For the second time I was going through collected old jewelry from when I was a teenager. Moving to Arizona is my opportunity to “lighten” physical and emotional loads, but I have discovered that just like creative personal writing that gets to the bone of the a subject, it usually only gets there after being revised several times.
The easy first draft: What is easily kept in my jewelry is the Cheerios necklace my granddaughter made me. I’m that sloppy sentimental so it will travel with the flour dough brooch my son made me in grade school.
The second draft: No question I’ll keep the claw bracelet my father gave me. He lived in Southeast Asia and had bought it on impulse years earlier during a sentimental moment of remembering me. It is an entirely politically wrong bracelet perhaps made from an endangered species. If it were not my bracelet perhaps I’d lift my little snooty nose and suggest it has a tainted vibrational field of impurity that
will forever be evil and should be thrown out or better yet, buried with reverence. But well, it was from my father and sincerely given after I hadn’t seen him from age seven to my twenties. The death of the animal was wrong then and is wrong now, but it is here in my possession as a keepsake and it will stay with me. Maybe in a later draft the bracelet will be at the very center definition of our father/daughter relationship.
The third draft: I have stepped into a “quaggy mire” of why I keep things and why I don’t. I opened a plastic container I’d overlooked before. I knew it held pieces from years ago, and I knew most of the pieces from that time were inexpensive, probably not worth keeping.
What I first saw was the decades old, inexpensive nickel-plated bracelet with the engraving: CAPT. LIONEL PARRA JR. 7-17-68. Resting in the palm of my hand it felt as weighted in meaning and value as the politically incorrect whatever kt gold-trimmed claw bracelet. I randomly selected that Prisoner of War (POW) bracelet while standing in a chandelier-lit, plush-carpet, hotel lobby where voices are the rich confident whispers of the well-fed. It was during the Vietnam War and I was at a civic organization’s conference. Two men were behind a table that held half a dozen boxes with the names of a dozen men. I paid the few dollars it cost and put it on that afternoon. I wore it continuously until five years after the war, which ended in April 1975.
During my one and only trip to Washington D.C. I looked for his name on the Vietnam War Memorial, but I didn’t quickly find it and spent my time looking for two others I had known in real life. Perhaps ten years ago I looked up Parra’s name on the Memorial website, but didn’t see it
This time I did. I had never known what he looked like, but this picture popped up with information that he was born April 12, 1938, was from Sacramento, California, in the Marines, and was now designated a Major. Major Parra is missing from action from Quang Tri Province.
He looks like a good, strong man. When did anyone who knew and cared about him stop crying? How do the strangers who bought his namesake bracelet make their decision to take the bracelet off if they ever did? Further down on the website are notes from the people who also chose Lionel Parra Jr.
When does care, love, and grieving change from a human need to feel the sorrow of life to something else? War memorials are appropriate reminders, but when do bracelets, photos on the mantle, clothes still in the closet change from honest grief to something that can cripple the griever? There’s a lot that has been written on this subject, but yesterday, after I had opened the plastic box and looked his name up on the internet, there was another time of decision.
I did what I had done several times when dealing with the remains of another’s life. I have always chosen to keep a small physical item that reminds me of that person and will act as an amulet to protect the good and truest memories. They give me a tie between the earth and the sky to remember who they were and what they taught me.