It looks like a glass teardrop there in my hands. I tip it this way and that, watching the tiny white pieces inside floating up and down in the clear liquid, catching the light and glowing with bits of colored fire. I’ve never seen anything so magical.
“Grannie, what IS this?” I breathe. I can see it’s a necklace. It has a little cap of silver leaves and a silver chain.
She understands. “A floating opal,” she replies, rummaging through her jewelry box.
I can’t look at anything else.
I wonder about the liquid. Is it water? From where? A magic spring bubbling up in a wizard’s garden? What if it isn’t water but tears cried by an enchanted princess and collected in the teardrop-shaped globe as a powerful talisman? Why is the opal in little pieces and how can there be such fiery red, blue, and green in its luminescent whiteness? Colored fire burning in water…is there a spell on this floating opal? What does it MEAN?
I don’t even realize how spellbound I am, or how long I would sit staring at this otherworldly object, until Grannie speaks, breaking the hypnosis:
“You can keep it, if you want.”
I’ve loved opals ever since. Their beauty, their symbolism, their lore. They’re said to be stones of emotion, freedom, and independence; that certainly sounds like my Grannie, who had a fiery streak herself. It sounds like what she may have wished for me. Opals also have a mixed-bag reputation of misfortune and hope, and once it was believed that an opal wrapped in a bay leaf would render a person invisible; it was accordingly dubbed patronus furum, “patron of thieves,” says the International Gem Society.
Come to think of it, I never did ask Grannie how she came by this floating opal…not that she would have taken it. Surely not. But as freely as she gave it, I wonder: Might it have belonged to my Papa G’s first wife who died years before? A floating opal necklace like this dates to the 1940s…
No matter, really, as was it my grandmother’s to give thirty-something years later, and I was the receiver.
Recently I stumbled upon this story about opals I’d never heard before One more mesmerizing, mysterious thing… courtesy of the International Gem Society:
In a chapter of Sir Walter Scott’s 1829 gothic novel, Anne of Geierstein, we learn the unusual story of the enchanted and mysterious Lady Hermione.
The grandmother of the titular character, she appeared to possess magical powers. At times, she seemed more an indefatigable spirit — an ignis fatuus or will-o’-the-wisp — than human. She always wore in her hair a golden clasp with an opal that “amid the changing lights peculiar to that gem, displayed internally a slight tinge of red like a spark of fire.” This gem seemed to reflect her moods, showing “a twinkling and flashing gleam which seemed to be emitted by the gem itself” whenever she became animated or agitated, “as if it sympathized with the wearer’s emotions.”
On the day of her daughter’s christening, drops of holy water struck her opal, which “shot out a brilliant spark like a falling star, and became the instant afterwards lightless and colorless as a common pebble.” Hermione then collapsed. Two hours later, all that remained of her was a handful of gray ashes.
So. A grandmother, a granddaughter… named Anne.
Let me just say that Ann is my middle name.
I will not even address the name Hermione in this legend; I will just let Harry Potter fans savor that on a whole ‘nother level with me.
And let me also say that somehow, in the passing of the years, Grannie’s floating opal got misplaced. When one of my babies snapped the chain long ago, I put the teardrop pendant somewhere for safekeeping. I finally found it in a little heart-shaped velvet case inside a larger jewelry box.
The globe had separated from the silver-leaf cap. The liquid had dried up. All that remained were the little pieces of broken opal.
Tears welled in my eyes; I couldn’t help wondering if the opal stopped floating when my Grannie died.
But, if I ever write a fantasy someday, you can be sure a floating opal will play a significant role.
Photo: Vintage floating opal necklace on Etsy.
Looks exactly like Grannie’s when I first saw it.
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 15, I am writing around a word beginning with letter o.