the hildegard collection
a couple weeks ago my grandmother -- my mother's mother -- turned ninety years old. I called her on her birthday to talk and express my well wishes, and toward the end of our conversation she asked if I would make two of my bracelets for her to give as gifts to her family and friends. her request captures a few of her most essential qualities -- not only is she an eager supporter of any of her loved ones' ventures, but she is far more ready to give gifts than to accept or seek out anything for herself. and so, quite in character, she asked if she could pay for two of my bracelets to give to other people on her own birthday.
at first I let the request slip to the back of my mind, as she made it clear that she didn't need the bangles by any certain time. but then I got to thinking about the significance of her ninetieth, and wanted to use this as an opportunity to honor her life thus far in what little way I could. I decided to ask her a few questions about jewelry and music in her hometown to get inspiration for not just two bracelets, but for six -- two for her to use as gifts, and four to share here with whoever found a connection to them. and for her I planned to make something special.
my grandmother grew up in Beshka, Yugoslavia, and immigrated to the US after losing her family mill and home and living as a refugee during World War II. she has lived in Wisconsin ever since. here are her words.
what sort of jewelry did you have growing up?
did your mother or other family members wear any jewelry?
no, they were in the Pentecostal congregation and they were forbidden all jewelry. It was not accepted, that was too worldly. they had wedding rings, but just a band. no diamonds, nothing fancy. when I became a teenager, then I started wearing necklaces and bracelets, and we had a few brooches. they were usually made out of beads, and once I had a cross necklace, like a gold chain, but imitation gold, and a cross on the chain. the beads that we had were little white and colorful beads. tiny ones. tiny beads they were. they were actually nice.
were those the popular styles?
yes, that was the popular style in those days. those little beads, we had a lot of them. for Europe (in general), I would say.
what did you notice about jewelry when you moved to the US -- was it different?
no, not really. I never did wear much jewelry, but I didn't think it was different here. it was sort of the same thing that we had in Europe.
what about the watch that you had?
that watch I would always wear from the time I was thirteen. I got that watch when I was thirteen on my birthday and I would wear it all the time. I wore it when I was a refugee, and when I got to America. I would always have that watch on. I liked the watch, the watch is all gold, and I liked it because it was cute, I thought, and we never were allowed to wear much jewelry, so I was always proud of that watch.
you played guitar, didn't you?
I played the guitar, I had one, and we had an upright piano. not the piano actually, it was more like an organ, but it was upright. I could play both of these.
what kind of strings did your guitar have?
they were metal, just like the kind you see now a days.
what kind of songs would you play?
from our church, christian songs.
would you play songs with your friends?
I was never very good, so when my friends came over we just sang without music. but I would sit there often for a long time, and play one song after another that I could play, and I would sing them myself while I played.
what other experiences with music did you have?
I always did love music. the organ player in our Lutheran church was our kindergarten teacher and I would often sit next to her and she would play the organ Sundays in the church. otherwise, I had a friend and her brother was a terrific guitar player, he would play all kinds of things, all kinds of music. he would play Hawaiian music, which was popular in Europe, and we thought that was so great. he would put some clamps on that made the guitar sound different and that was neat. we had a lot of music and singing when I was young. my brother played violin.
I let this conversation simmer in my mind for a couple of days before I went in search of materials. what I found, when I did, made possible the Hildegard collection.
I stuck with steel strings for these pieces, but swapped out my usual silver wiring for gold. for the bangles, I chose a mixture of beads -- green, to recall the band of her watch;
pink to hint at her loving nature, and the closeness of her birth to Valentine's; white, as the only color she remembered in its particular.
I chose small beads, like the tiny ones of her memories, and lined them in rows. for the green, I made rows of nine -- one bead for each decade of her life.
for her, as I had promised myself, I made something unique: my first guitar string necklace. with a tiny cross between a short row of beads, I thought it simple and lovely enough -- even for her.
I am most grateful to have had the opportunity to turn her request -- her ceaseless generosity -- into a gift not only for her family and friends, but for her. she is an amazing woman with the largest of hearts.