The Necklace Lady

The Necklace Lady


At least once a week, and more during the summer, I wear the turquoise bead necklace that my friend Jutta made me over ten years ago. Like Jutta, the necklace is beautiful and exotic, its beads brought back from Kenya, where her youngest spends her summers, studying chimpanzees. So the bead supply is ongoing.

I love their odd shapes, asymmetrical yet complementary, and the shifting shades of turquoise tinged with silver loops and links here and there. Best of all is the empowerment this necklace gives me whenever I put it on.

It is a special gift from the amazing life force that I met when I took my first teaching job fifty years ago. At twenty-five, I felt heroic, trying to juggle life as a wife, mother of toddlers, and work—until I met Jutta down the hall, who humbled me. At forty-three, she managed her family of five, and put on an amazing fourth grade production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and gave a dinner party for thirty-six that same night. Of course, she’d cooked everything from scratch, Berlin specialties such as Konigsberger Klopse(meatballs).

They were recipes from her first life before Hitler; before her mother hid a resister who was later caught, tortured, and confessed; before the aristocratic family was jailed in a Berlin prison; before the guards set them free when the Russian troops were a mile away.

Jutta and her sweetheart Helmuth were the first couple to marry in Berlin after the war. (You can see a wonderful video of their story, Surviving Hitler: A Love Story, with trailers on Youtube.–n6k6lH3o.) On that day they vowed, she told me more than once, never to be sad again—not after their luck to stay alive for each other. They kept that vow when they came to America to start again, and Jutta kept it even after Helmuth died at fifty-four from a heart attack, probably caused by Gestapo torture. For Helmuth had had a role in the July 20th plot to kill Hitler in 1944, and when it failed, the key officers were immediately shot. But Helmuth’s execution was delayed and, miraculously, when he was to be shot, Allied bombs dropped on the prison where he was being held.

When Helmuth died (playing tennis), Jutta built a little house in the New Hampshire woods, near her daughter, and designed it to stay there until she died. There was a bedroom on the first floor and a place for live-in help upstairs when needed, but then the little strokes called TSA’s began, and driving became an issue, and live-in help impossible to find.

So Jutta said yes to her son’s invitation to live on his farm, hours away, IF she could have the cabin in his woods. It was rundown, but she saw possibilities, and said, “I need that. To work, not to sleep!” So her son fixed the roof and built walls of pine shelves with cabinets below—and two large wooden worktables. While others, dislodged at eighty-one, settled for watching TV and sorting old photos, Jutta went to her “magic little studio,” as she called it. Within a year, it became the home of “The Necklace Lady.”

That was her name at every craft fair within a hundred miles.  People came from everywhere to own these bright, oddly asymmetrical necklaces sold by a regal, silver-haired figure, statuesque, with a delightful German accent and a dimpled smile. At eighty-eight she was still at her booth almost every weekend.

I am well into my seventies now, and when my knee creaks or my sciatica flares, I tell myself: You are four years younger than when Jutta reinvented herself. There’s no excuse for not finding magic wherever it is.  And then, especially on drab winter days, I put on her necklace and touch it often.

Mimi Schwartz’s recent books include When History Is Personal (2018); Good Neighbors, Bad Times- Echoes of My Father’s Germany Village (2008); Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed (2002); and Writing True, the Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction, co-authored with Sondra Perl (2006). Her short work has appeared in Agni, Creative Nonfiction, The Writer’s Chronicle, Calyx, Prairie Schooner, Tikkun, and The Missouri Review, among others. A recipient of the Foreword Book of the Year Award in Memoir and the New Hampshire Outstanding Literary Nonfiction Award, Schwartz’s essays have been widely anthologized and ten have been Notables in the Best American Essays Series.  She is Professor Emerita in writing at Richard Stockton University and gives talks and creative writing workshops nationwide and abroad. 



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