SHE WAS ONLY 6 or 7 years old, but Carole Marshall remembers watching her mother clean out the jewelry drawer in her dresser.
Upending the drawer onto the bed, her mother rummaged through the pieces, holding one up and saying, “This necklace belonged to Aunt Jane,” or, “This watch was my grandmother’s.”
Opening a small velvet bag, her mother turned its contents out onto the bedspread — a gold-link bracelet with a pendant of seven different stones.
“She picked it up, fingered it and said, ‘Someday, I’ll tell you about this,’” Marshall said. “Then she put it back in the pouch.”
When her mother died in 1994, Marshall, an only child, was going through her mother’s things and came across the pouch.
Inside was the bracelet, about which Marshall knew nothing except what her mother did tell her: that the first letters of the stones — diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, topaz — spell out a word: dearest.
“I had no idea what the history of the bracelet was,” Marshall said. “Then I thought, ‘I’m going to give it a history by writing a novel.’”
Marshall uses the bracelet as a link in her novel Dearest, which was released in December.
Like jewelry jumbled in a drawer, pieces of the plot rummaged around in her head for a long time, Marshall said. Then one day, everything fell into place.
“It’s how I approach fiction,” she said. “When I actually sit down and write, I have the story — a beginning, a middle and an end.”
The original Port Townsend Neighbor columnist, Marshall is more known for her nonfiction.
She started the column in 1999, then moved to larger markets in 2001, producing regional stories for American Profiles magazine.
She also wrote health-related articles, drawing on her background in physical therapy.
Her first book, Maximum Fitness, Minimum Risk, was published in 2005.
When she pitched the book proposal, she hadn’t written a single word but signed a contract to produce it in six months.
Completing it took her writing career to the next level.
“I came to realize that I love to be left alone to write book-length projects,” Marshall said, “and I knew I’d never go back.”
Another memory provided grist for the novel’s plot: When she was 13 years old, Marshall, who grew up in New York, was on vacation at Jersey Shore.
She had gone out to the porch and picked up a newspaper, where she read about a baby whose body was found wrapped in a blanket in a box.
The fact that the baby’s identity was unknown made a deep impression.
“I thought, ‘How could this be?’” Marshall said. “How could a child not have an identity?
“I never forgot it.”
Giving the bracelet and baby a backstory provided the frame for the novel, she said, but the main character took longer to emerge.
Amelia Payne, like Marshall, grows up in the Bronx and is an only child.
But unlike Marshall’s parents, Amelia’s mother and father are in show business, which makes her family different from everyone else’s.
That embarrasses Amelia, who moves to Seattle when she is an adult and attempts to close herself off from the first part of her life.
The wall is broken when a childhood friend contacts Amelia and asks her to help him find a missing piece of his own history.
Marshall draws from her husband’s memories of childhood for Amelia’s parents — Jim Marshall’s father and grandfather were in show business — but as an author, she is guided by E.L. Doctorow’s maxim.
“The quality of a book lies in how much it reflects the life of the reader, not the writer’s,” Marshall said.
Her favorite author is John Irving, whom she admires for being able to take the reader into a story that is close to unbelievable and then bring them back again.
Characters in Dearest, from Amelia’s grandfather Toby to her parents’ show-business friends, provide a window into growing up in a colorful family who lives outside the lines.
“I’m not an eccentric person, but I’m fascinated by eccentricity, by the way people are and think and behave as their normal, and by the psychic freedom that allows them to do that,” Marshall said.
“Maybe I’m a closet eccentric — I get it and I see it but can’t be it, so I write about it.”
The book also explores what happens when family secrets, like a bracelet, start to surface and how they threaten conceptions of identity.
Dearest is available as an e-book through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Cogito Media Group.
Marshall’s website is at www.carolemarshallstudio.com.
Curious about acrostic jewelry, I looked it up on online and found out a lot on www.sentimentaljewelry.blogspot.com.
Acrostic jewelry originated in France with the interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics and codes and was popular through the 19th century, according to the blog.
Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned a number of acrostic bracelets; photos show one that spells out his name and date of birth in gems, another the name and birthday of wife No. 2, Marie Louise, and a third with the date of their meeting and marriage.
Napoleon also commemorated his victory at Lucca, Italy, with a bracelet to a niece born after the battle and named for her uncle.
Acrostic jewelry was also used to express political views.
Corn Law opponents in England wore pins that spelled “Repeal” in gemstones.
Italians expressed their support for Victor Emanuel by shouting “Viva Verdi” and wore gemstone pins spelling out the composer’s name, an acrostic for “Vittorio Emanuele Re (king) D’Italia.”
Acrostics were also used as a literary device.
Both Edgar Allan Poe and Lewis Carroll wrote poems with first lines that spelled out the name of a person — “Elizabeth” for Poe and “Alice” for Carroll.
And the use of acrostics has had a resurgence in a modern medium: texting, FWIW.
Our minister, Wendell Ankeny, loves the Nativity story and on New Year’s Day extended Advent an extra Sunday by focusing his sermon on it.
One point Ankeny made: that being a shepherd was not considered a prestigious profession in Hebrew culture.
So unlike the figures in Christmas pageants, the shepherds abiding in the fields were not rosy-cheeked boys in bathrobes with fake beards.
Instead, they were more like men you might see in the Boat Haven, with a few days’ growth of beard.
It was the shepherds, however, who first heard the good news that the angels proclaimed from the heavens: that Christ was born in Bethlehem.
And it struck me why: Shepherds, like sailors, look up.
I have heard that human beings are not genetically programmed to look up and from experience know that it is true.
Perhaps developing the ability to walk upright favored people who looked down at their feet or ahead to where they were going.
So this New Year, in addition to looking down at your cellphone for messages or ahead to the week’s appointments on your calendar, I suggest doing this: Look up.
There might be a message.