Christmas morning in the Heebner house is an awesome affair: There’s a tricked-out Douglas Fir in the den, dogs tearing open their own holiday presents, and the Heebners—my husband, Jeff; my mother-in-law, Gretchen; my sister-in-law, Karyn; and my brother-in-law, Alan—sipping coffee and happily taking turns opening our own gifts. It’s a holiday tradition I’ve treasured for more than 20 years, and I hope to be blessed with many more to come.
It’s also been three years since my father-in-law, Jeff Sr., passed, and his presence continues to be sorely missed. He was a larger-than-life figure, with a booming voice and over-the-top habits—cramming a nearly 12-foot tree into a room that can only accommodate a 10-footer, and loading up the tree and exterior landscaping with a Times Square-worthy amount of lights that typically shorted circuits at least once during the Christmas season. He celebrated the holidays—and his life—in an excessive, Griswold-like fashion that gave our family many happy memories, but also caused him to exit the world too soon. And while we all do our best to keep his spirit alive (I routinely, and unsuccessfully, plead with Gretchen and hubby to get a massive tree), I thought of another more practical way to “keep Dad in the room,” as we’ve been encouraged by friends to do.
You see, Dad was a sheller: He loved Sanibel, Fla., and collecting the beautiful seashells that washed up on the Gulf shores. He made myriad shell-filled lamps for family and friends, and when he passed, he left us with shells. LOTS of shells. HUNDREDS of shells. So, I decided to reach out to Steve Mazza of Baldwin, N.Y.-based The Mazza Co., a maker of gorgeous, classically styled gold and gemstone—and seashell—jewels to turn a pretty pair of shells into personalized necklaces for Gretchen and Karyn.
My father-in-law, Jeff Heebner Sr., loved to collect seashells.
When he died three years ago, he left us with hundreds of seashells.
For Gretchen, I chose a petite reddish-orange scallop shell, and for Karyn, I picked a green snail shell. Steve weighted the backs of both in silver, giving them silver bails, and on the front sides, I sketched the design of the gold and gemstone accents. For Gretchen’s, I asked for tiny diamond, sapphire, and gold-bead accents, and for Karyn’s shell, I requested a whimsical trail of peridot, citrine, and blue topaz stones set in karat gold bezels, with a dollop of silver topping off the apex, or tip, of the spiral snail shell. The results are beautiful, and will serve as constant reminders of Dad and his favorite hobby.
This Christmas, I gave my mother-in-law, Gretchen, a personalized seashell necklace made by The Mazza Co.
I also gave one to my sister-in-law, Karyn. Both necklaces were made out of shells collected by my father-in-law, who passed away three years ago.
This is the literal and figurative beauty of jewelry: It celebrates our lives, marks special occasions, and keeps our memories and loved ones close, even after they’re gone.
I told Steve that his handiwork would most certainly inspire tears of joy. It did, but moving forward, I know those pendant necklaces will elicit smiles and warm thoughts whenever they’re worn.
Karyn (left) and Gretchen in their custom Mazza Co. seashell necklaces.
Happy holidays, dear readers. I hope your seasons are as magical as mine.