As I held the delicate heart-shaped pendant and chain in my hand, it grew warmer as if sending out waves of love. I wondered about its past. Who had originally owned it and why had it ended up here? Its latch resisted my prying fingers so I couldn't see what was inside but decided to buy it anyway. At home, I could use a pointed nail file to pry it open.
In my drafty studio apartment I placed the locket on a thread bare kitchen towel laid on the cracked Formica counter top. I gently worked at it until it popped open. Smiling at me was a handsome, young man wearing a naval uniform. It looked like a picture from a photo booth. Opposite it was a scrap of paper, folded to fit inside.
Oh my goodness, I thought. Maybe this will be like those romance novels with messages in a bottle. With trembling fingers I smoothed out the note. It was handwritten and faded. I could barely make out the words. But I read:
“Margie, Remember me always, for I will never forget you. All my love, all my life. Ralph. 5/30/44.”
A sailor named Ralph. I plopped down on a kitchen chair. My grandpa's name was Ralph and he was a sailor who served in World War II. I shook my head, no, it couldn't be. It would be too much of a coincidence. And as a science major I didn't believe in coincidences. And besides, my grandma's name was Helen, not Margie. But still....
I put the picture and note in my small jewelry box, which held the few gifts I received when my parents were alive. I polished the little necklace as best I could with my white toothpaste, all I had for such cleaning and tried not to think about a possible connection between what I was working on and my grandfather.
The party for my niece, Emma, was in two weeks, so I had plenty of time to let the mystery of the locket fester in my brain. One of the reasons I wanted to be a scientist was because my bump of curiosity was 'too big for my own good'. My mother always told me that when I asked too many questions. It annoyed me then, but now I wished I could hear her say it again.
Grandpa Ralph and Grandma Helen lived in a small condo at Shady Acres, an assisted living facility. They were both 86 years old and insisted they 'didn't need any help' but agreed to move there when they 'lost' their driving licenses as the facility provided free transport around town. I tried to bus over to visit them once a week.
When he opened the door, Grandpa grunted his usual refrain, “Welcome to Shady Acres. Don't it sound like a cemetery. Come on in and sit a spell, but don't stay too long or they might try to bury you.”
“Where's Gran?” I asked as I followed him into the cheery yellow living room. It smelled faintly of cinnamon. Grandma must have been baking.
“Oh, she's at her bridge club. Actually, it's more her gossip club, if you ask me. Those women never stop talking long enough to make a bid.”
“Good.” I murmured as I sat on the faded floral couch.
“What's good about it?” His light blue eyes stared at me.
“No, no,” I stammered. “It's just that I wanted to ask you something when she wasn't around.”
“Now that sounds exciting. Secrets, huh.” He perked up. It almost looked as if his long ears were stretching forward to catch my every word.
I didn't know how to ask him what might be a very sensitive question. But I thought I best be direct about it.
“Grandpa, I found a picture in an old locket and I wondered if it could be you?”
“Me? What the heck would a picture of me be doing in a locket?” He sputtered.
“Could you just look at it and let me know?” I handed the small picture to him. I had put it a clear plastic envelope, the type that some greeting cards come in. I suppose it was silly, but I thought I should protect it.
He shoved his glasses on his nose and peered down at it. He squinted his eyes and moved the picture back and forth.
“Jumpin' Jehoshaphat! That's me! Where'd you get this? I must've been 18 years old. I sat in one of them photo booths before I sailed for the Pacific.”
“I found it in an old locket in a resale shop. But there's more. It also had a note from the sailor.”
“You mean from me?” He grinned and ran his gnarled hand over his balding head. “I just can't believe it turnin' up after all these years. What'd it say?”
“Well,” I hesitated. This might be embarrassing. I worried about what might have happened to Margie, the love of his life. But I carried on, as they say. “It was to someone named Margie and you said you would love her all your life.” I paused and then asked the fatal question. “Who's Margie?”
Grandpa laughed so hard I was afraid he'd choke. When he could talk, he said, “So that's why you were glad your Grandma Helen wasn't here. Don't worry, she knows all about it.”
“Oh, that's good, but I don't see why it's so funny.” I was peeved after all the worrying I had gone through.
“It's sort of like that Shakespeare fellow said, 'what's in a name'. Your grandma's full name is Margaret Helen, so of course everyone called her Margie. When I came back from the war, hale and hearty, God be praised, I married a woman I thought was named Margie. But in 1952 when the show 'My Little Margie' came on TV, my dearly beloved wife announced she was dropping the ditzy Margie name. She wanted to be known as the more sophisticated name of Helen forevermore. And so she has. But how did you get that locket?”
“That's another story, for another time.”