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by Caroline Downs

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The story IS the treasure . . .

Posted 1/19/10 (Tue)

Indulge me this week, even if you’re not a fan of turquoise jewelry. This story demands to be shared.


My mother gave me a turquoise ring at Christmas time. This ring was not intended as a Christmas present. We were together for the holiday, and she knew she wouldn’t see me again for a few months.


The ring represents a connection across the generations for me. When my mother was a college student in South Dakota 50 years ago, she spent three of her summers working at Cedar Pass Lodge in the Badlands, a tourist stop and gift shop.


The couple she worked for at the time spent their winters in Arizona and New Mexico, where they’d befriended several Navajo and Zuni silversmiths over the years. The couple used their travels to purchase items for the store in South Dakota, and they held high standards for the dolls, pottery and jewelry they selected. Cedar Pass Lodge was known for offering quality goods, not cheap trinkets.


At one point, my mother bought a pair of large silver and turquoise earrings for her mother, who loved and collected jewelry. Mom selected a pair of silver screw-back earrings holding rich blue-green ovals of turquoise. Most turquoise found in the Southwest today pales in comparison to what was being mined 50 years ago, and these are no exception.


Of course, my grandmother (but not at that point) adored and wore the earrings. Then my mother married; I came along; and my grandmother had her ears pierced at age 67.


She couldn’t wear the turquoise earrings then, so she and my mother decided to have the pair made into rings by the late Black Hills silversmith, Jim Langer.


I can’t remember if I accompanied them on that first trip to Spearfish, or if I went along later when they picked up the rings, but I clearly recall the emotion at the of pure jealousy. With a December birthday, turquoise was my birthstone, not theirs. The stones were beautiful; the silverwork, precise and exquisite. But I was also a teenager who (A) knew better than to complain and (B) refused to give my mother the satisfaction of knowing how I was feeling.


So I just admired the two new rings. My grandmother was awfully pleased. I recall that and not much more about the rings until 20-some more years passed and my grandmother died. Mom took back the turquoise ring.


And I neither saw nor thought about it again until I opened the tiny black box my mother handed me Christmas morning.


Immediately, that day at Langer’s old jewelry store in Spearfish came back. My mom told the rest of the story--how Mr. Langer was reluctant about fulfilling their request until they showed him the actual earrings and he saw the quality of the silverwork for himself.


Now, maybe 30 years after that moment of envy, the ring is mine.


And I do love it. The colors are magnificent; the traditional silverwork shines.


But more than the ring, I love the story and the link to my grandmother. She died almost 10 years ago, but on Christmas Day, she and my mother both managed to surprise me.


So here’s the purpose behind all this: if you have a treasure to share with your family, do so. And soon, at a time when you can share the story as well as the item itself.


It could a classic car, a prized set of china, a well-worn knife or a special doll, worth thousands of dollars or only a few cents.


The biggest part of that treasure is the story that goes along with it. It’s the best legacy you can offer.