The years have not been kind.
The scales of justice have come unbalanced.
The “Spirit of ’76” soldier looks battle-worn.
The top on the grand piano has come unhinged.
The catch dangling from the fishing pole is down to one lone trout.
And the tassel that used to jauntily sway off of the drill team boot is long gone.
Such is life.
Or, more specifically, my life captured in little trinkets of silver soldered onto a bracelet.
My charm bracelet, a gift from my parents one long-ago Christmas, is one of my oldest possessions. For years, it was a little skimpy. A sterling music note. The battered boot. A disc embellished with my zodiac sign. That bicentennial soldier, a gift for playing the piano at a Rotary Club meeting all those years ago. Those few forlorn tokens relegated it to the bottom of my jewelry box for years.
It turned out I just needed to live.
I started going places — the Empire State Building from trips to New York City dangles between a Santa Claus and the remnants of the scales of justice; chips of turquoise from Taos, N.M., tumble between a San Francisco cable car and a clown face; a wisp of silver lace from Slovenia hangs beside a flip-flop sandal; and coral from Italy’s Isle of Capri blooms alongside a maple leaf. The result is a geographic jumble that defies borders and continents.
I started doing things — gardening (hence, the trowel); writing (which explains the pencil); sailing (so I have a sailboat that navigates better on my arm than any craft I have tried to steer on water).
And I started meeting people, people who started adding their lives to my bracelet — my husband (the American flag in honor of our Fourth of July wedding date; the fishing pole, because he likes to fish — and I don’t; the scales of justice in honor of his profession, which over time have gotten battered, the scales apparently unable to withstand being snagged on coat sleeves or upholstery).
My sister-in-law and brother one year gave me three charms that were all about them — which explains why I have a peace sign (they love the Dead), a tube of lipstick and make-up bag (Stef sells cosmetics), and a smiley face sticking its tongue out (Stef’s explanation: She and my baby brother are “the goofy couple” — which makes perfect sense, but I’d say this could almost be the family crest given all of our antics).
My bracelet is out of fashion. Bigger, chunkier, enameled and bedazzled bracelets are more popular. But this wish for identity, to tell a unique story, to collect pieces of one’s journey and carry them forward hasn’t gone out of style.
Writing this, I wondered: What is the charm bracelet equivalent for men? Ties? I don’t think so.
I love my charm bracelet and the story it tells. The charms now number more than 40. They make music, a light, shimmering rustle.
They make me remember where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
And there is still room to squeeze a few more mementoes in between the sombrero (a tame visit to Tijuana) and the bobsled (a rollicking ride down the Lake Placid chute), the spotted dog tagged “Bailey,” who has been gone nearly three years now, and the baby shoe engraved years ago with the name of a nephew who somehow becomes a teenager on his next birthday.
The bracelet keeps the tumble of people, places and things whole.
The charms keep things locked in time, one iconic image, untouched, unchanged.
All told, at this stage, my life weighs about a pound as it circles my wrist.
That feels just right.
Chris Arbutina writes a monthly column for the CDT.