When I was a child, every few weeks we would visit my Aunt Norene, my daddy’s sister, and her husband, Uncle Nat. They lived in the country. Just down in the country. I didn’t really think of their location in any other terms. Their house was along the Stephen-Salem Road, in Oglethorpe County, but back then, I’m not sure the road had a name, their address was probably just a rural route number.
In the 1950s, country houses were landscaped with whatever grew nearby or could be acquired from friends or family by cuttings. Somewhere along the way, my Aunt Norene had received cuttings from a crepe myrtle. She haplanted four in a square to form an informal courtyard to the left side of the house.
Because Aunt Norene’s and Uncle Nat’s four sons were already grown, it was always a little boring to visit, but as a child, I had no say in the matter, nor did it ever dawn on me that I would. It was still the era of “Children should be seen and not heard.” When the time came for everyone to get into the car to go home, it didn’t mean you were actu- ally leaving. The grownups would continue to talk, and you could sit there for an eternity before Daddy started the car and pulled out onto the road.
We were at this point during one late winter visit, waiting for the grownups to finish talking. The weather was warm, and I took the opportunity to stroll around my aunt’s side courtyard. For the very first time, I noticed that after the crepe myrtle’s blooms had dropped off, a dried boll, much like cotton bolls, remained. As I idled there, I pulled a boll off, and discovered to my surprise that the small needle-sized stem that attached to the boll came off with the slightest of pulls, leaving a perfectly round hole.
I can’t really remember just how the idea hit me, but my mother’s birthday was coming up, and I had been thinking I could make something for her. Almost from that moment, I knew it would be jewelry. I gathered as many of the dried bolls as I could, never thinking to ask my Aunt Norene if it would be OK, but it did strike my mother as the thing to do. It was just fine as it turns out.
According to my Aunt Norene, it allowed for fewer things to clean from the yard as they fell from the plants in the spring.
Mother never asked why I wanted them. She had four children, and I was always making, fixing, or changing things just for the fun of it. If this kept me busy, it was probably just fine with her. She also didn’t ask why I wanted the old rhinestone necklace and matching earrings she never wore. Come to think of it, they were particularly gaudy, and probably something one of us had bought for her on another occasion.
I stripped the stones from the necklace and used the string and hooks, and I pried the stones out of the ear- rings. I strung the crepe myrtle bolls onto the necklace, and placed three bolls on each earring, where the rhine- stones had been removed. I couldn’t have been happier with my finished product.
When my mom opened her gift, she was truly amazed with what I had done. She, of course, told me how beautiful the necklace and earrings were, and just raved over my creativity. She even showed them to the lady next door and to other friends. However, I noticed that she never wore the jewelry. I finally suggested that she wear them to church, but she begged off, saying that they were so beautiful and special, but so delicate that she was afraid they would break. She would just enjoy looking at them in her jewelry box, she said. I was a bit disappointed, but still young enough to believe her.