Emeralds,' said the rabbit. 'Emeralds make a lovely gift. Maurice Sendak
I love my May birthday because the birthstone is the rare and fragile emerald.
Cleopatra coveted the radiant green gem—so enthralled by it that she had her own mines in Egypt, filled with men whose lives were dedicated to finding her jewels. Elizabeth Taylor too. Her famous emerald pendant sold for $6.5 million in 2011.
Imagine the thrill when a large banner featuring my birthstone in a small but priceless cross finial appeared on The San Diego Museum of Art façade recently.
Along with extraordinary masterpieces by Velasquez, El Greco, Zurbaran and Peter Paul Reubens, the tiny jewel is part of the upcoming exhibition Art & Empire: The Golden Age of Spain. The cross’ small center stone, which is surrounded by tear shaped emeralds, is from the Muzo mines of Columbia, renowned for yielding the finest emeralds in the world. And, as a docent, in preparing to tour the exhibition, I learned the cross’ fascinating story—a gift to a one-year-old on her birthday by her father.
As her May birthday approaches, my mind meanders to Maddie, my first grandchild. We share the emerald birthstone. When she was almost four years old, I took her with me on an errand to a high end jewelry store. She was barely tall enough to be able to peer inquisitively into the store’s spotless glass display cases, lined in exquisite black velvet and filled with sparkling, expensive jewels.
Maddie and I were visiting the jeweler to pick up her grandfather’s Swiss-made watch. On the drive from her home my blond-headed cherub of a granddaughter and I chattered nonstop.
Maddie and I were both born in May, two weeks apart. Our shared birthstone became very appealing to this first-born grandchild of mine in her four short years. I suspect the Wizard’s Emerald City of Oz influenced her…
Maddie knows the story of my ring well. But once again as we drove, she urged, “Let me look at your emerald, Neeny. I put my hand on the seat close to her.
“Tell me about your grandmother giving you this ring.” she said as she put her little finger atop the center diamond leaving a healthy smudge.
I couldn’t refuse. “Remember honey, when she was very old—ninety-three-years old, she called me into her bedroom.”
I smiled remembering the day. My grandmother’s bedroom was sparse, as was her minimalist lifestyle. The white chenille bedspread with a rose pattern covered her four poster bed. She sat in a straight back chair near the window. I was in my late twenties and the frenzied mother of three little kids, on a strict budget and unaccustomed to life’s finer things. I sat near her on the edge of the bed.
Edwina removed the ring from her gnarled wedding ring finger. The diamond in the center was flawless. But it was the twin emeralds which flanked it on either side that enchanted me. I knew my grandfather had systematically increased the size of the diamond in the center every fifth-year wedding anniversary. He added the emeralds on their fifty-fifth anniversary. I loved the way my grandmother’s eyes lit up when she related the story.
“I’m very old now. My knuckles are large from arthritis. Getting the ring off and on is extremely difficult. More importantly, while I’m still alive and kicking, I want to see you enjoy this ring.”
She slipped the ring on my finger. When I attempted to thank her, she stood, bristled a bit, smoothed her striped house dress and turned away muttering something like “Pshaw, get going now…”
Maddie is a lot like that grandmother of mine. Long, lean, adventurous and she’s smart as a whip, always has been. She has never failed to notice the emeralds on my finger. As we drove into the parking lot, I reached over and patted her on the knee. With her slender little fingers, she turned the ring side to side on my finger and murmured coyly, “Who gets this ring when you die, Neeny?”
“Just like my grandmother gave me the ring, I will give you this ring because you and I are born in May and the emerald is the birthstone we share.”
“Maybe you’ll give it to me before you die like your grandmother did,” she suggested.
We approached the store and I pushed the security button to unlock the door. Maddie, wide-eyed and curious, followed me closely as we entered. Not the least bit shy in the rather hushed and sophisticated environment of the jewelry store, she pulled away to linger at the case closest to the entry. I took the left hand route around the large u-shaped expanse of gleaming display cases brimming with rare and precious gems, diamond engagement rings, black pearls, rubies, sapphires and expensive watches, to the customer service counter. I submitted my yellow claim check and watched Maddie out of the corner of my eye as she slowly made her way along each display case, leaving a little puff of steam as she breathed heavily onto each glass enclosure. She continued all around the store, along one aisle and down another. At each showcase, she peered studiously at the collections inside.
After some time, the clerk returned with the watch. As I paid, I turned and spied my little one at the opposite side of the gallery. Before I could motion to her, I heard her clear her throat authoritatively. And with all the poise and presence she could muster, she inquired aloud, “Excuse me, where are your emeralds?”
Who says, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend?”