Travel memories that I wear in my ears and around my wrists

When I was in my 20s, I developed a passion for travel. It started with a backpacking trip with a girlfriend through Europe and almost every year thereafter, I visited a new place, travelling by train through the Rockies, watching salmon flying through the air in Seattle, having my hair braided on a Jamaican beach, eating beignets in New Orleans, shopping for bell bottoms in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, seeing Old Montreal from a horse-drawn carriage, and so on and so on.

At the time, I didn’t have the disposable income to buy jewelry at stores like Schwarzchild’s or Zales; however, when traveling, I allowed myself the purchase of at least one piece of unique, often hand-made, jewelry from the cities that I visited. Scoring interesting finds everywhere from street corners to craft fairs and markets, I built an eclectic collection of jewelry that way. While none of the pieces I purchased had any real monetary value, they were all worth a fortune in the memories that came flooding back when I wore that ring or bracelet.

Some pieces have become part of my identity like the square, brushed-silver ring, which I purchased in Park City, Utah, while attending a training session there about 15 years. The whole group enjoyed some music at an amphitheater perched in the mountains at Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort (a real thrill!), and then the next day, while wandering around a craft fair, I fell in love with a ring handcrafted by a local silver artisan at a craft fair. It was a bit over my allotted $20 or $30 but I wore it home anyway.

For my sister’s 40th birthday, my sister, stepmom, aunt, cousin and I headed to New York City on a snowy long weekend in March. In between seeing a Broadway show, visiting the Today Show and Good Morning America, and going fake designer purse shopping in the backrooms of Chinatown, we happened upon a street vendor selling really classic silver jewelry cheap. Apparently I was still in my square phase (note the square ring above), this time picking up a pendant with three incrementally larger silver squares, one inside the other. For a number of years, the pendant was buried under a bunch of unworn pieces in my jewelry box, but last year, I found it again. Every time I wear it makes me think of getting up before the crack of dawn on a freezing cold morning to see Katie Couric and Matt Lauer with my sister.

Over the years, I’ve lost many pieces, like one of the tiny, etched-silver earrings that I bought from Native American jewelry artists in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Its surviving mate has no use for me now, but I refuse to part with it because of the memory attached. A staple of my wardrobe, a cuff bracelet I picked up in the Dallas airport mysteriously vanished one day. At Christmastime two years later, I was wrapping gifts and the missing bracelet turned up in an empty gift box in my attic. Apparently I had taken it off while opening gifts and inadvertently packed it away with the box. It again became my go-to bracelet and to this day feels like an extension of my wrist.

Even after I had the money to spring for a nice piece of jewelry now and again, I still preferred jewelry with a story attached to it rather a monetary value. Several years ago, my boyfriend and I visited Morocco for my 50th birthday. After riding a camel, taking a bus tour of Tangier, and eating an authentic Moroccan meal complete with belly dancers, we headed to a rug market in the Casbah. Little did we know that the rug market sold much more than just rugs. I was eyeing an amber stone ring with a slightly irregular (rectangular, not square this time) setting, while my boyfriend was involved in some complicated negotiations over an expensive leather bag. To sweeten Don’s deal, the fast-talking salespeople threw in the amber ring for me. The running joke was that Don had bought me a ring (it took another 2 ½ years for that to really happen!).

The next year in Paris, while Don was buying t-shirts in the Harley Davidson store, I was in an obscure little bead shop, about five doors down, using some of my high school French to purchase some delicate Art Deco-style earrings. That night I wore the earrings to dinner with Don on the Left Bank. I cannot wear those earrings today without thinking about pepper steak and moonlight over the Seine.

Don, now my husband, knows that I love jewelry from parts unknown and often will bring me a piece back from his business travels. Two of my most beloved—and often worn—pieces are a blue lapis lazuli ring from a trip he made to San Francisco and a jade and silver necklace from Hong Kong. Before she passed away, my grandmother even gave me a pearl ring she had bought for herself years before in Hawaii, which I wore in her memory on my wedding day.

My latest find was when my husband and I were back in San Francisco again. While he took a break from all the walking, I decided to wander through an art show and found a group of jewelry artists among the painters. I had been looking for a statement ring to wear on my middle finger and found an older gentleman who made the most unusual twisted wire rings. I tried on countless rings and finally settled on the first one I tried on. I’m wearing it now and it’s reminding me of the relaxing three days we spent eating Dungeness crabs, listening to blues and soaking up the sights and experiences of one of our favorite cities.