Charmed by Beauty

Anything to keep us quiet, I think. And we knew the consequences if we weren’t, if we squirmed or giggled or poked each other: “Girls, don’t make me separate you two,” Mom would say sternly, as though she had never sat through church, when you couldn’t see what was going on and you didn’t really care to listen to the homily and your sister was right there next to you as the world’s best distraction.

On the other hand, maybe Mom had squirmed and giggled and poked when she was little. So maybe that’s why she would extend her arm across the lap of the lucky one seated on the pew next to her and let her wrist fall limply between my sister’s and my skirts. While she looked straight ahead and held the Missal or recited prayers or listened to the priest, we would play with the beautiful charms on her bracelet.

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland

I had a charm bracelet too. Dad helped me build mine with mementos of places we’d been: a colonial coffee pot with hinged lid from Williamsburg, a squiggly fish from St. Thomas, a gondola from Venice, a coin. And he helped me add the pretty little Taurus charm my friend Laurna gave me.

Dad helped Mom build hers too. And her charm bracelet was magnificent. He said he knew a jeweler in Midtown Manhattan whom he’d visit from time to time to see what beautiful ornaments he might bring home to Mom: a starburst of gold and sapphires that I still see in the sky each July 4th; an opal ring all ice and fire; and, one by one, those charms.

In theory, my sister and I each had our favorites. But I think mine changed every Sunday. With awe and reverence, we stroked the hammered smoothness and fingered the tiny jewels. We turned the charms as far as the links would allow and rested our heads together to admire their sparkle. By common agreement, we slowly studied each charm without hurrying to the next, our small palms feeling their weight and coolness. And we took turns pressing our noses as close as we could get to whatever we were gazing at. (I think now of our warm moist puffs of air tickling Mom’s wrist; her patience was extraordinary.)

Magnificent ceiling by Chihuly at Maker’s Mark Distillery, Kentucky

Which ones do I recall? There was the gold heart, brushed smooth on one side like a plump stone with a saucy point and adorned on the other with a large amethyst, like the heart of the heart.

I remember an inverted red coral teardrop, fat as an acorn, that I always considered a crown because of the filigree crisscrossing it.

There was a delicate etched gold wedding band (or was there a linked pair?) that we would pass our fingers through.

I think there was a cameo of a beautiful lady emerging from an orange or brown sky. And then there was the black enamel box on tiny gold hinges with tiny jewels bubbling around the edges. (Perhaps the beautiful lady rested in the center of this charm and not on a cameo?)

When the homily was over, Mom would gently withdraw her hand and we’d all stand or kneel or make the Sign of the Cross or do something connected to the Mass we were supposed to be paying attention to. And my sister and I would obediently do all of those things, pacified by the artistry we had studied, our Mother’s kindly endurance and our Dad’s extravagant gifts of beauty to all three of his girls.


I wrote this piece for Five Minute Friday, a faith-based community site. Follow this link to see other short essays about “Endure.”

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2 thoughts on “Charmed by Beauty

  1. Patricia Searle July 14, 2020 — 12:46 pm

    Loved hearing about your mother’s charm bracelet as a Mass distraction. As a child, I attended Mass with my grandmother. During the winter, I would distract my self by putting my little pointer finger in the whorls of her lamb skin coat and and basically petting the coat that way. A precious memory for me, so I can identify with you.


  2. Dear Patricia — I love this image, so vividly and beautifully expressed! Thank you for sharing your memory with me and for evoking the kindness of your grandmother in giving you this comfort and joy.


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