reason decide to go for a chunky faux gold chain with black onyx-like flowers hanging from it? I'll never know, because she's not here. All I have to go by is what she left behind, and there's a lot that it's already told me.

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