Home >> A Issues >> Columnists >> Barreca >> Columnists: Regina Barreca: Charmed, I’m Sure

Search form

Education Humor
With Regina Barreca

Charmed, Im Sure


Works like a charm, I laugh, walking towards my 8 a.m. class. My students raise their sleepy heads and open their heavily-lidded eyes because they hear, from a quarter of a mile away, the distinctive clank of two heavy bracelets as I walked down the hallway.

Maybe it is not exactly like one of those movies where a bell makes the zombies wake up and face their earthly lives, but hey -- it is not as far off as you might imagine.

Its more like belling a cat. The bracelets give away my approach. For a teacher, that is a good thing. No student wants to be taken by surprise. Especially on a Monday morning.

Let em know youre on the way. They sit up straight, get out their books, shuffle in their seats, and look alert. Then, all because of a couple of loud accessories, everybody learns happily ever after. The figurative use of loud means overdone or vulgar -- and the bracelets are certainly that. They are also literally loud. I embrace both connotations.

I wear the chains I forged in life! curses Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol. Marley doesnt mean this in a nice way. Dickens wanted his readers to remember that the only valuable legacies are those which pass along goodness of heart and generosity of spirit to the next generation. Dickens was not -- and I say this as an English teacher -- talking about giving tacky jewelry to your niece.

Having said this, I want to argue that the trinkets I wear on special occasions (or even on everyday ones, such as the days I teach) were forged in the lives of others. These heavy bracelets are not my chains.

They are my charms.

Two aunts (out of 17), Rose and Regina, had matching charm bracelets and these circles of gold are now mine. Having neither children nor riches of their own, the bracelets are the sum of what these good women left behind. Worth maybe 100 bucks a piece, they are nevertheless priceless records of the highlights of Res and Roses lives.

There are, of course, the usual suspects: a St. Christopher medal hangs from both. (Question: does St. Chris still count? I adored St. Christopher as a child and attended his namesake of a parish in Baldwin, New York, but I wonder whether I can still count on the downsized saint when I fly or drive long distances late at night. Is he merely a consultant nowadays, working on a case-by-case basis?) I liked the caretaking nature of this saint and am happy hes included. I am proud to wear his medal. I dont care if he is no longer playing full-time on the varsity team; he remains one of my favorites.

There are fish. Italian women seem to have these on every bracelet. I am not exactly sure what they mean -- since there are no vegetables or carbohydrates, I take it my aunts were not trying to represent the food groups -- yet he fish are delicately flexible and wonderfully detailed. Do they act as a guarantee of plenty? Good luck? A wish for an abundance of low-fat foods?

Other talismans grope toward more precise meanings: a Mezuzah hangs from Reginas bracelet as loving testimony of her marriage to Billy Eldridge, a riotously funny man who taught us that Jews and Italians are virtually identical when it comes to the important stuff, such as the following: an emphasis on food, mothers, guilt, and the need for children under 18 years of age to wear sweaters in July because there might be a breeze. So does the bracelet indicate an unspoken wish for diversity, perhaps?

Aunt Roses bracelet has a fabulous little hat with tiny pearls as pom-poms, a souvenir from when she and my uncle spent a whole afternoon in Mexico during their big drive across the country. There is also a state map of New York alongside a calendar page with her birthday marked by the smallest of semi-precious stones. Aunt Res biggest charms are, oddly enough, one of the Virgin Mary and one of a horse. My aunt was no equestrian; she liked to play the ponies. Im sure that prayer was uttered at Aqueduct. Maybe the combination is not so odd after all.

The charms glitter and jangle and make noise and make me happy and help me to remember their original owners.

Im glad I took the bracelets out of the back of a drawer. I am delighted to send their bells peeling into the spring air. My students tease me about wearing such outdated accessories but that's okay because I can then comment on their choices of clothing (outfits I would have, in an earlier time, associated with "women of low morals" inmates of federal prisons) and "stuff" (including sneakers with bells, whistles, lights, and, for all I know, miniature television screens and tiny fridges). My aunts would have loved to know that a whole new generation is listening to them, if only by proxy.