My niece just graduated from high school and turned 18 on the very same day.
She is very special to me, as is her brother, who is a few years younger. They are my remaining older brother’s children, and our little family of my husband and I and my brother and his family have become more and more important to me with each passing year.
More so I think since the deaths of my mother, father and other brother several years ago. Losses sharpen and intensify the remaining connections. It is one of the sweet gifts such losses contain.
I decided to continue a family tradition and take my niece on a trip in honor of her graduation. My Grandma FitzGerald (who I was named after) began the tradition when my oldest brother (the one who remains) and our cousin (my mom’s twin sister’s eldest daughter who was my eldest brother’s age) graduated from high school. She took them on a two week trip to Europe. She did the same when my middle brother and our only other cousin (my mom’s twin sister’s other child who was John’s age) graduated from high school.
When my high school graduation came, Grandma and I went alone as there was no cousin there to join me. (That trip is a whole other blog post. Being a namesake can be complicated. I was also a bit wild. Gran was a bit of a force to be reckoned with. We were an interesting combo on a trip to Ireland, England and Scotland at the height of “the Struggles” in Ireland and when, politically, Europe was not too keen on Americans. Gran eschewed social norms and loved to talk politics and religion upon meeting strangers. At seventeen, I found this incredibly embarrassing, and a lot of eye-rolling and running off with the only other young person on the tour to sneak beers in pubs to meet boys ensued.)
Back to my niece and our trip.
I had come up with the idea to carry on this tradition: I knew that if my mom were alive, she would have done for my niece what her own mother had done for her children. So now I will do this for her, for all of us who remain. I cannot wait for our trip this summer, to have that time together and to perhaps tell stories about my memories of my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother.
But I wanted my niece to have something to open on her birthday, and after racking my brain and scouring the internet for all the usual grad gift ideas, I still felt at a loss. Then an idea occurred to me. I have a beautiful, sweet pearl necklace that my mother gave me when I graduated from high school. What if I passed it on to my niece?
When she gave it to me, my Mom had told me that her grandmother had given it to her when she graduated from high school. I think I remember feeling special when she gave it to me. I know I loved wearing it.
I had the great luck to have actually known my Great Grandma Burns. She had been a world traveller, and incredibly sophisticated. She had beautiful taste, and a style that was quite European-seeming that she had passed along to my Grandma. Originally from Kansas City, the daughter of a fairly well-to-do flour miller, Great Grandma Burns had been all over the world and had an elegance that she had imparted to Gran Fitz that was way bigger than Texas, where our family had eventually relocated as a result of my Grandma’s marriage to a traveling salesman.
Great Grandma Burns had bright, sparkly eyes and though she was intimidating, she was warm and funny, and I loved her. My mom, my Grandma FitzGerald and Grandma Burns and I would go to have luncheons in department store tea rooms together, four generations of women. She and my Gran Fitz would dress to the nines, as did women in those days, replete with a hat, pumps, a skirt suit and matching bag and gloves. I, being the youngest, would run to open doors for them. “Age before beauty,” they would say, if I ever made a face at this task.
I remember liking the necklace, but at 18 I doubt I really thought all that much about it then, being much more concerned with parties and boys and my friends.
As I grew older, the meaning of the necklace deepened and changed. We lived through both my Great Grandma Burns and my Gran FitzGerald’s decent into dementia, and eventual death. Life began to shape and change me, as She does to us all.
Later, when my own mother moved through her two cancers, and after her death, that pearl necklace remained, a symbol of her love of me, and of the love of the women who came before me. Whose hearts and dreams brought me into creation. I am the living embodiment of their imaginations and wishes and hopes and desires.
It has brought me such joy throughout my life. I truly treasure it. As I treasure my niece.
I was so excited when the idea of giving it to her came to me. It felt like divine inspiration.
So it surprises me that now that I am actually giving to her, I feel sadness around it for some reason. A strange mix of emotions have taken me completely by surprise. Sadness, fear, anxiety…I do not want to give it from this space. So I have to unravel what is going on.
Is this sadness because I do not have a daughter to give it to? Hmmm, I don’t think that’s it. I’m ok with that, at least for today. (More on being child-free another time. That too is at least a whole other blog post.)
Is it that I am letting it go? Ahhhh, yes, that’s it…I am sad to let it go…as if it somehow holds the actual love my mother had for me and by giving it away I will lose touch with it or something. That is the odd fear-panic I am feeling. Attachment is deep y’all. Damn.
And what if she doesn’t treasure it as I have? What if she hocks it for beer money someday (ok, this is probably projection and totally revelatory of my own wild youth — I did do that once but it was a bracelet an ex-boyfriend had given me, not a family heirloom, and she is very level-headed and not at all like me at her age, so that’s definitely a reach.) If I give it, I have to really let it go, and that means giving it without expectation or any strings attached to the receiver. She is free to feel about it and do what she wishes with it. I have to be willing to actually let it go to her.
I have loved that necklace so much. Cherished it. But I don’t actually wear it much. Isn’t it better is it is given to possibly be worn by someone my mother and I both adore?
I wonder if my mom felt pangs of sadness when she gave it to me? Don’t get me wrong, the overriding feeling I have is one of joy and love in thinking of giving it to my niece. I am just examining the other complicated things that it has brought up.
There’s something in here too, I think, about the passage of time…maybe the necklace, without me realizing it, has been a symbol of my own youth? A rite of passage, anointing the next young woman of my family…and giving it to her hits home that I am no longer that girl at the cusp of the start of her adult life. I am deep in the middle of mine, heading towards the transition to the later years. Yep, that definitely rings some bells.
Realizing these layers inside, I can be more clear and clean around this. And so I give it to her without expectation, but with some hope. I hope she appreciates it and loves it as I have, but that is all literally out of my hands.
As for it being a symbol of my mom’s love, I have beautiful memories that do not require a physical object to live.
No matter where the necklace ends up, may it resonate love and dreams and family and new life. May it bring whomever wears it in its remaining lifetime great joy in the wearing.