I found this bracelet in a box with a lot of other old costume jewelry my mother accumulated over the years, most of it my grandmother’s, but this particular bracelet she said belonged to Millie, my grandfather’s second wife. Grandpa and Millie married on the day his divorce from my grandma came through, and they were married 45 years until her death.
I didn’t meet her, or my grandpa, until I was well into my twenties. They lived on the West Coast, estranged from the family. But every Christmas she would send us something we would find appalling and inappropriate--a platter of dried apricots, a piece of driftwood adorned with plastic balls in the shape of a grape cluster. This bracelet reminds me of those gifts--dyed yellow shells with fake pearls and rhinestones. If I'd seen her wearing it back then, I know I would have secretly laughed at it. Now it looks kitschy and fun (still ugly though).
When Grandpa and Millie finally moved back to the Midwest, I saw them more often, once or twice a year at most, and Millie was always a sweet, quiet little woman, a diabetic who had to eat at 5:00 on the dot. The kind of wife my grandpa preferred, who jumped up whenever he wanted something, ever alert so she could meet his every need. After she died, Grandpa went off the deep end, proposing to her sister and then two more women until one finally married him the year that he turned 90. That marriage too ended in divorce, with a court injunction because Grandpa threw an afghan at her. Not an easy man.
I have a few things of my grandpa's to remind me of him--some hats, a turned bowl he made during his woodworking phase--but until I saw this bracelet, it had been some time since I'd thought of Millie. This reminds me of how sweet and unpretentious she was, and how she always remembered us in her own way.