Antiques are more than a feather in a collector’s cap. Even the most pedestrian piece comes with a past, a soul, a tale that’s just waiting to get told. And, at The HighBoy, we’re committed to doing just that. Here, our Deputy Editor Brielle M. Ferreira shares the story of her grandmother’s Art Deco ring and reminds us why heirlooms are so important–not just for their beauty but for the ways they connect us to the people we love. After you’ve read it, go ahead and leave your own stories of your favorite family keepsakes in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.
Grandma was always talking about “going to Brazil.” For a woman who grew up in a small frigid town along Portugal’s Serra da Estrela mountain range, it was her idea of heaven: all warm beaches and beautiful, tan-limbed strangers who spoke her language, albeit with an exotic lilt. So it’s no surprise she started using the country as a metaphor for the great unknown, the other side. For me, hearing her carry on about her inevitable trip to Brazil was a lot less menacing than contemplating the thought of her ever not being around, of words like illness and death and kidney failure and old age, of trying to imagine a world without her making the rounds at cafes, feeding me buttered toast made from pão de forma, and forcing me to put on sunscreen at the beach.
The first time grandma, minha querida avó, mentioned Brazil was the day I realized she had hands that weren’t quite like my own. We were crossing the street outside of the mercado municipal—with its shouting fishmongers, fresh fruits, and colorful racks of souvenir t-shirts and woven purses—in the pretty Portuguese beach town of Figueira da Foz, and when she took my hand in hers, it was warm. The skin felt loose to the touch, and I could see big, pronounced veins interrupting the skin’s wrinkled surface. I couldn’t have been older than six, but I knew somehow that they signaled the beginning of the end of something. It struck me the same way it did when Bambi’s mother went down in that forest. I cried for hours.
In the back of the taxi on the way home, though, she took those aged hands—as strong and capable as they were soothing and reassuring—and interlocked them through my small, unblemished ones. As she tried to quell the waterworks, she repeated a little Portuguese proverb that I’ve not forgotten since: Mãos frias, coração quente, amor para sempre, which can be roughly translated as cold hands, warm heart, love never to part. It calmed me down to imagine that we were joined by more than just our palms and fingers but by our hearts, whether she was just down the road or as far away as Brazil. And now that she’s passed on, to a place that I hope is every bit as lovely as that South American country—though, with any luck, not as drama-filled as its many telenovelas—I think about that moment whenever I find myself missing her, which is nearly every day.
I remember her hands, with the one nail that forever grew in a little funny after she got it caught in an industrial fan, and it fills me with pride to consider all the things they did. They raised the father I love; they planted the sun-ripened strawberries that I would pluck and eat straight from the earth as a child; they worked diligently at a sewing machine in a New Jersey factory in pursuit of the American dream; they knit sweaters for my first days of school; they bandaged boo-boos; they waved goodbye.
Today, I wear one of the few pieces of jewelry she left behind that weren’t burgled from the Newark apartment she shared with my grandfather during their immigrant days: a pretty silver and marcasite ring in the shape of an Art Deco flower. It’s got its own starring spot on the right ring finger of my own rapidly aging hands. But, although it’s my favorite vintage thing, I lose it about every three months. I’ll assign it to a super secret spot for “safekeeping,” inevitably hiding it so well that I’ve forgotten where I’ve put it. For the most part, I’ve learned not to mind the temporary freak-outs I experience when I’m convinced that this time it’s gone for good. It almost feels a little bit like an ongoing game of hide and seek with my grandma, and I don’t have to worry. She always lets me win.