On pearls

“Each pearl is a jewel of wisdom, wrestled from struggle and strung in sequence to create infinite insight and compassion for the mermaid who wears them. The older the mermaid, the more pearls.”
― Margot Datz, A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids

My nest, now empty, offers space for an expanded focus on creativity. In January, I started working on a series of essays about pearls while reflecting on the mother-daughter relationship.
When do we wear pearls?
Why do we wear pearls?
How do we wear pearls?
Pearls are formed over time when an irritant – a tiny grain of sand – enters the host – an oyster.
In response, the host excretes layers of coating to soothe the irritation. Over time, an iridescent orb forms in the aftermath of the nurturing, transformed into a single bead on a special occasion string.
In writing about my mother, I always picture her in pearls.
One black and white image captures her light at a New Year’s Eve gathering in 1963 – a festive affair to mark the flip of the calendar.
She’s 21 and full of confidence in a little black dress with the gleaming pearls providing the just-right touch of class.
Perched on the edge of a brocade sofa, she lifts an elegant hand decorated by a cigarette pinched between two fingers.
A whiskey drink sweats on the coffee table.
Her wide smile invites my curiosity about the young woman she was before her life shifted so dramatically just five years later.
At the moment the image is snapped, she doesn’t realize that I am to be the nonrefundable gift from the evening’s celebration. Her radiant beauty – like that of her treasured pearls – is at its peak. My father, his arm draped her, is clearly captivated.
On that night, I became the irritant to the host.
A life, unplanned, resulted from the night my mother wore those pearls.
For 35 years, her nurturing coated me with luminosity.
With her life-light now dimmed, her legacy shines through me and through my daughter. Pearls absorb oils from the wearer – the essence of an individual is passed on. From that New Year’s Eve in 1963, we were connected. Through ovarian succession, the feminine line moves a family forward.
My daughter marks the third generation of pearl-wearing females. The pearls rest on my dresser top. The beads remain porous and lovely – petite symbols of life’s irritants to be met with the layers of a mother’s love.

E. Lane Gresham is an over-50 writer and photographer, currently exploring a creative life beyond the empty nest.

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