This forgotten jewelry box holds my grandmother's ghost


arielmstallings

Ariel remodel tour on Offbeat Home (13)

Grandma Becky was my favorite grandmother growing up, although given that my other grandmother was involuntarily committed for a decade and struggled with mental illness for the rest of her life, maybe it wasn't really a fair fight.

Grandma Becky was mother of a only child (my dad), who only had one child (me)… so needless to say, I was her favorite. My father had escaped middle America and moved out west to build a house and be an academic and get his hippie on, but Grandma Becky liked to send me frilly dresses and scented stationery and god I loved her for it.

Her tastes were firmly cheap and mainstream, and for an isolated child raised by hippie parents in the woods, "cheap and mainstream" were magical and amazing. She wore a wiglet and makeup and polyester muumuus. She was everything my parents were not, and I was a rebellious child who thought that was awesome.

Grandma Becky died in 1998, when I was in my mid-20s. She'd purchased a funeral package twenty five years prior, and so literally all my dad and I had to do was show up in Colorado Springs for the pre-paid, pre-arranged funeral she'd purchased in 1974. Her possessions were organized, and I inherited a kitchy piece of her art I'd always loved (Vladimir Tretchikoff's Chinese Girl) and some of her jewelry in her jewelry box.

I had Grandma Becky's wedding ring melted down and recrafted into my own wedding ring, but most of it was cheap costume jewelry that was almost unwearable (my finger got sliced by some gold plating that was peeling off one costume-y ring), and so it just stayed in the jewelry box.

The jewelry box itself was mostly forgotten. It lived on the bottom shelf of the bathroom for a while. It lived in a closet for a while longer. For the last seven years, it's been on a top closet shelf, tucked in back, pretty much forgotten. I'd stashed some old scented oils in there sometime in the late '00s, and then forgotten all about it.

Recently, I cleaned out every shelf and every closet. Anything I didn't see myself actively using within the next year got given away, donated, or tossed. When I came across the forgotten about jewelry box, I weighed its value as a sentimental object, and decided that I would put it out on top of my dresser and see if I wanted to use it.

I mean, it's not like it's a nice box. Knowing my grandmother, it came from a culturally appropriative gift shop in Hawaii. The bottom says that it was made in Singapore, which dates it. It's not made in China (which everything for the past 20 years has been) or in Hong Kong (which everything in the '80s was), but Singapore…. which I'mma say makes it probably from the early '70s.

A week or so after my tidy-fest, I was chilling after putting away laundry, catching up on my stories on my phone.

Suddenly, I heard a weird tinkly noise. I have a new phone, and it makes weird tinkly noises I don't recognize, but this wasn't one. I wandered through the house trying to track down the noise, and found it coming from our bedroom… in my closet… on top of my drawers.

The jewelry box I hadn't touched in almost a decade was playing music. What the fuck?

Oh right, I thought to myself. It has a music box built into the back that plays when the bottom drawer is opened. But the music box component hadn't worked in a decade. You could wind it up, but nothing ever happened.

I stood there and stared at it as it played out its little tune, which I immediately recognized but couldn't place. When it stopped, I picked it up and wound it up again, but it wouldn't play again.

Huh. That was weird.

I called my dad, who's become a poet in his retirement, and appreciates a good story like this. I started by asking if he remembered the jewelry box. He said no, and felt the need to remind me that if it came from his mother, it was doubtless very cheap and not anything I should feel like I needed to keep. I hummed the theme for him, and he immediately recognized it as Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago.

"She loved Doctor Zhivago," he told me.

Huh. That's weird.

The music box still likes to randomly play its little tune. Sometimes I theorize that it's dependent on the humidity. Or maybe the shaking of the drawers? It's random, and weird, and when it happens, I just quietly say hello to my grandmother and appreciate the visit.

  1. We had a 1970's era music box come into our family's possession (a gift from a relative who had gotten it on vacation, maybe?).

    Although ours was a simple sealed cube of dark translucent plastic, it also played Lara's Theme. It may have even been the same mechanism but in a different shell – the vintage would be right.

    Although Doctor Zhivago came out in '65, the song stayed popular for years.

    Lyricfind provides the lyrics:

    ***
    Somewhere my love there will be songs to sing
    Although the snow covers the hope of Spring
    Somewhere a hill blossoms in green and gold
    And there are dreams, all that your heart can hold

    Someday we'll meet again, my love
    Someday whenever the Spring breaks through

    You'll come to me, out of the long-ago
    Warm as the wind, soft as the kiss of snow
    Lara, my own, think of me now and then
    Godspeed, my love, till you are mine again

    Warm as the wind, soft as the kiss of snow

    Godspeed, my love, till you are mine again
    ***

    Oddly, even though it's a love song, it also works for a grandmother and granddaughter who are separated by life and death.

    Tell Grandma Becky I said hi.

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