Jewels That Speak – Excerpt

Eight years old. 1953, Riverdale, New York.

I am bored. So bored, I could scream. I can’t think of anything to do. I don’t want to put on my roller skates and roll around the neighborhood. How dumb. If I get on my bike and go investigating, I’ll just run into traffic. My sisters and brothers do not interest me today.

My brain is dull. I lie on my bed with my feet up in the air, waving them back and forth to a beat of four. I take one foot and make a semicircle in the air. Then I do it with the other. Who cares if my underpants show. After a while, I jump off the bed, skirt around the corner of the room, and open the attic door.

Up I go, one step at a time, until I reach the top. It’s so musty and dark. I stand there a few minutes until my eyes can see all the old junk. What a mess. Why doesn’t someone do something about it? I walk over to a little window and stare down at the street. Sure looks different from way up here. Awfully small.

What should I do now? Maybe I can find some things to play dress-up. Some glamorous old dress of Mom’s or something. There are some boxes on the floor at my feet. I get on my knees and open one. Graying, floppy old ice skates and smelly old books. I open another one. Can’t quite see what’s in there. I reach down and touch cold, smooth surfaces. I draw one out. It’s a piece of glass.

I stand up and hold it up to the light of the window. It’s the color of a summer-ripe peach. I quickly descend the attic stairs to turn on the electric light at the bottom. The glass is gorgeous, the color so vibrant I want to eat it. Back up the stairs, I draw other pieces of glass out of the box: one is daisy white, another Norwegian blue, another moss green, still another honeybee yellow. I take hold of the yellow one, spit on the corner of my dress, and wipe the glass clean. I hold it up to the natural light. The honeybee streams through the window. I am so excited at my treasure find, I give a little jump. Perhaps I’ll tell Dad my secret.

(I didn’t know it at the time, but these “surfaces” were pieces of leaded Favrile glass, a distinctive type of iridescent glass that was developed and created by my great-grandfather Louis Comfort Tiffany. Because the colors were mixed in while the glass was still hot, they took on a special depth and richness.)