mad in pursuit

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Strangled in Tangles of Beads

stack o' beadsI have dreams of  being choked by slithering strands of beady necklaces. My passion, my self-indulgence imprisons me. I have so many that I've stopped being able to process them. Jim comes home from his rounds of the shops with presents of interesting old beads and I throw them into an irreverent pile on top of a cabinet. There is no room left.

On the walls of my study and in the hallway are Lucite cases displaying the very best necklaces. A narrow set of shelves in my study (see left) contains a stack of 12 clear Rubber-Maid boxes of necklaces classified by origin: Latin America, Native American, Africa- Indigneous, Africa- Trade Beads, Africa- Special, East/South Asia- Non-Tribal, Southeast Asia- Tribal, Tibet, Central Asia-Ethnic, Central Asia/Mideast-Ancient. Then there is Modern, which I just divided up into Vintage and Unusual/Funky.

Another set of narrow shelves (below right) contains boxes of loose beads and beading supplies for all the necklaces I keep promising to make for gifts.

Then there are the stacks of slim Riker boxes — you know the kind: covered in black paper, lined with polyester batting, glass lid, locked with long pins through cover and base (below left). I have 35 of those at the moment, filled with necklaces too good to throw into Zip-Loc bags in a Rubber-Maid box.

There are loose beads displayed on a mirror tile on a shelf: ancient treasures from Indonesia and Southloose beads & supplies America. On the window sill I have some chunky African green glass beads in acrylic jars so that the sunlight makes them glow.

It's out of control.  I used to catalog my treasures in a database before tucking them away, but I paused for a moment -- and then it was too late.

A month ago I made the mistake of dragging home a big box of my mother-in-law's jewelry — the leftovers after we cleaned out her apartment and after J's daughter, daughter-in-law, and ex-wife picked out anything half-way valuable or attractive.

That box was the straw that broke the camel's back. When I started pulling things out of the box to see what treasures I might find, suddenly my little study was f-u-l-l full. As much as I love the ancient, multi-cultural resonance of all the people who'd made, handled, and loved my beads, the addition of all this unsorted junk, spread out on the floor because there was no place else, shorted out my psychic circuits. 

stacks & pilesWhat did it all add up to? Here I was surrounded by my own accumulating treasures facing the amassed treasure of a woman who had kept everything. I remembered the day we spent at her apartment. I put aside the old love letters, the 19th-century family paperwork, and the notes from grandkids (Rod has tonsillitis and is acting like a schmuck.) But without a second thought I pitched the following into plastic trash sacks: 50 or so ski lift tickets rubber-banded into a tight packet, stacks of League of Women Voters programs, countless Christmas cards and letters (with a note on each about the gist of her response), the menus for every dinner party she ever gave, a careful recording of all her blemishes and moles, a listing of where she and her husband had spent every Christmas from 1962 to 1978, and decades of cancelled checks and tax returns.

Olive had cherished it all. Everything was sorted and labeled and boxed. Then her mind faded and her body was moved to a nursing home. And so we tossed her life away. We like to think we're saving our possessions for someone, someone who will appreciate the intrinsic value of the trappings of our existence after we're gone. No one does. There are cultures who bury the dead person's possessions with them. Maybe that has less to do with beliefs about the afterlife than the survivors wanting the crap out of the house.

I faced her tangled pile of necklaces and bracelets and bric-a-brac. I wanted it all to vanish, but now I couldn't throw it away. There was just too much of Olive wound through the strands.

Among the dull department store colors, a familiar sheen caught my eye: big pearly beads, with no pretensions. I looked closer, shook them out of the mess, and yanked them apart to a glorious flood of memories… pop beads! 

Suddenly, I was 8 years old again, wrapped in luscious strands of pinks and blues and greens. My first bead collection --  a big fad about the same time hula hoops were all the rage. Oh my God, I coveted them, couldn't get enough. And my favorites were pearly ones just like these. I remember standing on the porch of my aunt's house in north St. Louis, wrapped in pop beads, teasing my white-haired cousin Jimmy, and picking at my pearly beads. To my horror — my absolute horror — the pearl paint peeled off to reveal a pallid plastic core. I was crushed. What did I think? That they were real pearls? My passion for them cooled.

I draped the beads around my neck. They were destined for the "Modern -- Unusual/Funky" box. A few others looked like Mardi Gras and were also set aside. The rest were transferred to their own Rubber-Maid box as I decide to make a gift of it -- a small mountain of beads for my niece who is still in the dress-up pop-bead stage of girlhood. She's too young to be strangled by possessions yet and at least a couple years away from the disappointment of learning her gold is only gold-tone. 

I look around at my own treasures and wonder who will be tossing what into the black plastic trash bags of my future.


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