Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Grandma and the Prince - Part 32

Once upon a time there was a shop girl and a wealthy man who fell in love. The shop girl was well past her socially acceptable sell-by date and, for that matter, so was the wealthy man.  She sold (chocolates) (neckties) (flowers) and their paths crossed one rainy afternoon when he ducked inside the shop where she worked to escape the downpour.
"May I help you?" she asked in her shades-of-Brooklyn accent as he strode toward the counter.

"Have supper with me," he said in his shades-of-Bermuda accent, "and then I'll tell you."

They were married two weeks later.

Six months after that he died.

You probably know the rest. This is one of those urban legends that have been told and retold in as many languages and with twice as many variations as Cinderella. The poor little timeworn shop girl was suddenly a wealthy widow living a life she'd imagined only in the darkness of the local movie house as she munched popcorn and dreamed of the roads not taken.

But this time the story is true.

The shop girl's name was Ann and she was my Grandma Bess's aunt and rumor had it she owned a burgundy velvet pouch filled with emeralds.

I've told you about my Grandpa Larry and his fifth and last wife Bess.  Bess was a widow with a young son, a tony woman who came from the right side of the Brooklyn tracks and married very well the first time. (Think Radio Shack connection, okay?) She and Grandpa Larry (my mother's father) met when he was on the rebound from my Grandma El (my father's mother) in 1953 and they married in 1954. Which happens to be the same year Grandma El married Grandpa Les in retaliation.

I was way too little at the time to know or understand what was going on beyond the fact that I seemed to have more than my share of grandparents. Three of each, if my count is right --  not a bad thing at all for an only child.

Anyway, Grandma Bess was part of my life for as far back as I can clearly remember and she was every bit as much of a grandmother as the ones I'd acquired through blood ties. She was a wonderful needlewoman whose stitching and knitting and crocheting projects always elicited well-deserved praise from anyone lucky enough to receive a finished object as a gift.

(Please remember that last paragraph.)

Time passed and we were fifteen years down the road. I was a madly-in-love newlywed, living with her airman husband in the wilds of Omaha, Nebraska a million miles from home.

We were poor. Oh boy, were we poor.  Dead broke, for that matter. We barely managed to scrape together enough money each month to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. But we were young and in love and believed with every fiber in our bodies that love was all we needed.

And then Grandma Bess's Aunt Ann in Bermuda died and left one-third of her estate to Grandma Bess.  The pouch of emeralds? Yep.  Grandma Bess had full possession of them. I know it sounds like another urban legend but my mother got to see and touch them one Sunday afternoon and subwayed back to Queens in a state of advanced dazzlement.  This was one urban legend that wasn't a legend at all.

So imagine my excitement when Grandma Bess phoned me to tell me to make sure I was home later in the week to sign for an insurance package that was heading my way.  "It's not a big parcel," she said with a chuckle in her voice, "but I think you'll like it."

The emeralds!! I was dead sure of it.  Everyone knew we were flat broke.  I mean, we got down to three dollars in our checking account on more than one occasion. Grandma Bess had peeled off a couple of emeralds, wrapped them up, then sent them my way. A couple of emeralds wouldn't be missed, right? And what a difference they could make to us.

You can probably imagine the dreams I dreamed the next few days!  We could pay the rent and the phone, buy groceries at the commissary, and have money left over to gas up the car and do it all over again the next month.

"Don't get your hopes up," my mom warned me on the phone the day before the package arrived.  "Bess has a son and he has a wife who would look very good in emeralds."

But I wasn't listening.  Or if I was listening I simply couldn't hear.  I knew in my bones that our fortunes were about to change the second the mail carrier showed up at our front door.

Cut to the next day.  My hand shook as I signed for the package which, to my dismay, seemed way too big to hold a couple of precious gems.  Then again that could be clever camouflage on Grandma Bess's part to keep jewel thieves from sussing out the contents before they reached Omaha. I cut the string.  I tore open the brown paper wrappings.

And I found an afghan.

A beautiful afghan -- all yellows and oranges and rich browns, my favorite colors at the time -- but an afghan just the same.

I steadied myself and took a deep breath.  Okay.  This is just another clever ruse to hide the emeralds.  I luck into a fabulous afghan to keep the prairie winter at bay =and= some emeralds to boot.

Except there were no emeralds.  My gift was the beautiful afghan and a tender, loving note.

But no emeralds.

I loved the afghan but I'd be lying if I told you that my eighteen year old self was anything but bitterly disappointed. I had never thought of myself as a materialistic sort (it was the late 60s after all) but I had to struggle to appreciate the time and love that went into the afghan and put aside the thought of the beautiful green stones with the hidden blue flame.

Years later when Grandma Bess was dying I helped her sort through some of her belongings. The Hummel figurines, the Wedgwood, the Baccarat crystal that had once graced her Aunt Ann's palatial home in Hamilton, Bermuda. side. Old letters and postcards. Stacks of finished needlework and afghans exquisitely stitched by Grandma Bess. And yes a faded burgundy pouch with six square cut emeralds bumping up against each other.

I don't know what happened to the emeralds but I have the letters and the cards, the needlework and the afghans.

I wouldn't trade them for the world.



Mari said...

I lived every exciting sentence...envious of your windfall of paper, yarn and grandparents

Barbara Bretton said...

Hi, Mari. I have some of the paperwork upstairs -- I need to scan it. I have Aunt Ann's handwritten inventory of the Bermuda house circa 1943 and a faded carbon copy of her last will and testament. The postcard at the top of the blog entry is one she sent to Grandma Bess a few years before she (Aunt Ann) died. Thanks so much for your comments!

Mare said...

What a great story. I too am envious of your treasure.

Di said...

I enjoyed that! But do you know who Ann's husband was?

Pamela Moran said...

Beautiful, touching story -- thank you for sharing.


Barbara Bretton said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I don't remember much about Ann's husband, only that he was older than she, much richer, and deeply in love with her. It was a fairy tale, short but definitely fairy tale material. At least that's the way it was presented to me. I'm trying to find some of the notes I took before Grandma Bess died but I'm afraid they might have been lost in one of my frequent computer meltdowns. And while I'm here, a big thank you to Lee Hyatt for posting this for me. I haven't been able to access Blogger for months now and she saved my life!

marybelle said...

What an amazing story!! Thank you for sharing.

petite said...

What a captivating and amazing story written with emotion, love and beauty. thanks for this exceptional post.

Kathleen O said...

What a truely amazing story... I have many peices that where my grandmothers and great grandmother, that I would not trade for the world.
Enjoy your treasures.

Laurie G said...

The time you spent with your grandmother was precious! treasure each an evry memory along with your treasures! I was very close to my great aunt Anna. She gave me a beautiful hope chest when she went to heaven.

Kaelee said...

I was busy this week but just had to read this post. What a lovely story about your Grandma Bess and her sister. I'm glad that you now know how priceless the gifts she made for you are. I have some doilies made by my grandma and I just love them.