Lucie reflects on her french heritage and tradition in this great essay. Check it out!
In France, it is a tradition for someone in the family, usually a godparent or grandparent, to buy a gold chain of the saint the child is named after for the child’s birth. When I was young, girls in my class teased me about the young virgin, St. Lucie, burning to death on my neck. I’d place the chain my grandfather gave to me close to my heart but still hiding behind my shirt from the American girls who mocked it. I could only imagine how Dominique’s granddaughter, Emeline, would feel about her necklace.
I was twelve when I met my Mother’s Godmother. She was a once beautiful French woman living in Javerlhac, a town in Dordogne. I spent a week with the mangled woman, Dominique, with overgrown, yellowed nails instead of back in Paris where I could watch cute french boys walk by with a café au lait in my hands. Dominique’s home was built into the mountain side with rooms made entirely of glass and embellished with vines that resembled her varicose veins. While I was getting ready, I watched her slip into her room and return with a small, plastic box. I didn’t think much of it then.
My mother and I accompanied her to a jeweler in Nontron. The store glistened with gorgeous silver and gold. We went to the counter with her and she explained what she need as I pointed at pieces of jewelry hoping my mother would buy one for me. From the corner of my eye, I saw the little, plastic box appear. The jewelers face had changed from welcoming to horrified. Out of curiosity, I peered into her hands and into the box.
“I brought my own gold,” she said nonchalantly. My mother looked down at her feet. My face was beet red.
The gold crowns of her teeth rattled in the box as Dominique handed it to the jeweler. The jeweler grimaced but willingly took it. “I’m sorry, madam,” he said coolly. “I don’t think I understand.”
“I want you to make a medal from my teeth,” she replied. I could not peel my eyes from the box. They were so wide that Icould feel the lids straining and I felt a drop of sweat fall at the nape of my neck as I realized everyone in the shop had been watching us. He held it in his hands for a moment and then handed it back to her. “Can you do it?” she asked quickly.
“No, madam, the quality of the carat is not consistent.”
She was furious. The entire ride home she complained about how absurd it was and that she’d be going to another jeweler until someone would agree to make it. “What do they mean ‘not pure gold’? When they put it in my mouth, I paid for pure gold.”
Dinner that night was not like the one before. My mother and I were silent as we watched her eat. Those teeth came from her mouth, I thought. The same mouth that was now chewing on homemade raspberry pie. Except now, they were replaced with dentures that didn’t fit tightly enough so they smacked against her gums. Those teeth would be hanging around little Emeline’s neck.
The next morning, I met Emeline. She was a tiny baby with a gummed smile, just like her grandmother. I wanted to save her from Dominique and the medal. I rocked her in my arms slowly and prayed for the Saints to spare her. Dominique reached for the child, so I passed the infant to her and sat next to my mother.
We watched the tall figure of what once was an irresistible woman making cooing noises quietly to Emeline. Then, I began to have an appreciation for Dominique. Even though she looked like a witch, the baby didn’t mind. Emeline didn’t even notice the fungus growing in her nail beds. It became clear to me that Dominique didn’t want to purposely scar the child by making the necklace from her teeth. When Dominique held Emeline, all the love she could give, she gave. The baby smiled back at her grandmother. The two gummed girls loved each other unconditionally.
That summer, my mother sold my medal. My grandfather travelled oceans, but all he wanted to do was hold me. I remember the way his nose felt to my tiny hands. It curved like an eagle’s. I remember how his heart beat like mine. Whether my medal was made from his teeth, I’ll never know. I realize now, I shouldn’t have tucked the chain into my shirt after I turned my back on my mother because I was also turning my back on a part of my culture.
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(Featured image: St. Clements church, Hastings by Julian P. Guffogg with geograph uk)