He came all the way from Washington, D.C., to attend a family reunion, a gathering of people he had never met, except a few. Some he knew through e-mail, but for the most part, he would be among strangers.
He rode the train. I hadn't realized a person could ride a train from D.C. to Savannah. I'd like to make that trip sometime.
He carried treasures to share – small gifts such as pens and pocket knives to hand to his newfound friends, but there was much more. He carried memories – memories wrapped around precious stones and metals, jewelry that had been given to him by a friend, jewelry she no longer had a use for, jewelry she could not leave to family because she has none.
We always have an auction at our reunions - white elephants, gifts that had never been used, knick knacks picked up here and there. The fun was bidding for the good stuff and laughingly bidding for the gag gifts and silly items that found themselves up for grabs.
The money is used to help pay for the reunion costs and provide a nest egg for the next year's gathering.
Ernie wasn't obliged to bring auction items. He was invited as a friend of the family, and looked forward to meeting the others in our extended family. But he thought about our auction when his friend offered him a selection of vintage jewelry she no longer would wear.
I never met this lady. She never met any of us. But when Ernie suggested donating the jewelry to our auction, she agreed.
She just wanted the new owners to appreciate the precious treasures that had brought her so much pleasure in life.
When Ernie spoke of the jewelry, I imagined costume pieces. When he pulled out the packages that held the items, I was speechless.
The generous lady had traveled to Thailand, Africa, and other places around the world, he said. The jewelry was far from costume jewelry. It was real, and it was unique.
I immediately spotted a key chain made from zebra hide. The turquoise necklace caught my eye as well, and an unusual ring with 10 gemstones hanging from it lured me.
There were 100 inches of pearls in a black velvet bag. A sapphire and diamond ring sparkled, and an amethyst ring with a stone almost the size of a dime glimmered.
Earrings in silver filigree matched a bracelet. African glass beads were bold in color, and pins and broaches spoke of days we would never see.
I imagined a stately lady wearing the pearls with a black silk dress, or the rose brooch pinned against her Sunday finest. I closed my eyes and imagined a beautiful and sultry woman dancing in the African night with the turquoise necklace nestled against crisp white linen. I wondered whether a lover (she never married) gave her the sapphire ring in a declaration of love and passion, and what adventures led her to purchase the colorful beaded necklaces in Africa.
The ring with the gemstones intrigued me. The stones are not embedded in the metal of the ring but are held by thin gold wires, and dangle enticingly, all 10. Ernie said she called it a ceremonial ring from Thailand, but my research has only shown rings with nine stones. I'm still looking.
Grandmom claimed a delicate necklace with seashells encased in gold wires and an Oriental bracelet. Cousin Gary, the auctioneer, had to make her remove it so we could bid, but everyone knew she wanted the pieces and of course we allowed her to "win" the jewelry.
I nabbed the zebra hide key chain and an African beaded necklace, and of course, the ceremonial ring.
I hope it's a good ceremony, such as fortune or happiness, and not something wild and crazy like voo doo. The ring reminds me of gypsies, and I like it.
The turquoise and pearls went far beyond my price range, but that was OK. I know the ones who won those pieces will treasure them as I would have.
It's not the monetary value of these pieces that is so intriguing. It's their history. We don't know much about their past, but we do know a classy, well-traveled, adventurous lady loved the jewelry enough that she did not want it to end up in some pawn shop, sold for minimum value, where no one would know how much it meant to her.
She wanted the jewelry to be loved, to be cherished, to live on when she is no longer here, to have a purpose.
And it does. It played a part in Ernie joining into our circle of family and friends, and through our wearing and enjoying the jewelry, a little bit of the former owner's spirit will live on - and hopefully will inspire a bit of adventure in the lives of those of us who bid on the unknown lady's memories.