Last week, I had a business meeting and got out my pearls for the first time in a while. I have several single strands that I received after becoming a mom. However, this box always takes my breath away when I open it. This necklace is, without a doubt, my prized possession.
I received the pearls for Christmas in 2000. From whom I received them is of no consequence. It was the sentiment behind them that make them precious to me.
About a month prior, I had on a pair of shabby, cheap costume earrings while at dinner at “our restaurant,” the 57th Fighter Group in Atlanta. He asked if they were real pearls, and I was embarrassed to say no. He asked if I owned pearl earrings, and I had to tell him no again.
My beloved Aunt Bertie, who had died only the year before, had a string of pearls that she had won at a work function. The necklace was probably the only valuable thing she ever owned. I told the story of her harsh upbringing and life-long poverty. Of how, despite this, she always smiled. She always had a kind word for everyone, always kept a childlike love of stuffed animals, reading sappy historical romance novels, Winn-Dixie pimento cheese, the zoo, the circus, and bottled coke-colas with peanuts.
I then described how my Aunt Bertie had dropped dead of a heart attack the previous March while watching her friend’s grandson play Little League. She was only in her early 50s. She was so young, but she looked a lot older. Still, she was too young to die.
As I was talking about her, I cried. I recovered nicely, blaming it on the cabernet, but the tears were there, because I missed her. She had always lent me her pearl necklace anytime I had a special event at school. We agreed that they brought me good luck, so she generously put them in my care. Because of this, I associate pearls with the rare beauty of my aunt, who most of the world would not have thought worthy a second glance. But I did. I knew she was molded with the same grit that transforms pearls themselves. She was priceless.
I can hear her voice so strongly right now as I type. Her laugh was and is contagious. She is most certainly with me in spirit.
That Christmas, the first gift I received was a box of pearl earrings, which I still wear almost daily. The second gift was my necklace. As I opened it, I was overjoyed, because I knew why they were the perfect choice. He wanted to remind me of my beloved Aunt Bertie, but he said that my heart was so beautiful that I deserved not just one strand but two.
I am not sure that is true, but if I am even a portion so worthy, it is due in large part to the wonderful woman who loved me so much that she called me every year without fail at the exact time I was born. I still cry for her when I wake up on my birthday and realize that call will not ever come again. She is the same woman who, when I moved into my first apartment, was there to greet me with a box full of my favorite groceries– peanut butter, Little Debbies and hot chocolate topping the list.
Her adult granddaughters have been asking me about Aunt Bertie lately. One of them has her strand of pearls. I am happy to share how amazing she was, and I know she would be so very proud of the lovely women they have become, too. For someone so humble and unassuming, her legacy is both rich and strong.