Of necklaces, neck lace, and necklacing


I never used to be big on necklaces. Heavy things dangling around my neck weren't really my thing. Too often, thin chains became hopelessly tangled up. But then I found (on an Air Canada in-flight store of all places; I must have been bored as I don't usually shop on planes) a nifty little case. Three straps ending in snap buttons keep everything nice and separate.


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My jewelry travel case on a box covered with Malian patchwork-fabric.


Brooches are lovely and much less complicated. One of my favorite brooches is shaped like a swallow; it's pinned to the right panel of my travel case. I've worn this blue-, white-, and gold-enameled bird so many times in Africa that I feel 'homesick' every time I look at it. 

My daughter loved jewelry when she was growing up. The more, the merrier, as far as she was concerned. I didn't think necklaces were a good idea for a little girl, so we settled on 'neck lace'. Do you know what I mean? It's like a removable collar, draped around the neck. Here's a picture of my daughter (posted with her permission). The double-layer lace was fastened with a button on the back of her pink dress (oh, yes, she loved pink) and was tied in front.  


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In many African countries, traditional outfits for both men and women feature elaborate embroidery, almost like neck lace, around collarless necks. This example, is a shirt that forms part of a two-piece boubou (I bought it for my husband in Togo); it has matching pants, sans embroidery. 


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Necklacing is a different story altogether. In fact, I wish I had never heard of it. If you know what it means, please don't worr; I'm not going to illustrate it. And, if I may, I recommend you don't research it. Some things in life cannot be unseen, even if only via a photograph. The word 'necklacing' isn't in any of my (printed) dictionaries, but here's a definition I found online:


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Personally, I associate this gruesome form of murder with apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Unfortunately, incidents of necklacing have been reported in other countries, and as recently as 2011.

Placing anything over the head of a fellow human being should always, in my view, be an act of love. When my friend Ann ("without an e" as she frequently admonished") asked me what my favorite color was, I had no idea she was making a blue necklace for me. 

"Did you bring me back some beads?" she always asked whenever I returned from Africa. An English teacher and later a librarian, she was a wonderfully warm woman and felt like a second mother to me. Unlike some of my friends, Ann understood and shared my passion for Africa. Once, she invited me to come and talk about Africa to a (special education) class of eight-year-olds. Ann's students were delightful and their questions even more so. "How big is a baby elephant when it's born?" one boy asked. A girl wanted to know how many snakes I had seen. Too many, I would have liked to reply. 

That afternoon in her class felt like a gift. I treasure it almost as much as the (one-of-a-kind) necklace she made for me. I'd like to share a pic of it with you: 


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To be honest, it's bit heavy, but the weight of it matches the heaviness of missing her.  

I've always liked thinking of a story as a string of beads, with the largest ones representing master scenes and pivotal events, medium-sized ones used for major scenes, and small ones for minor ones. I tell myself that each bead Ann threaded is a scene in her life.

Each story, of course, comes to an end. Ann's life ended far too early, cut short by cancer, and she never got a chance to meet her grandchildren. Before she died, she made a necklace for each of her female friends. I'm grateful for every moment we spent together and I hope that your life is or has been graced with an Ann. 

Thanks for taking the time to stop by. Take good care.


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