The cameo pin that Antonette Skupa Turner counts among her most treasured possessions has been lost in a snowstorm and run over by a car. But she went to special lengths to find it and fix it because of who once owned it and where it came from.
When we asked readers to tell us about their cherished heirloom jewelry for a Valentine’s Day feature, Turner had quite the story to tell about that cameo.
Her grandmother and the cameo’s original owner was Antonia Pavelka, the daughter of Czech immigrants who settled in Webster County, Neb.
As a child, Pavelka became friends with a girl, Willa, whose family had recently moved to Nebraska from Virginia.
That girl, of course, was Willa Cather, who grew up to be a celebrated author. And she based the title character in her novel “My Antonia” on her childhood friend.
The women always stayed in touch, and when Cather traveled, she often sent Pavelka gifts — a 100-piece set of china on one occasion; the cameo pin on another. In 1951, Pavelka wore the pin in a photograph that ran in Life magazine.
Turner, who lives in Bladen, Neb., was always close to her grandmother, visiting her after school, listening to stories of growing up on the Plains.
For decades, Turner gave talks on her grandmother’s life and her friendship with Cather (it was after one such talk that her pin got lost in the snow, and later, run over). When Turner lectured, she always wore the cameo, as well as a coral necklace that Cather sent when she learned Turner’s middle name: Willa.
Turner is 92 now, and a granddaughter has begun to take over some of the talks. To pass the torch, Turner gave her the coral necklace.
But she kept the pin.
“The cameo has traveled, traveled, traveled,” she said. “I’m not ready to give it up.”