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U3A Writing: The Necklace

...Some years later his father died, by which time Dom Frano had abandoned every vestige of his Roman Catholic faith and lived like a hermit. Dispensing with formality, he heaved his dead father onto his back with no shroud or cloth to cover his body, and – much to the horror of the villagers – carried him through the village to the local burial ground where he dug a hole and unceremoniously threw his father in, without a word of prayer or a blessing of any kind. He filled up the hole and walked back to his home without speaking to any of the villagers, several of whom had gathered to commiserate....

Marija Reed tells the astonishing story of how she came to own a necklace that allegedly came from the court of Emperor Franz Joseph, ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Many years ago I owned a unique and beautiful necklace unlike any other I have ever seen, nor do I expect ever to see its like again. Legend has it that it came from the court of Emperor Franz Joseph, ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at a time when Yugoslavia still formed part of it. The necklace, together with a collection of other valuable jewellery, was acquired by one of my great-great uncles on my father’s side, apparently brilliantly clever to the point of madness. In his early youth he had left the small and primitive village in Croatia where he was born to seek his fortune in the wider world. It is not known where or how he acquired his education, but those who knew him spoke with awe of his intellect, marvelling that he could speak seven languages so fluently that no-one could tell which was his native tongue. In addition to Serbo-Croat, he spoke Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian.

Dom Frano, as he was called, was known to be highly opinionated and a law unto himself. He brooked no argument with anyone, not even the Emperor, and after many turbulent discussions on various aspects of religious dogma, they had a major disagreement. Dom Frano stuck doggedly to his opinion, refusing to change his stance, and as a result he was unceremoniously dismissed, his pay-off allegedly being a present of jewels as compensation. He was outraged and insulted at what he considered his grossly unfair dismissal, and returned to the peninsula of Peljesac where he was born to live with his aged father on the outskirts of the village. He remained in a major sulk for the rest of his life, speaking to no-one, except when he went into the village once a week to purchase a sheep and a demi-john of wine. This fed them both for a week, presumably supplemented with home grown vegetables from their little plot of ground. The procedure was repeated every week, but no one ever heard him speak a word during his visits to the village.

Some years later his father died, by which time Dom Frano had abandoned every vestige of his Roman Catholic faith and lived like a hermit. Dispensing with formality, he heaved his dead father onto his back with no shroud or cloth to cover his body, and – much to the horror of the villagers – carried him through the village to the local burial ground where he dug a hole and unceremoniously threw his father in, without a word of prayer or a blessing of any kind. He filled up the hole and walked back to his home without speaking to any of the villagers, several of whom had gathered to commiserate.

When Dom Frano himself died some years later, his relatives descended like vultures, his sisters taking most of the jewellery to distribute amongst their children. But one of the sisters who was unmarried and had no children, managed to acquire a necklace and two brooches, which she subsequently passed on to my mother. When I was due to have my first Communion on my tenth birthday, my mother produced the necklace with great pomp and ceremony and allowed me to wear it on this special occasion. Afterwards it was put away again, and years later I wore it on my wedding day and officially acquired it as the prerogative of the eldest daughter.

After my two daughters were born, my mother gave me two brooches to pass on to them when they were older. The brooches were made of 24-carat filigree gold strands entwined with seed pearls, one with an emerald in the centre and the other with a ruby, and were stunningly beautiful. But the necklace was the piece de resistance. It was exquisitely crafted in 24-carat filigree gold in the shape of a four-cornered Maltese cross and heavily encrusted with seed pearls. The gold chain went through the top corner, and pendant from the other three corners were little tear-drop bunches of filigree gold thread entwined with seed pearls.

I very seldom wore this necklace as it was simply too precious and delicate, but whenever I did, it never failed to draw admiring comments, and it’s fame spread throughout the local Croatian community, together with the rumour of its origin. When it was stolen about twelve years ago together with all my other jewellery, everyone who had ever seen me wearing it commiserated with it’s loss, including my ex-husband, who heard about the theft from my daughters and pronounced it a real tragedy.

The theft of the necklace and all my other jewellery, together with whatever else the thieves could remove from my home, happened at the beginning of what is now sardonically called the “re-distribution” process which started immediately after democratisation of the country, and has escalated exponentially ever since.

The tragedy is that a replacement necklace could never be reproduced today, as the skills and workmanship was too fine, too delicate and painstaking for modern-day jewellers to replicate. And the irony is that this exquisite piece, according to the investigating detective, would have been unceremoniously melted down together with all my other run-of-the-mill gold jewellery to prevent identification. What a waste! And what a violation that this beautiful and unique item was stolen by ignorant thugs who had no concept of it’s history or value and couldn’t care less.

I cried myself to sleep that night – not for the loss of my other jewellery, or of my clothes, or the television set and other electrical equipment, or anything else which was expendable, but for the irreplaceable necklace which, whether it was originally acquired from the court of Emperor Franz Joseph by a crazy, excommunicated catholic priest, or whether this was just a rumour and it was acquired in some other more prosaic manner, was a tremendous blow which still saddens me whenever I think of it.

But, in consolation, I still have photographs of myself wearing the necklace on my first Holy Communion and on my wedding day to prove that such a magnificent and irreplaceable piece of fine jewellery actually did exist.

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