Highways and an Heirloom

Associate Editor Kelly Kramer with her grandfather, George Kearns, circa 1987.

Often, when I speak to college students about Arizona Highways, I hear things like, “My grandparents love your magazine!” It always makes me chuckle a little bit, because this younger generation seems to associate the publication with age.

I also have to laugh because my own grandparents loved Arizona Highways. In fact, I like to think that the magazine played a part in their decision to move from Michigan to Arizona in the 1970s. How could they resist the photographs, the lure of desert sunsets, the West — all creosote-dotted and wide-open?

They’ve been gone now for more than a decade, my grandparents — cancer is cruel that way — but my mom holds on to many of their old issues of the magazine, along with books published under the Highways imprint and a copy of Jack Dykinga’s Arizona. I visit my parents’ house each Sunday with my husband and my son, and it makes me smile to know that Arizona Highways was a part of my history before I was a part of Arizona Highways.

By the time I was around and old enough to notice, my grandfather had a little workshop in his garage. There, he crafted pieces of silver into belt buckles, rings and bolo ties. Some bore Indian symbols. Others were inlaid with turquoise. It was clear that the Hopi and Navajo cultures influenced his work, and it was beautiful.

When he came inside after an afternoon in the shop, my grandfather smelled of sweat and solder and something sweet — the remnants, maybe, of his beloved Irish Spring soap. He’d sit in his recliner, in a living room decorated with framed DeGrazias, and read the paper. He’d listen to a record and tell me that the music — the swell of an orchestra, the clash of cymbals — told the story of marching dinosaurs, and I believed him.  I realize now that these were the comforts of a man who’d done his job for the day and done it well. I loved him the way he loved Arizona — deeply and without pause.

One day last week, my  mom handed me something. It wasn’t a ceremonious gesture by any means, just an oh, hey, here as I walked out the door. I recognized it immediately as the ring my grandmother wore on her right hand — a sterling-silver disc etched with a Hopi-style bear claw. On the back, my grandfather stamped his initials, GK, before he gave it to her, his Helen. She wore it all the time, and now it belongs to me.

I feel something when I wear the ring, although I don’t know how to articulate what that something is. I suppose, in a way, it’s a sense of loss — I miss GK and his Helen and those dinosaur marches — but I suppose it’s also something akin to pride. How wonderful to wear something that my grandfather made, something that descended, in a sense, from his flipping through the photographs in Arizona Highways.

— Kelly Kramer, Associate Editor

1 Comment

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One response to “Highways and an Heirloom

  1. What a lovely story. I grew up in New Mexico, and my grandmother had very little jewelry, but she did have 2 bracelets, silver, Zuni. She gave me one when I started college, and I lost it the very first time I wore it (urggg). My grandmother didn’t get angry, she just gave me her one other bracelet. I managed to hold on to that one for over 20 years, long after she was gone from this world.

    Unfortunately, that bracelet was stolen along with a few other things of mine in 2004.

    But my good kind grandmother gave me yet another chance, I like to think. Your story reminded me.

    My grandmother wore two rings, her wedding ring, and another from my grandfather. He gave it to her at some point during the course of their 60+ years of married life. My grandmother always told me the ring was only costume jewelry, nothing special, though she wore it every day for decades. I’d forgotten about that ring over the years.

    My grandparents are buried here in Phoenix, where I live. After visiting their grave recently, I found a small package in my P.O. box. It was from my father, sent from across the country, just before he passed away. He had kept the ring and wanted me to have it. I never had a chance to ask him why he held on to it for so long and never mentioned it to me, as we talked about everything.

    The ring is kind of quirky. I took it to a jeweler. No, it is isn’t a worth a fortune, or anything dramatic! However, it IS a well-made band of 18K gold, inset with several rows of very tiny imitation precious stones.

    I feel so close to my grandmother again, whenever I wear it, all these years later. I’m happy that you too now have something tangible to remind you of your grandmother and grandfather.

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