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A jingling and not awfully nostalgic reflection

December 9, 2008

I do a lot more things without thinking than people who love and overrate me likely think. For instance, I recently had an impulse to overturn a lot of rightly mossed-over stones of the 60s. I wasted a fair amount of time doing this.

It wasn’t nostalgia so much as morbid curiosity. I looked up some things about Bill Ayers’s lovely wife, Bernardine Dohrn. I watched a U-Tube of her, waving her arms and presenting a commemorative speech at an SDS anniversary celebration (how amazingly conventional of her). The impetus behind my curiosity was simply wondering, how does someone like this get a job teaching at Northwestern University School of Law? She is weird, she has a JD, and her father-in-law is on the Board of the University, but I can’t imagine hiring someone to teach in a law school who was ineligible for Bar membership because her past mere flesh wounds with the law sort of nixed the character and fitness requirement. Maybe being on the lam 11 years is some sort of pagan rite of regeneration.

I decided that Dohrn possessed (passive voice might also apply, but I’ll use the verb actively here) an unusual market commodity. She has a rare ability to view evil close-up, really get into the belly of the beast, and present it with unique relish. Her famous “fork” greeting (google it if the reference is lost on you; it makes me too queasy to repeat it here) from the Manson murders is an example. Things that most of us want to avoid as “pathological” or “disgusting,” have a queer fascination for Dohrn. She seems not to be an awfully verbal person; she resorts to “dig it” a lot to express what Ayers calls “irony.”

For some reason, Northwestern must have seen this component of Dohrn’s highly defective character as some sort of asset that makes her fit to teach a clinic on children and family law: if not this trait, then something else; or maybe her father-in-law simply exerted sufficient influence. The Obama campaign presented a “fact sheet” on Ayers and Dohrn, declaring them “respectable” and “mainstream.” Compared to what, I wonder.

Dohrn traffics, in a way, in other people’s lives. She named her kids after Malcolm X and a dead Black Panther. She and Bill love Fidel Castro, referring to him fondly on a first-name basis. They don’t say much about the soon-to-be-elected President; I doubt he’s radical enough to suit them. These are folks who like the smell of blood, as long as it’s on other people. They were classic radicals who had to get a little dirty to overcome their presumptive white privilege. Now they’re respectable and mainstream, he in the Education Department of the University of Illinois-Chicago, she at Northwestern Law. That’s pretty respectable and mainstream. And really weird.

Okay, that’s my look-up of the where-are-they-now on Bernardine. Next, I decided to reassemble my childhood charm bracelet. This was prompted when I clicked on a story about unusual and legal ways people were making money during the recession. One guy is buying and selling gold. People bring him odd earring backs, dental fillings, or whatever else they have on hand with gold content. He’s a well-tempered jobber, and one lady hugged him when he gave her $350 for a shoebox full of odd bits of jewelry. She could pay her heat bill for a month.

I don’t know what she’ll do next month, and we’ll manage our utility bill without selling anything. But I looked in my jewelry drawer to see whether I had anything that I could parlay into something of more useful value, like cash. I saw nothing that I wasn’t wearing and didn’t value above whatever cash it could possibly fetch.

I did have a little box of charms: a few sterling silver, some pewter, a few brass or gold-filled, one foil-weight gold. Girls of my era were typically issued a starter charm bracelet and a charm at some point, to make it easy for friends and relatives to give them gifts of supposed enduring sentimental value. If they were gold, certainly the intrinsic cash value appreciated significantly. Otherwise, you had a wrist full of cheap memorabilia that jingled.

I’m not particularly sentimental about the charms I acquired in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Their melt value is probably between $0.86 and $2.50. I researched charms to see what they were going for. Even bracelets composed of 1/20 12K (aka gold-filled, or gold-bonded brass) with charms like mine are in demand as vintage commodities and bring $100-$400. Incredibly, even engraved charms, like one commemorating a secretary’s 30th anniversary working for a company, have value to other people who have no part in the life of the original wearer. Trafficking in other people’s lives is the stuff of the vintage charm biz.

So I learned that my charm bracelet has value to other people–value sufficient, maybe, for dinner and the opera for two of us, twice. Somehow the cash or what the cash could buy seemed more ephemeral than the bracelet jingling on my wrist while I wiped down the bathroom tile.

I put the charms back on the bracelet and put it on. The happy stretching Buddha: how embarrassing. But as a child I loved New York’s Chinatown, and there it is, commemorated in sterling. The girl archer is electroplate–my mother wanted gold for me, but could only find an electroplated archer. My guitar and tennis days, my Arizona life remembered in a tiny pewter Navajo loom, cacti, and kachina dancers. There’s a sixteenth note from an old friend I played music with, and then came the baby shoe and Gemini charms. My daughter’s grandmother was huge on astrology. I happen to “be” a Gemini, but it was supposed to be my daughter’s sign. I lied to her grandparents about her due date so they wouldn’t be anxious if she was late. The little Taurus was right on schedule. And I’m stuck with this embarrassing zodiac emblem, not exactly complicit with my own Puritan theology.

I decided that my charm bracelet has more value to me than it could to a collector of the vintage stuff of others’ lives. Its value to me is the substantive and very humbling remembrance of the years I spent in a state of death, and God’s amazing grace in delivering me into life. Besides, I like the jingle. I reminds me to pray for the same for Bernardine.


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