Excerpt: 'Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress'

Read an excerpt from Lee Woodruff's new book.

ByABC News via logo
April 19, 2009, 3:49 PM

April 20, 2009— -- Author Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, has complied a collection of essays about being a mother to her four children and a loving wife.

In "Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress" Woodruff acknowledges she doesn't always know the right answers, but she describes with ease her parenting relationship with her oldest children and her younger daughter's deafness.

Read an excerpt of her book below.

The Jewelry Box

You can tell a woman's whole life story from the possessions in her jewelry box. Like reading a palm, you can trace the points where her life has intersected with memorable events, people, places, and loves. You can mark the consequential and the inconsequential, you can divine a sense of her self and her own self- image, you can spot whimsy, mistakes, milestones, and passages. You can speculate on the essence of her personality, all from what she has accumulated in that box.

The silver twisted snake ring I made at camp, the sophisticated metal charm bracelet with the Chinese fan from a fifth- grade birthday, the serious pearl earrings for college graduation, the silver bangle bracelets I wore on my right arm as a teenager coming of age, bought one summer in Vermont—I treasured all of these, although they had passed from objects of adornment into relics of the past, like a threedimensional scrapbook.

I'd had that jewelry box for as long as I could remember. It had been purchased at a Woolworth's in Albany and had sat on my childhood dresser since my earliest memories. It was, to me, a most elegant thing: a thin veneer of navy blue leather covered the box, with some faux-Roman gold leaf pattern around the borders. On one corner the leather had ripped, revealing a flesh- colored patch, like skin, which I had once tried to color in with a marker.

A brass clasp at the front of the box made a snapping sound when I pressed the buttons on either side to open it. It had been years since I had officially shut it, and the closing mechanism hung straight out, like a tongue. The key had long ago been lost, so each time I packed to move, I wrapped a heavy rubber band around the box to make sure the contents were secure. The jewelry box was a present from my parents, although I've now forgotten why.

From the moment I had my first daughter, from the instant Cathryn was born, I'd harbored a vision of us splayed out on the floor with my jewelry box. I pictured us examining each piece I owned and my describing to her where it had come from, in great detail. I would use the jewelry to explain the stories of my life. I had saved them, in fact, for exactly this purpose.

As children, my two sisters and I had sat on the rug of my grandmother's living room, me cross- legged, my sister Meg on her stomach, legs bent back, chin in her hands. As my grandmother brought her jewelry box down to show us, my sister Nancy clapped her hands eagerly. There was treasure in that box, history and lore. Perhaps there were clues to my grandparents' marriage, the exotic places they had traveled, she a concert pianist and he a violinist, who accompanied her. Their lives had been so viscerally connected to music that in those moments when her fingers touched the piano keys and her eyes closed, it seemed to me that nothing else in the world existed for my grandmother. Not even us.

My grandmother was a mythical figure, not so much a nurturer but one who had been nurtured, like a hothouse plant. She had been raised in Magnolia, Arkansas, and had moved north to study music in college. It was there that she had met my grandfather, a "Yankee" and a musician, who couldn't have been her parents' first choice. In her closet were fur coats and full- length dresses for concert performances. She owned multiple pairs of long white gloves, so wildly out of place in Albany, New York, and her luggage had travel stickers on its side, identifying faraway places in the Orient and Europe. The whole package was so exotic, so unusual, that my sisters and I liked to imagine her journeys around the globe and the adventures she'd had. She loved to pronounce words in French, always drawing them out with her southern accent in a very affected way as she made us repeat them, a practice we loathed but tolerated. Her name was Margaret. No nickname. We called her Nana.

It was in the kitchen, her curling hair falling over one eye in the heat, that her southern roots really emerged. She melted sticks of butter for homemade pound cakes, put salt on watermelon, and boiled up thick okras that looked to us like soups of runny noses. She firmly believed that cooking with bacon grease was the key to mouthwatering food. There were lima beans fat as bumblebees simmered in milk, and buttery- yellow corn bread laced with ham bits. Her cooking connected us to a rich tradition of southern relatives we had only heard about in stories.

As we three sisters lay on the deep- red Oriental carpet, surely procured from some Asian jaunt, not yet into our teen years, we watched as Nana opened her large red lacquered jewelry box. Out of it she pulled ivory bracelets, ropes of beads, and Bakelite bangles. There were large brooches and rings festooned with semiprecious stones, horseshoe- shaped pins inset with tiny seed pearls, ones with leaf patterns—pieces that had been in the family for years.

As she laid the contents out on the rug, we watched the colors swirl in the Persian design and moved the items into piles, coveting the var-ious rings and bracelets, dreaming about being old enough to wear jewelry that for now was bigger than our fists, sophisticated and otherworldly. But the costume pieces in Nana's jewelry box were always the most fun. Jumbled all together in the box's velvet compartments, they represented the flashy flea- market side of life. They were bold colors and statements, items perhaps chosen on vacations by someone who had temporarily abdicated all of life's mundane responsibilities. A swordfish pin called to me. Made from bugle beads and sequins and sewn on a stiff cloth, it looked like something that had been purchased in the 1940s, all glamour and whimsy, designed with a sense of humor. The swordfish's bill was long and pointy, outlined with silver thread.