05 October 2010

Like a Rhinestone Groundhog: Spangled Fingernail Necklace







My Uncle Joe is what you call “a man’s man.” One of those cowboy types without the cows. Think Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County. You know, the artistic wandering type in a beat up truck. Hand rolled cigarettes. Leonard Cohen on the tape deck. Yeah, you got the picture.

In addition to being an accomplished artist, Uncle Joe is a brilliant man who always has an answer for everything. Want to know how a helicopter propeller works, or how to make gorilla noises, or why the soviets invaded Finland…just ask Uncle Joe. Get yourself a cup of coffee first because you’re going to be there a while. He has an answer and an anecdote for just about everything.

Back in the day, with no 9-5 desk job to pin him down, Uncle Joe would come and stay at our house for months at a time, usually arriving and leaving without any notice or fanfare. I loved his visits. Uncle Joe represented a whole world of creativity and imagination and thinking for yourself. He treated me like a grown up. Let me play with oil paint and power tools. Used curse terms like "ass" in my presence. My world was white bread suburbia; Uncle Joe brought pumpernickel from the city.

My favorite was when he would fetch me from school at the end of the day. Where I came from, school pickup was a daily parade where women would get gussied up in their finest jewel-toned 80’s track suits, hair teased halfway to Kentucky and pearl earrings shined up like headlights.  Nowadays, I admire a woman who puts herself together, but this wasn’t about making themselves feel good it was about the race. It was about winning. To these women, raising children was a competitive sport and those jewel tone track suits and ratty hair were the uniform. I wouldn’t call them trophy wives, more just, spoiled. Hell, I was spoiled too, and even as a kid I knew something was off when 100 women got together and the only noise was the sound of snapping gum.

It’s just not right.

So there among the line of teal tracksuits and beige cars would be Uncle Joe in his beat up truck, dressed in paint stained rags, chewing tobacco, Bob Dylan on the stereo trying to drown the sound of the howling beagle running circles in the back of the truck bed, better known as my first baby child with fur: Dawg E. Dogg. The final bell would ring and I marched out to that truck pleased as punch. Kids would gawk and the moms would scowl, but I didn’t care, I loved it. It was different and by my standard, that meant it was better.

One day Tiffany Groundhog came up to me at lunchtime. We called Tiffany and her three siblings the Groundhogs because their last name started with a G and her mother’s finger nails were strikingly similar to this picture of a groundhog featured in the school’s series of animal alphabet posters. We later found out that the image in question was not a groundhog, but a wombat. To this day the poster still hangs in place and was never rectified or relabeled for fear of messing up the d├ęcor. This is a pretty good indicator of how the school operated in general: appearance before accuracy.

The Groundhogs lived nearby, and even though Tiffany and I were not exactly friends, we were close in age and comfortable enough in each other’s presence to ask for an occasional ride to dance class or Miss Patty’s napkin folding lessons. Yes, I said napkin folding class. No, I’m not joking.

On this day, Tiffany approached me next to the handball court and asked if she could tag along for a ride home. Apparently Mrs. Groundhog was home with the carpet cleaners and could not leave for even a moment, for fear they would steal her stem wear. Of course, I told Tiffany it would be no problem. I would not want her mother to risk being robbed by terrorist carpet cleaners with a penchant for Waterford crystal. I told her to meet me at the flag pole, “My Uncle is picking me up and you won’t recognize his car. We can walk over together.”

Mrs. G, as we called her, was a former model and beauty queen who prided herself on keeping her home and family pristine in appearance. Ironically, her home was a "model home" exclusively decorated in shades of white and cream. The building contractors thought it would encourage prospective buyers to see the home’s potential, while allowing them to project their own style and personality onto the space.  Back in the pre-shabby-chic days, this was considered very avante gaurde, not to mention, totally impractical. Mrs. G loved the model home so much they bought it as is, white furniture and all. Once the Groundhogs moved in, Mrs. G had to employ at least three housekeepers just to keep up with it all.

Lesson: Four anxious children + white velvet couches is never a good idea.  Frivolous as she was, I sort of admired Mrs. G. She appeared to have the perfect life and the perfect home. Everything I was bad at, or felt insecure about, Mrs. G had in spades. Her biggest problem was grass stains. Although I was too proud to admit it, I worshiped her from afar in hopes I could be like that one day.

Thank you Lord for letting me grow up and gain some common sense.

When her children’s pageant coach told her they needed piano lessons to “keep their edge”, Mrs. G went into a flurry. She bypassed the Casio keyboard and built an extension onto the front of their living room to accommodate a baby grand piano. White, of course. Every week at 4pm the piano teacher would come over for an hour of lesson time, 30 minutes of which would be spent clearing the tablescape of silk flowers and photographs from the top of the piano. That meant that all four children split the remaining thirty minute weekly lesson. That meant 7 minutes each kid. That meant Tiffany Groundhog’s rendition of “Moon River” never made it past Little Miss Washington County. That’s a shame, really.  In later years, she moved on to exercise her vocal stylings at the school talent show, singing a rousing rendition of Like a Rhinestone Cowboy in spangled western wear. Tone deaf and waving the American flag, she resembled a patriotic, pre-pubescent, Texan stripper.

That afternoon, Tiffany met me at the flag pole, same as usual. I had been looking forward to seeing the look of horror hit her face when she saw Uncle Joe’s car. Tiffany was used to cream colored Mercedes, I knew she wouldn’t be caught dead in an old pick up truck. But you know what happened? She proved me wrong. She didn’t throw a tantrum and refuse to get in at all. She twirled her hair.

TWIRLED HER HAIR I SAID.

She went all giddy and girly and couldn’t stop talking. When her Mother was around, that child wouldn’t say Boo to a Goose, but in Uncle Joe's truck she wouldn’t shut up. She wasn’t really old enough to know how to flirt, but she tried awful hard.  It was embarrassing to watch. Like a puppy learning to lick his own butt.

“Oh my goodness, this vehicle looks so ferocious! Is it really safe for a girl like me to ride in?”

Shit like that.

I was furious. That ride home was MY time. Uncle Joe was supposed to be asking ME how my day went and what I thought about Ancient Mesopotamia, not Tiffany. So I did what any good adolescent girl does best.

I sulked.

The ride was less than 10 miles but it sure seemed like an hour. Entrapment does that to you. Tiffany kept going on an on asking him questions. “How long you in town?” “What do you think of my shirt?” “Do you think club soda will get rid of this lip gloss smudge?”

Uncle Joe eventually started getting uncomfortable and shortened his typically loquacious answers. At some point in conversation Tiffany asked him if he was married, to which he answered in a single word:

“No.”

“Why not? I’ll bet your still looking for a good woman. You’ll find her, just give it time” said Tiffany, talking like she was some kind of tween Phil Donahue.

“I always say, ‘if you ever find a women who can change a tire with her teeth, then you just found my wife.’”

For a moment there, Tiffany looked perplexed, but then she shook it off and started in again with twenty questions.

I continued to perfect my sulking skills.

The Groundhog’s home had a long circular driveway out front with a small fountain in the middle. Tiffany’s three-year-old brother Jaysun (aka: Little Mr. Pink Tomato Festival 1989) was teetering on the edge. Uncle Joe, who never wore a seatbelt, was something of a safety nut when it came to kids. Upon sight of Jaysun teetering on the edge of the empty fountain, he hit the gas petal. Before the keys came out of the ignition, Uncle Joe leaped from car and grabbed Jayson, lifting him away from the fountain’s edge. Very heroic. In between my sulking sighs I squeezed in a moment to be impressed.

Within two seconds Mrs. Groundhog was on the front steps, screaming "HE’S TAKING MY BABY! STOP THAT MEXICAN! HE’S TAKING MY BABY!"

Based on her Jane Fonda suspender style leotard, I could tell Mrs. G had been working out to one of her aerobics tapes.  The sound of a high speed truck and the sight of a tan, bearded man in rags lifting her child off a fountain, somehow, gave Mrs. G the impression that a high end Central America style kidnapping was underway. Tiffany, thoroughly embarrassed of her Mother’s behavior and leotard, quickly explained there was no cause for alarm, all was fine, and she should go back in the house. Without saying one word, Mrs. G grabbed Tiffany by the ponytail and they hightailed it inside. Still sulking in the car, I rolled my eyes when I saw Uncle Joe checking out Mrs. G’s butt as she left. The woman was a humanitarian trainwreck but she had the thighs of a baby giraffe.

Two hours later, all was fine with the world. Dinner was over and Uncle Joe was in the garage helping me build one of those wooden dinosaur models. He explained that the secret to glue adhesion is high volume air surface exposure. I had no idea what that meant, but it seemed good enough for me. I heard the phone ring a few times, but someone always got it after the first ring and didn’t think much of it. It must have rang 20 times before it just plain stopped.

Ten minutes later we heard a car drive up, the door slam, and another one open. Then another door slammed. Then another one opened and slammed. Then there was shouting. It sounded like my mother’s voice was somewhere in the mix, which was highly unusual. My Mom was soft-spoken, not to mention bedridden at the time, which was not unusual. Her health was never good and my Dad was always making sure loud and disturbing noises were kept to a minimum, as not to distress her. Except for a series of internal speakers throughout the house set to play Neil Diamond songs, Mom’s favorite, there were hardly ever any loud noises around our house. This series of slamming doors was new and very scary. I looked at Uncle Joe for reassurance but he didn’t have any to offer. He told me to stay put and rushed off toward the house.

I darted for the tiny garage window to see if anything happened. The earlier discussion about Mexican kidnappings got me thinking and I wanted to keep an eye out. This stuff happened on The A Team all the time!

Not twenty feet outside the garage and Uncle Joe stopped in his tracks. My Mother’s bedroom window flew open, the screen fell out, and a blond head popped out of the hole: it was a Groundhog. The Mother. She was angry and pointed her taloned finger at Uncle Joe and screamed
"SIR, WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL ME WHY THE HELL MY HUSBAND CAME HOME TO FIND OUR DAUGHTER SUCKING ON A HUBCAP?"

Uncle Joe started laughing like a little boy who farted in church. He just couldn’t hold it inside. Eventually he calmed down enough explain that he ‘may have mentioned’ something about ‘marrying a woman who could change a tire with her teeth’ but how was he to know Tiffany was going to take it literally. He started laughing all over again.

Even from across the house, I could hear my Mother laughing in her room and clear across the house in the kitchen, my Dad was laughing too. Hard. It was a magnificent sound! There wasn’t a lot of laughing around our house at that time and it felt wonderful to hear it again, even if it was at someone else’s expense.

Mrs. G did not take to being laughed at and stormed off. An hour later she sent her husband over to teach my dad and his brother a lesson, but once they told Mr. G the story, the laughing started all over again. Somewhere along the way, they went out to the patio with a six pack and started talking about sports. What is it with men and sports? This man’s wife was running through our house screaming her head off less than an hour before, and now he was sitting on our porch happy as a clam, talking about NCAA Basketball. Typical.

I was still squatting in the garage when they finished the six pack and Mr. G drove home in the cream colored Mercedes. Things were better now, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to get in trouble for what Tiffany had done. Perhaps that makes no sense, but at the time, I was at that stage in of childhood when I thought everything was my fault. Slipping by undetected seemed like a good idea. Eventually I made my way up to the front door and slipped inside the dark house, down the hall to my room.

In the hallway, next to my door, I found something on the floor. Something sparkly and pink. It was a fingernail! A long, Lee Press-On fingernail just like they advertised on Wheel of Fortune. It must have busted off of Mrs. G’s finger when she was making a ruckus and opening doors trying to hunt down Uncle Joe. A week earlier I would have died for the chance to return such a precious valuable to Mrs. G. But now things were different. I hated that fingernail. I hated her. I hated all her spangled groundhog children, too. I stuck the fingernail in my jewelry box and decided I was going to hold it ransom. I was pretty sure she would be back for it. The bad guys always came back for their valuables. That’s how it worked on The A Team!

To my surprise, Mrs. G never came back for her fingernail. That means, for 20 some years there has been a broken fingernail in my jewelry box. Just nestled in there amongst the charm bracelets. It’s sat there for years, until today, when I dug it up, painted it, glued on a sequin and strung it around my neck like an Olympic medal.  It’s a little gross, I agree, but it makes me feel so empowered and proud. So free of expectations and obligations. Like riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.
...Like a rhinestone cowboy...

Yeah, I know you think it's weird and nasty to wear a 20+ year old acrylic nail that fell off a raging former beauty queen's hand, but you know what? I am weird. And nasty jewelry isn't always a bad thing. It's a reminder of where I have been and where I never ever want to go. And that, in my book, is a beautiful thing.








In addition to materials used to decorate the individual fingernails, I incorporated silver bits from an old earring, a navy blue pearl necklace with a 2" chain extender, and an old rhinestone flower broach/earring set. Of course, I lost one earring a long time ago. Total cost was under $5.00




1. Drill holes in your acrylic nails.
2. Decorate nails as you like. I used peach paint and silver glitter and sequins.
3. Insert jump rings through the holes, alternating with silver spangles (I salvaged off earrings, totally optional).
4. Attach jump rings to the extender chain of a pre-existing necklace. I liked the contrast between the dark/conservative pearls against the sharp/sparkly fingernails, but y'all will have to decide on your own.
5. Cover the top of the tuft with an old rhinestone broach. I just use the pin back on the broach to attach, nothng fancy. It doesn't look too pretty from behind, but it allows me to anchor the broach/tuffet/tassle of nails wherever I want it and keep it there. That's me, I like to keep things functional. Even my fingernail jewelry :)

33 comments:

  1. I am so in love with your stories, your wit, your craftiness, OH that all sounds a little stalker-ish....sorry....I just need for you to write a book. Please....Hello? Publishers? Yes....please publish Aunt Peaches!!!!

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  2. Deary me, Mich is contagious... save yourselves!

    Will sit back now and treat myself to your story. Bliss!

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  3. Girl you are too crazy for words! And knowing you, who knows what kind of secret treasures you keep and that little old jewelry box. PS: love the necklace, navy blue beads are always a fav!

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  4. I agree with knuckstermom, please write a book so that we can read lots and lots of your stories all at once and not have to wait till the next blog post!

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  5. what a hoot!!!! the tassle is great, I would never know it was mad from those plastic fingernails! And I love those golden orbs, thanks for the idea.

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  6. They have everything on this site. Stories, and crafts and fake fingernails with rhinestones. It's a good place!

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  7. Thanks for the compliments everyone :) You are far too kind and I am sure glad you enjoyed reading. To tell the truth, I just scrolled down the story to leave this comment and realized how longgggggg it is. Man alive, 24 hours of distance can really lend some perspective. It's like three paragraphs per fingernail! Please pardon me, y'all. Prescription cough syrup can bring out all kinds of crazy :)

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  8. yeah, but it's a good kinda crazy! ^_^

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  9. I just came over from Design * Sponge & saw the length of this story but dived in anyway. SOOOOO glad I did. I'm laughing out loud! Think I found a new fav in many ways!

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  10. What a fantastic story! I'll admit, I was a little thrown off when I saw that the necklace was made with fingernails...but, as always, you pulled it off into something spectacular!

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  11. Oh em gee. This was so funny I almost peed. I love Uncle Joe! I love your family! I kind of love Tiffany. And I seriously love the necklace! Funniest sentence in here, just slipped in all casual-like: "I used peach paint and silver glitter and sequins." OF COURSE YOU DID. I love this blog, lady, you are SUCH a writer.

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  12. Okay, that's got to be the grossest thing I have ever seen!! What's next? A booger bracelet?? Just kidding. However, your story is priceless even though the necklace does give me the heebie jeebies!

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  13. OMG, that is one of the most hysterical, creative brilliant posts I've read in a long time. I was so obsessed with the A Team, too! The post was not too long, you told a really great, well written story.Love the necklace!

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  14. Your Spangled Fingernail necklace is an awesome inspiration! Many thanks for sharing. I would like to feature it at http://www.handmade-jewelry-club.com/

    Contact me here if you have a concern.

    Jane
    http://diylessons.org/

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  15. Wow, this is the best craft tutorial ever. Your writing is amazing!!!!! Will you please write a craft memoir? I will personally see to it that you get it published!! :)

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  16. Aww shucks, thanks Heather! It's funny you should say that... I was just reading something about the trend in food memoirs and thought someone should do a craft/art project memoir... Don't know if that Someone is me, but it's awful nice to hear. Thanks for the kind words, Heather. I appreciate more than you know:)

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  17. This is the craziest and weirdest thing I have read or seen in a long time and i cant tell ya how much im lovin it!

    Question is, how can i make this for my mom and get her to wear it to church without knowing its fingernails?

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  18. I loved this story, which I originally clicked over to because I thought the necklace design was intriguing. You have a new fan :)

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  19. OMG Aunt Peaches!! Where have you been and what are you doing in Chicago? I have told you before we want to hear more about your life. I didn't think it could get any better than the garbage flowers. You need, no, WE need you to write that memoir. A story of your life and how each part ends up in you creating something. You write like Erma Bombeck. I think I might start an Aunt Peaches Stalker club, and I will enlist Loitering Dog to be the onsite representative because he lives in Chicago and has free time. If you see a sixtyish pixie--hippy songwriter following you on an old bicycle, that is him. We want to hear more about your mom, she must have been unique to create the peachy crafty you.
    If you don't identify those things as fake nails, they look like some type of shell. I love the necklace, it is very inspiring. Love, Ann PS I AM going to make some shoes like yours. Contact a book agent, PLEASE.

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  20. Ha! Nutbird, Loitering Dog is my fairy god father. He is married to my mom's college roomate and they have a lot to do with why I ended up in Chicago in the first place. His stories are amazing, in writing and in person too. You should call the house sometime and hear him talk about the "Cadillac of Toilets"
    I read his blog all the time and was actually in the basement when he started it. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever linked him to this blog. He is not big on crafts. I'll have to mention that we have a mutual reader :) He will get a kick out of it. Thanks for being so encouraging with you comments Nutbird. When are you going to start a blog so I can read about YOU!

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  21. uhmmm, your writing reminds me of Mary Karr's memoir "The Liar's Club" which the book club I'm in had discussed last month and I had not finished but oh boy, your writing reminds me of hers and of Jeanette Walls'memoir "Half Broke Horses". Seriously, it would be a great idea to collect these stories into something and shop it around. Wow! Looking forward to more writing like above and artistic creations.

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  22. I'm fairly new to your glittery, sparkly corner of the universe and have GOT to tell you how much I enjoy visiting here! I had pretty much surmised by the "y'alls" and what-not that you are originaly from somewhere decidedly south of Chicago, but after the mention of Miss Patty's napkin folding lessons I am totally convinced. As a Girl Raised In The South, I myself was subject to two years of CHARM CLASS for which I am now oddly grateful. Love, love , love to read your stuff! Thanks for the laughs!

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  23. hi there...i kept waiting for you to write "but i digress,"then i just resigned myself to letting you close the circle eventually. love your writing made me laugh out loud.
    and i love the heels. you have inspired me. thank you

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  24. I LOVED your story. Thank you for being real. Reminds me of my childhood. Sort of.

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  25. please write a book of short childhood stories. please. yours remind of those of the sedaris family.

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  26. Don't know if you'll ever see this as I notice the other posts are 2 years old, however, wish you lived in my neighborhood 'cause you could come over for coffee and meet me and some of my equally crazy friends, you'd fit right in. Loved the story and will be following you from now on.

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  27. Thanks For the invite!!

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  28. A very novel idea.
    I like it!!!!!

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  29. I am currently reading "Lunatic Heroes" by C. Anthony Martignetti, and couldn't believe my eyes when I came upon a story of his own press-on nail necklace from childhood! I came back here to see if the book had inspired your necklace as I can't believe yours isn't the only one. Anyway, it's in the chapter which is also titled "Lunatic Heroes" if you want to check it out.

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  30. In the chapter "Lunatic Heroes" from the book of the same name by C. Anthony Martignetti, there is a story about the author's press-on nail necklace from childhood. I can't believe yours is not the only one! By the way, this is one of my favorite posts on your site!

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  31. This is fabulous. I swear to God I knew the Groundhogs, or a family just like them. Please tell me you grew up in the South? I also love the way you have used acrylic fingernails as jewelry. Keep writing, you have a real gift.

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-AP

 
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