The prompt this week in “Heirloom” and I hope you will enjoy this true story. It is a story handed down in my father’s family about his mother’s heirloom cameo brooch. This story has been verified by a letter I was fated to find- a letter written to my dad in 1980. His mom was Cammie Lyster Swanson Lyons whom I have wrote about in earlier blogs. My dad, LaFon Lyons, had two sisters, Coralie ( the youngest) and June (see last week’s blog). They all play a part in this ghostly story of the missing cameo brooch! Parts of the story were told to me by my Aunt Coralie and the rest of the story comes from a letter that Coralie wrote to my dad, LaFon, in June of 1980. I think I was destined to find this long lost letter and now can bring the mystery of the cameo brooch to light as all who were involved have now passed.
My grandmother Cammie owned three cameo brooches. One was given to her by her husband and was a family heirloom. She always treasured it. A second cameo was given to her by a friend who brought it back from a trip to Europe for her. She used to work caring for these dear friends. The third cameo was sent to Cammie by her son LaFon when he was stationed in Alaska in WWII. They were all beautiful brooches and all were treasured. One brooch, the family heirloom from her husband, Clarence, was especially meaningful to her but one day it disappeared! It was searched and searched for. It was not to be found until 15 years later when Cammie was visiting her daughter June. Cammie caught June polishing it! June reluctantly did give it back to her mother with some dubious explanation!
(I never saw the cameo brooch but I imagine it looked like this!)
Cammie lived with her daughter Coralie and her family for years leading up to her death in 1964. Several years before she died, Cammie wanted to be sure the cameos were passed down after she died according to her wishes. She instructed Coralie to keep the heirloom cameo brooch for herself as Coralie had cared for her so many years. Also to give the brooch from LaFon to LaFon’s wife, Elma and give the third brooch from her friends to her oldest son Bill’s wife, Marion Lyons. Of course, Coralie promised she would carry out her wishes. When Cammie passed, Coralie, in her grieve, mistakenly gave the heirloom cameo brooch to June but gave Elma and Marion the brooches designated for them. June had asked for the brooch, most likely claiming a right to it as being the eldest daughter. At that time, Coralie felt she was doing the right thing. However, in June of 1980, she wrote a letter to LaFon about the brooch and doubts surfaced.
Before I discuss the letter, please understand that Coralie and my dad were very level-headed and practical people. Just ordinary folks! My grandmother did, however, believe in spirits and came from a family of “healers”, midwives and, perhaps as the rumors have it, gypsies! But my dad and Coralie were not ones to believe in spirits or ghosts! Also know that Coralie lived in lower Michigan and LaFon in Upper Michigan, about 650 miles apart.
Coralie’s own words from her letter of June 30, 1980 can tell the story best. She wrote, “I have my doubts about giving the Cameo to June. This is why. Several months ago I was lying in bed, wide awake I thought, waiting for Wayne (her husband) to get home from a meeting in Port Huron. I suddenly became very cold and uneasy and saw mom, just her face but she seemed to be trying to tell me something but I couldn’t make out what…I just dismissed it as a dream. Now, again about 2 months ago I was awakened from sleep, felt cold and as if someone had shaken me awake and I had the impression that mom was there and telling me to get the cameo from June, that she meant for me to have it, not June. I can’t put into words the experience I had and I thought I should just forget it and I was just getting flaky in my old age. Well, now I am sure that there’s more to it than that.”
Coralie goes on, “Two weeks ago, everyone was in bed and I …was sitting in the front room reading the newspaper when I had the feeling or something that the rocker across the room had moved, I was startled to say the least. I put the paper down and of course the chair wasn’t moving, but I did hear mom’s voice as plain as could be in my head and she said, ‘Ask LaFon, he knows, he’ll help you!!’ For two weeks now, I’ve tried to dismiss it from my mind but there just seems to be an urgency about it.” The rest of the letter asks LaFon for advice on whether she should ask June for the Cameo and how to do it and how LaFon could help. Coralie sent this letter to my dad’s place of work, the Forest Service in Bessemer MI instead of sending it to his home. Her reasoning was that if LaFon’s wife read it first, she may question Coralie’s sanity! (I am sure my mom wouldn’t have!)
Now the surprising thing is that LaFon also had two or three visions of his mother around the same time period unknown to Coralie! He told me back then how his mother’s face appeared to him near our front door and she told him to get the cameo brooch from June and give it to Coralie! Now, this was not something my dad would make up and he believed what he saw. All this happened before he got the letter from Coralie! Knowing how much the heirloom meant to his mother, he was understandably upset that June had the brooch, not Coralie. Coralie thought that if she asked June for the brooch, “June would have some excuse why she couldn’t give it back. Anything from her right to it to it being lost again or missing or something.” (Quote from letter)
I want to think that Coralie got the brooch back and this story had a happy ending but unfortunately it doesn’t. Coralie and LaFon did discuss the issue I know but were never able to recover the brooch from June. Although June passed away before Coralie, it was never returned to Coralie and the heirloom cameo brooch’s whereabouts are still a mystery to this day.
LaFon and Coralie in about the 1950’s!
Sources for this blog are conversations with my Aunt Coralie and my dad plus the letter Coralie wrote to LaFon in 1980. Copies of the letter can be shared with interested relatives!