Old Necklace Brings Back Memories

The sterling silver necklace rests—unworn and undisturbed, most of the time—in a small velvet box in my jewelry drawer. I ran across it last week, just in time for “Heart Month,” while trying to find something to add a little pizazz to a plain black shirt.

The necklace belonged to my great-grandmother whose name, not coincidentally, was Jennie. I don’t recall ever having seen her wear it nor do I remember how it came into my possession. The only other treasures I inherited from Grandma were her well-worn King James Bible and her century-old oak dining table.

Grandma, who was born in 1879 and died in 1971, lived with my family when I was a child. My memories of her are myriad. In addition to reading the aforementioned Bible first thing every morning, she also read “The Upper Room” devotional. Her favorite lunch was leftover cornbread crumbled into a glass of cold buttermilk. When we had hamburgers for supper, she insisted that hers be grilled to the color and consistency of shoe leather, though the rest of us preferred medium rare. If Grandma spilled even a grain of salt from the shaker, she brushed it from the table into her left hand and then flung it over her right shoulder to ward off bad luck. She couldn’t throw or catch a baseball, but she knew all the rules of the game. She adored The Lawrence Welk Show.

Fastened to her old necklace are twelve slightly tarnished sterling silver hearts of various sizes. Some are lockets with nothing inside. Most of the hearts are elaborately adorned with pink roses or purple grapes or tiny colored stones or Navy pilot wings (that heart honors my Uncle William, the youngest of Grandma’s seven children and the only son). Each heart has a name engraved on the back. My favorite is a tiny heart with Cupid’s arrow shot through it. On the back is the name “Penny.”


Almost all the names are people I knew. My great-grandfather. My maternal grandfather. Two great-aunts, Helen and Billie. My mother and her two siblings also have hearts, the only three of Grandma’s 16 grandchildren who inexplicably made the cut. But I never knew Ruth, my maternal grandmother, who passed away when my mother was a teenager.

And here’s a mystery. Grandma had two little girls—Marian and Hazel—who died when they were very young. Their names don’t appear on any of the hearts, unless the hearts that say Baby and Penny are theirs. But here’s the biggest mystery. My great-aunt Sybil, next-to-youngest of Grandma’s daughters, doesn’t have a heart at all.

That’s weird. She lived to be old and I’m certain she and Grandma never had a falling-out. Aunt Sybil was one of the most fun people I’ve ever known. She and my Uncle Virgil ate their supper every night on metal TV trays decorated with fox hunting scenes. They lived in Florida and had a rock wall in the back yard where hundreds of lizards sunned themselves in the afternoon. Uncle Virgil liked to catch and fill his pockets with lizards and then turn them loose in the house just to make Aunt Sybil holler. Nearby was a pond where two alligators–affectionately called “Big Al” and “Little Al”–lived. Aunt Sybil fed them marshmallows every evening at sunset, which was and is totally against the law. And no one enjoyed a rousing game of Old Maid more than my Aunt Sybil.

Maybe she’s Penny and I never knew it. Maybe she’s Baby. Maybe whoever gave Grandma that necklace accidentally failed to add Aunt Sybil’s heart. Or maybe the heart fell off and was lost. The answer will likely remain forever a mystery, because anyone who knows is long gone from this earth.

As for me, I’m just grateful I ran across a piece of jewelry that brought back such sweet, sweet memories. Especially during Heart Mon

(February 10. 2024)