August 4, 2009

Wondering when it's time to say good-bye.

Last week, one of my favorite bracelets broke as I was putting together the perfect look. I gathered its many parts from all over the floor and left them in a small, discrete pile atop my dresser, where they've been sitting ever since. Do I throw them out, or do I try and repair/restring the bracelet? If the bracelet is made of pearls and handed down from your great-grandmother, then the answer is fairly obvious.

But what if it's a 15-dollar faux coral number picked up on sale at Nordstroms?

It's a dilemma I face all the time--whether to spend the time and energy on repairing something that is past its prime, or whether I sacrifice it to the gods of consumerism. There's that beautiful orange leather bag that everyone so admired but that is now really beginning to show its age; there are those delicately-pointed shoes that make my ankles look like a girls' but whose heels are run down and uneven; there's that sweater in the same shade of blue as my eyes that also has an ugly moth hole on the front placket.

I'm a modern girl, on the run. I'm not made of money, but surely I've got enough to replace a worn purse, down and out shoes, and a holey sweater? Things may be tight, but I don't want to look like a Dorothea Lange photo.

One of my most prized possessions is a stack of love letters written by my grandparents to one another during the summer before they married. The year was 1935, and times were hard all over--but especially in the rural South. Turning one of these letters over, you can see that my grandmother has written her endearments on the back of an old homework assignment--a fairly well-rendered cell diagram. Grade? A+.

It's hard to imagine now, but when my grandparents were corresponding, even paper and pens were hard to come by. Only the rich, foolish, or wasteful could afford to send a letter with blank pages on the back. I know from their contents that my grandmother wrote her letters with a tiny stub of pencil, hidden from her sisters and sharpened with a kitchen knife.

This letter is my favorite, because, while I might be persuaded that my kindly, country grandma had once been someone's note-writing inamorata, it's almost impossible for me to imagine her ever having any inkling of the concepts of molecular biology. This document would likely not have survived, had it not been on the reverse of one of her love letters. But because it has, I have a more complete picture of my grandmother--as a girl in love, a scholar, a labeler of ribosomes and mitochondria.

Oddly enough, I think of this whenever I make an old favorite ready for another run around the block. A little saddle soap to remove the ink from a leather purse, a trip to the shoe repair shop to resole my shoes, and both are--if not quite good as new--perhaps good enough to see me through another semester. A pretty floral applique covers a moth hole. Obviously, none of these compare with the level of frugality my grandmother knew, but will any survive me and give future generations a picture of the woman who once owned them?

Probably not.

But you never know. Someday my great-granddaughter may find the bracelet I've restrung with a strand of dental floss. She'll hold it up for her own children to see, and she'll say, "Great-grandma had lovely taste in costume jewelry. You can see how she restrung this herself, back in the recession of 09. Of course, this would have been back when she still had all her own teeth."

image, Ibison4's Flickr photostream.

Posted by Deb, who blogs mostly regular at


  1. That's what I'm talking about - what happened to repair shops?

    Your grandmother's letter. God, you're lucky to have that. I'm beside myself with the beauty of it.

  2. I'm two blogs back on your radio dial.
    Stop by. Nothin' to sell. Just be'n neighborly :)...


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