Thursday, March 5, 2009

My String of Pearls

My godfather was in the Merchant Marines and travelled the world on a ship most of the year. When I was about seven he gave me a strand of pearls he brought back with him from Japan. He brought a matching strand for my mother. The pearls were ivory colored and graduated in size from very small at each end to a larger one in the exact center of the string. I remember he showed us how to tell they were real. He took a small wooden matchstick from a little cardboard box he always carried in his pocket. He used these matches to constantly light and re-light the pipe that seemed to live with its stem clamped between his yellow teeth. He put a drop of water on the stick end of the match and touched it to the surface of one of the pearls where it clung like a crystal ladybug. He said that when water beaded like that it meant the pearl was real. To this day I don't know if that is true or not. But apparently these pearls he gave me were the real deal because my Mom paid real money to a jeweler to have them restrung. When we got them back the pearls were separated by perfect little white silk knots and the string closed around my neck with a beautiful silver clasp that looked like lace.

Thinking back I am amazed that I was given such a valuable gift at such a young age. But it was the fifties and women regularly wore pearls, hats and white gloves when they went out, even young girls like myself. I didn't think too much about the pearls except that they were from my godfather whom I seldom saw.

I remember the last time I wore those pearls. I was dressed up for my high school senior ball. I wore them with a floor length gown I'd made from fabric covered with coral colored flowers. My boyfriend borrowed his dad's car to drive us first to dinner and then the dance. After the dance we parked in the woods and things got hot and heavy. I was nervous because I knew my mother would disapprove. 

It wasn't until a day or two later that I realized my pearls were missing. My boyfriend searched the car but never found them. It's possible that I might have lost them at the restaurant or the dance but I was frantic. I turned my room upside down and looked surreptitiously around the house. I was always afraid my mother had found them, picked them up, and put them away somewhere in her room. It would not have been out of character for her to simply wait for me to ask so she could interrogate me about how they might have left my neck. I never told her they were missing. I swallowed my loss in silence and simply wore my guilt, especially after my godfather died.

When my mom died a few years ago I inherited a lot of her stuff. My youngest daughter recently needed some pearls to wear with a collared golf shirt -- the dress uniform, it seems, for the all women's college she was attending in the South. She was searching through a jumble of boxes in my dresser, still not organized since my recent move. One string of pearls fit the best and looked the nicest on her neck. I examined them more closely and saw that the pearls were separated by tiny silk knots. The clasp was silver with a  lacy filigree pattern. Could this be my old strand of pearls? Or was this its twin that had belonged to my mother? 

I will never know the answer. But seeing it resting so beautifully on my daughter's neck brought back a flood of memories along with a few tears. I realized that more than anything, I wanted her to feel only joy and pride when she wears it -- not the sadness and guilt I feel whenever I gaze upon a lovely string of pearls.

1 comment:

  1. i like this story. and your pastels are beautiful!


Thanks for the messages—I read every one.