She walked across the plush carpeting directly to her ornately carved, mahogany four-poster bed, where she saw three black velvet bags lying on the bedspread. Three necklaces for three granddaughters.
“It’s high time I selected which necklace to give which girl.”Lucille crossed her arms over her ample breast. “I thought you said you was gonna let them pick out the one they like the best.”
“No, no, Lucille,” Marietta replied impatiently. “That wouldn’t do at all.” She paused, turning her head to meet Lucille’s gaze. “It’s said,” she said in the manner of a sage, “that pearls take on the essence of the person who wears them.” She nodded, as though adding emphasis to the declaration. She began walking again. “I’ve worn those pearl necklaces for decades. Why, each pearl is positively infused with my essence. Don’t you see,” she said as though it were obvious, “that by giving my granddaughters my pearls, I’m passing on a bit of myself to each of them?” The very idea of it still had the power of giving her pleasure. “I’ve been looking forward to this moment for years.”
-Excerpt from THE SUMMER GIRLS
The handing down of jewelry, especially pearls, is a time-honored tradition for many traditional families. It is said that pearls absorb the essence of the woman who wears them.
I received my first set of pearls when I graduated from high school. This is a tradition in my family. I was so proud to wear them, though these pearls were not handed down to me from my mother but acquired for the occasion. Years later, when I was on my honeymoon in Japan, Markus and I went to the small coastal town where Mikimoto pearl divers gathered baskets and baskets full of pearls. My new husband bought me my first Mikimoto necklace, a single strand of lustrous pink hued beauties. Later for our first Christmas together he surprised me with an opera-length strand, each handpicked by him. A labor of love that made the necklace all the more precious to me.
Pearls have been revered since ancient times, wrapped in symbolism and meaning. They were extremely rare and thus priceless, attainable by only the wealthiest in any civilization. Pearls were a woman's most treasured jewelry until the early 1900’s when the process of cultured pearls was invented in Japan by Kokichi Mikimoto. Anyone who knows pearls knows the Mikimoto name and their quality still holds value today. Even though pearls are much more affordable today than ever before, they still symbolize elegance, class and beauty. They adorn the neckline of countless brides. They dress up most any outfit. Pearls have always been the accessory of choice when one wants to be "lady-like." And it’s taught among some southern ladies that she should never been seen in public without her lipstick and her pearls! But as with most things in life, old traditions fade away and new ones take their place. The practice of passing down pearls may not be as popular today as it was just a generation ago. And to many young ladies today, pearl necklaces--pricey Mikimotos and South Sea pearls or affordable freshwater -- are simply a fashionable accessory option.
Despite the fading tradition, I felt that the tradition was an important element to include in THE SUMMER GIRLS. I wanted to show the great thought and heart that Mamaw—a dowager of Charleston society and a woman of tradition—put into making her selections for each granddaughter. The scene revealed not only her opinions of her granddaughters, her summer girls, with whom she has not spent time for many year,s but it also allowed me to present the girls' individual personalities to my readers in a "show not tell" manner. And it’s equally as interesting to display in later scenes how the granddaughters respond to their gift, what they do with their pearls, and their modern attitudes toward family traditions.
The practice of passing down pearls is still alive in the south, yet I believe it’s an act that resonates with women from all regions. Pearls are a symbol of elegance and tradition that, when worn, serve as a constant reminder of tradition, love, and of course, when handed down, the essence of the woman who once wore them. Isn't the act of passing them to the next owner the true treasure? Like Mamaw in the novel, I love my pearls, the feel of them around my neck, their creamy luster and the memories they invoke. I, too, look forward to the day I hand down my treasured pearls to my girls --my daughters and granddaughters. In this way, I will leave a bit of me with them, forever.
What’s your pearl story? What item has been passed down to you that you most treasure?