Friday, August 22, 2008

An 18k Cruising Altitude

As I was typing yesterday's post about karma and coincidences, Delta paged me over the intercom. I had already switched to an aisle seat. (I was hoping the announcement of my name indicated a free upgrade, natch.) The agent asked me if I was willing to switch to another aisle seat, so that she could seat a family together. I said yes and went back to typing.

We boarded the plane and an unremarkable looking older woman took the seat next to me. Ordinarily I shove my nose in a book and stick to myself when I fly. However, we sat on the runway for an hour+. (The gas gauge was broken, so they emptied the tank and put in a full tank to be safe. Comforting, right?) I was decked out in the lymph garments. So hot. I've taken to wearing a rubber glove over my compression glove, so that I can wash my hands normally. It also keeps the glove in better shape. I was so incredibly overtired and marginally delirious yesterday that I don't remember exactly how breast cancer came up. She asked me if she could help me--an 80-year-old, frail looking woman offering to help me, how sweet. We segued into the breast cancer conversation. Natch, she'd had it eight years ago. And, natch, she'd been treated at Sloan. She was en-route to her condo on Collins Ave. and then a wedding in Palm Beach. She's a snowbird who spends most of her time in Riverdale. We begin talking about BC, but also about politics and the content of the People mags I had on the plane. We gushed about Ellen and Portia's wedding and how far our country had come. At the same time, we were lamenting what a shitty state the U.S. was in and how we were keeping our fingers crossed that Obama would choose a VP that would harness more votes for him.

As an immigrant from the Czech Republic at 17, she relayed how much the U.S. meant to her. And I agreed that us native-born citizens certainly didn't appreciate what we had as much as people such as herself, who'd really seen some bullshit go down in their own countries.

Now, a word about her appearance and not judging books by their covers. Or people by their clothes and accessories. This whole cancer thing has made me a lot less judgmental. She's wearing a blue cable-knit sweater, light jeans, sandals with nude hose peeking out, simple, understated jewelry. She tells me her life story--well, what she could fit of her 80 years into a three-hour plane ride. (As an aside, I love observing, talking and learning from old people. Chances are, they have fascinating stories to tell.)

She's Jewish. Near the end of the flight I ask her what business she was in. Antiques. Major ones. For 50+ years in the city. Guess what my next question was? Oh, no idea, right?

"Did you do jewelry?"

"Oh, yes," she says passionately. Bingo.

Now we're even faster friends. She starts telling me about how they'd buy from estates and how heartbreaking it was when the families of the deceased had no interest in keeping their family heirlooms. Sometimes she even talked people into keeping stuff, and later they thanked her. She began telling me about a fabulous diamond she had sitting at home that neither of her children wanted to keep.

I told her about my meshuga grandmother Roxy and her out-of-control jewelry habit. I tell her that my most emotionally valuable pieces are the ones that were worn by Roxy and my paternal grandmother. I tell her about two of my favorite suites, a pale coral bracelet and necklace, and a lavish pair of jade and diamond earrings and bracelet.

"Wait, maybe I'm wearing them in some of the photos in the camera! As I bend down to extract my camera: "Oh, doy, I have them in my bag!"

I remove my three jewelry bags and we put our tray tables down, oblivious to the fact that we're on a plane. As far as we're concerned, we're in a jewelry store.

I show her the coral first. I knew that pale coral is extremely rare and valuable nowadays because the reefs are protected. When I show her mine, a look of appreciation crosses her face.

"Oh my. Look at this. This is Angelhair Coral. Some of the most valuable kind. Just beautiful."

I'd told her we haven't appraised a lot of Roxy's items. What do we care? Roxy stipulated in her will we were never allowed to sell her pieces.

"You must go to Sotheby's to have this appraised. You must."

I always loved these pieces and knew they were special, but here I was with a true expert, validating my power of selection. (I took them, with permission, from mom who never wore them.)

I then show her the jade pieces and again she's overwhelmed. I promise her I will go to Sotheby's and have them take a look-see. She then starts talking about what she is wearing. A beautiful star sapphire that had belonged to her husband, set in a simple gold band. Another gold ring with two letters that her mom had gifted to her and her sister when they came to America. An ancient Grecian cameo-type charm with Athena etched into the carnelian. She turns around her wedding ring and shows me a simple diamond that was her engagement ring. This is a woman who I'm guessing has a lot of jewelry at home that Sotheby's would be glad to get their hands on. I love this woman, and decide she is more than worthy of my Neiman Marcus Last Call secret location that nobody goes to in Miami. She then pulls out her jewelry case from a pedestrian-looking, worn, tan leather handbag. She pulls out an 18k gold and pearl bracelet from the 18th century. I offer to drop her off in North Miami on my way home but she insists she is fine taking a shuttle. C'mon, how cute is that? I give her one of my cards and insist that she gets in touch when she's back in town for the winter. We hadn't even exchanged names yet. We deplane, hug and say our good-byes. She promises to get in touch. I do hope she does, and I'm going to call Lynn to see if she is going to the PB wedding, which is a Jewish one of a couple who lives next to Mar-a-Lago.

"Tell her I will be in a blue dress," she says.

I'd spoken to her about my weird, coincidental experiences, for which she had a simple explanation.

"It's because you take the time to talk to people."

"Well, only sometimes. Normally I don't talk to people on planes."

"That is something else we have in common."

I'm so grateful we made an exception this time.