I was only going to rest my eyes for a few minutes while the girls played on the rug. I must have fallen asleep. This rare, short moment of relaxation was interrupted by a strange and uncomfortable tug on my ear. Through the head fog, I could hear small voices, “No! I’m getting the earrings! I’m the oldest!” It was the slight choke of my necklace chain tightening around my neck that startled me out of my nap. “Ouch! What are you doing?” My old soul six year old blankly said, ” Oh, we’re deciding what jewelry we get when you die.” “Mercy Girls! Good Lord willing, that will not be anytime soon.” I sounded just like my Maw Maw Betty. I knew she was displeased, and I better straighten up if she put a mercy in front of my name.
My visits with my Maw Maw were few. She and Paw Paw Joe lived in a small town outside of Chattanooga. We only made the five hour drive through the mountains a couple of times each year, and I loved my time with her. She had this ritual of bringing out her jewelry box and showing me all the treasures inside. Each time, she would give extra special attention to a marquise cut opal ring that was surrounded by diamonds. There was a pendant that matched. “You will get these when I die,” she would say. It made me uneasy to think about her dying. I would usually excuse myself to go play outside to avoid the sadness I felt at the thought of her being gone one day. It never made sense to me, anyway, why she repeatedly showed me these trinkets like she had forgotten all the times before; her mind was sharp and witty.
Betty Jean King’s style was plain and simple, but her personality and zest for life was bold and beautiful. In her youth she was a figure roller skating champion and class valedictorian. She was known around town as a loving and devoted wife, mother of four, grandmother to nine, and volunteer extraordinaire. She never met a stranger. Her smile was radiant.
That opal ring and pendant now have a place in my jewelry box. The style is not what I would have chosen for myself, but I wear them proudly. I understand now why she made such a point to show them to me. They were hers. They meant something to her and she wanted me to have them.