“Death is so final,” I said to my aunt after a family member’s funeral. “If only there was something we could do to keep the memories from fading.”
I followed my Irish aunt through the foyer of her Victorian home, heels clicking rhythmically. She pointed at a plaque on the wall. Pieces of jewelry glittered on a black velvet canvas.
“That’s lovely,” I said, stepping closer to get abetter look. “Where’d you get it? At some antique shop in town?”
“I made it,” Aunt Sis said, a twinkle coming into her blue eyes. “Out of family jewels. See, take a closer look.”
I studied the plaque, fascinated by its uniqueness. The wall décor was in the shape of a Christmas tree, showcasing a menagerie of shimmering jewels.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” I said, awed by the hodgepodge of earrings, broached pins, pendants and strings of pearls giving it a regal appeal. It was stunning, something straight out of a decorator’s dream catalogue.
“Now that’s my family tree,” my aunt said, blue eyes peering through wire rim glasses. “Every piece of jewelry on that tree was a gift from one of my nieces or loved one. Just think of all the pretty earrings you lose, leaving ya with a single mate. And what about when your favorite broached clip or pin breaks? Rather than tossin’ them aside in a drawer where they’d just collect dust, I decided to mount them on a plaque. That way, I can always hold the memory of the gift near and dear to me heart.”
The melodic lilt in my aunt’s voice floated through the foyer as smooth as piano keys. Something pulled at my heart strings when I spotted a pretty pink rose earring on the tree, its rhinestone nectar glistening like diamonds amides the pretty pink petals. I traced my finger over the earring, the memory of all those years ago fluttering across my mind with feather-like softness. Emotions caught in my throat. “I bought you those earrings for your birthday when I was just a little girl. I remember thinking how happy they’d make you because they were your favorite color and because of your love of roses.”
Tears pooled in my aunt’s eyes. “And sentimental fool I am, when I lost one, I just couldn’t bear to throw away the memory. So you see what I mean. I’ve glued the pieces of my heart on a wall plaque to capture the moment in time. See here,” she gestured to a star glittering on top of the tree. “Aunt Lane gave me that broached when I was a little girl. Now I always have a treasured keepsake of the Christmas I spent with her.”
“What a lovely idea,” I said. “And look at these pearls, strategically hung to give the illusion of strung popcorn. Amazing.”
“And it can be in whatever shape you choose,” my aunt went on, lowering her voice to barely more than a whisper. “When the time is right, I’ll mount all the jewelry my dearly departed Don gave me in the shape of a heart.” She sighed wistfully. “That way, both his presents and presence will be with me, keeping the memory of the special occasion alive. By mounting those precious keepsakes, I’ll be preserving a piece of me heart.”
“How sweet,” I said, sentiments clogging my throat. “So how do I go about making one of these keepsakes?”
“That’s easy,” Aunt Sis said, puffing out her chest. “Go home and go through your jewelry box, old shoe boxes, drawers. Then see what your mother has. You’d be surprised what she kept from your childhood, and each memory will jog an otherwise forgotten memory. Come on and I’ll brew some tea and tell ya all about it.”
And over raspberry tea and Irish soda bread, my aunt filled me in on the makings of a memory tree.
“So once you have all your jewels and gems lined up, just get yourself some Tacky glue, a canvas, a piece of velvet and a pattern. Say you decide to make a sweetheart tree. First ya glue the velvet on the canvas and let it dry completely, a day or so. Then trace the pattern on the velvet and go wild. And then let it dry a day or so before framing it. And then you’ll be ready to hang your memory tree, something to cherish for years to come. You’ll see. Go on, get creative.”
Aunt Sis was right. After going on a scavenger hunt through my drawers, jewelry boxes and a thorough closet cleaning, I found enough jewelry to make my own memory tree. My mom gave me some of the gems I’d given to her over the years, broken but not forgotten trinkets, each near and dear to my heart. And true to my aunt’s words, every time I glued another jewel to the tree, I attached a cherished keepsake. And before I knew it, my memory tree was bursting at the seams.
My aunt passed away, but her spirit lingers. And because Aunt Sis taught me how to capture a moment in time, she will always be with me in spirit. Every time someone becomes enthralled with my tree, I can still hear her melodious laughter, the Irish lilt in her voice when she regaled family stories. But mostly, I remember a time when she walked with me on this earth, leaving lasting footprints on my heart.