My great-grandmother used to have a hatbox full of the most wonderful, pretty things. It was my favorite box of all the pretty boxes she had in her collection of beautiful things. Inside, there were a handful of faux pearl necklaces, the very same that fill the antique jar on my dresser. Every time I see them, I remember being seven years old again, playing at the foot of her big flowery bed. There’s something about a pearl necklace that makes a girl feel pretty, something that defies the spectrum of age – much like my Grandma Judy.
When I married, I wore her pearls. She wasn’t there, but I carried her memory around my neck and her blessing in my heart. I chose the long, opera-length strand. They were the classy ones, the ones that went with all the long gowns. Cream-colored, such a soft shade you could almost rest your head on the hue. As I said my “I do’s,” they rested against my skin, a small, personal reassurance that of all the women in the room, I was the fairest.
In that jar of pearls, there is a set. It is a choker and a clip on set of grape-like bunched beads of milky white swirls. They were my favorite as a little girl. I felt like a movie star, the next Audrey Hepburn. Except prettier, of course, because I’m a blonde, like Barbie, and if you could be anyone at seven years old, and you were a girl, you wanted to be Barbie.
One has a lions-head clasp. It is heavy, and the clasp is gold. I think, of all the pearls, it is probably the most expensive. I can’t be sure of how financially valuable any of these pieces may be, because I don’t place the importance on the price. I put on the necklace and I think about how it makes me feel. In the heavy, cream pearl necklace with the lions-head clasp, I feel powerful. I wear it with my polka-dot sundress. It makes me feel like a Stepford Wife. In this chapter of my life, after seeing, living and knowing the difference between a strong marriage and a weak one, these pearls make me feel strong. I know when people see those pearls around my neck, they stop and wonder if they’re real, and if a girl like me could really afford them, and for that half a second, when I’m wondering if people are wondering, I assume they assume I can. In the least selfish-sounding way possible that I can say this, it gives me a little sense of satisfaction. Sometimes, pearls make me feel proud.
There’s a long strand, with a gold chain. Each pearl is encircled by gold, and each one connects, suspended within each tiny ring. I wear it with tunics, let it lay long. It goes with everything. It’s my dress-up, dress-down piece that I can wear to the bar on Saturday night, then to church the next morning. They hang just far enough that women wonder if I wore them on purpose, while their men wonder if they’re real.
Hint: you bet your fine ass, they are.
I’ve never worn the lumpy ones. Each pearl is a different shape and slightly different size. It was the ugliness of them that won my heart. They reminded me of teeth, the color mine will never be. Of many things I can be self-conscious about, my teeth are near the top of the list. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never worn them, but I like them anyway. I envy that attractive shade, willing it into my mouth every time I smile, hurriedly covering the Pepsi-damaged dental graveyard behind the lips I love.
For every special occasion, there is a set of pearls. In every high school dance picture, there I am, with the finest bargain bin gown I could afford, decked out in my tiny seed pearls. In my treasure chest of favorite things, I still have the set my mother bequeathed me that day as she curled my hair and cried a little over my “first date,” nestled in the purple velvet pouch.
Maybe when my daughters embark on the same big steps in their lives, I will find myself swallowing a lump in my throat as I clasp one of those necklaces around her neck. I wonder which will be her favorite. I wonder if she looks at me as I looked at Grandma Judy, with envy and pride in my heart as I wished against all wishes that I could be so pretty and elegant and sophisticated one day. I always had a penchant for pretty things, and I know that has been passed as I watch Madison cradle flowers in her hands. She appreciates the soft things, the silks and sparklies of the world just as I do. I hope, as much as I hope for her to be happy and healthy and all those wonderful things we want our children to be throughout their lives, that she understands the power of a simple pearl necklace.