Why I treasure my 'Oklahoma diamonds'

Maxine Russell was the poet laureate of Minnesota some years ago. She was a family friend, the daughter-in-law of my grandparent's best friends. Their son Bim was a childhood friend of my father.

My father, Bim's father and Bim were all named Bob (Robert). But we called Maxine's husband Bim, not Bob. We called his father “Big Bob,” and he was big — a local merchant and a Shriner who played the huge round chest drum in holiday parades.

Maxine and my mother were fast friends. I suppose it was partially because they were both the “in-laws” in that tightknit circle, but I think more likely because they were a lot alike, both ahead of their times in action, attitudes and thinking. Stick with me … this is going somewhere.

Maxine was 7 years older than her husband and he adored her. My mother was three years younger than her husband, my father, and he adored her. Neither one of them, Mother nor Maxine, were restricted by their times or by really conventional roles. Each had a “flair,” people would have said back then — spoke their minds, very independent. And they both outlived their husbands.

Maxine wrote this wonderful poem about her husband, about sitting on their favorite stone bench in their garden in Minneapolis.

Time, Space, Love

I write you this letter from the granite bench by the rose-hawthorn tree where we often met through a lifetime of happiness.

I know you are gone to the leeward side of the river where mother and father wait in the wind-warmed hills, where I too shall rest amid markers of enduring loam.

I write you this letter from the granite bench by the rose-hawthorn tree where we no longer meet though the traces of love remain etched in the stone.

Well, once on a trip up to Minnesota about 2007, I called Maxine to say hi and she invited us to come visit her at her lake home near Brainerd, my hometown, where she had retired after years living in Minneapolis. Baheej, my sister-in-law Joni, and I went.

She was in her early 90s then. Sharp as a tack. At one point she got up from her chair and said, “I have something for you.” She went to another room and came back with her latest book of poetry, and a little jewelry box. She said, “Your mother gave these to me a long time ago, and I want you to have them. Your mother said they were Oklahoma diamonds. She said they were her own mother's.”

It was a enameled box with a sparkling blue broach and matching “clip” earrings. Very pretty, circa 1950. Costume jewelry. I was so surprised. And amused, of course. “Oklahoma diamonds!” Exactly something Mother would have said! My mom grew up on a wheat farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression — safe but bare bones. Plenty to eat, but no real diamonds.

Anyway, I was very touched to have them, and it was so thoughtful of Maxine to give them to me. Mom was already gone, and it was the first I'd heard of this, although I must have seen grandmother wearing them at some point growing up.

My mother had drive and ambition. She was loving and generous. She had imagination and, as many parents who grew up in the Depression, she made sure her own children had comforts she didn't have. Actually, these broaches have come into a sort of retro-style these days. Who knows, perhaps I will wear it on some special occasion.

But the point is: In addition to many happy memories, I only have two items from my grandparent's Hicks home — that is, from my mother's parents. A pretty green glass pickle dish used for Sunday dinners, and my grandmother Hicks' “Oklahoma diamonds.” I will keep the Oklahoma diamonds and give the pretty green pickle dish to my sister. Thank you Maxine.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

This blue broach and matching "clip" earrings once belonged to Susan Anderson-Khleif's maternal grandmother. Susan Anderson-Khleif
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