7/9/13

Pearls of Tradition

    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?


14 comments:

  1. I loved the storyline about Mamaw passing down the pearls. I always wanted a string of Mikimoto pearls, but over the years my sweet hubby would always buy necklaces with diamonds or emeralds in rather heavy gold settings. Last year I finally got the courage to explain to him about me being older and wanting to change my jewelry. We sought a reputable jeweler, had my necklaces appraised, and made a few trades. I now own a gorgeous 20” length of vintage Mikimoto pearls! I also had enough to purchase less expensive pearls for each of my sisters. So, as each one had a birthday, I gave them pearls. I am so happy with the change in my jewelry and that I could share with my sisters. So, as I read about the pearls in The Summer Girls, I had the biggest smile on my face!

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    1. What a wonderful pearl story, Diane! Thank you for sharing. That put a big smile on MY face.

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  2. It wasn't pearls for me: When I was born, my mom's father gave her a gold crucifix with USN across it (he was a Navy chief); I was his first grandchild. When my first child was born, mom passed it to me. I've worn it almost every day for 25 years, and I had every intention of passing it on to one of my children when my first grandchild was born ... until last week, when I realized it had fallen off the chain and was lost. I am heartbroken over this.
    T

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    2. Tony Simmons,
      I am hopeful that your special chain will be returned to you, somehow. Try to share your story online in various places. Maybe the right person will come across it. And do be sure to share your good news on my blog when you do find it again.

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  3. Dianne Davey PorterJuly 9, 2013 at 7:55 AM

    What a wonderful story, especially the part about sharing with your sisters! I don't have sisters, but I do have two daughters and three granddaughters. The storyline also set me to thinking about the one string of cultured pearls I inherited when my mother passed away. I need to have it appraised and also think about purchasing another two necklaces so I can leave some to all three granddaughters. Wear your pearls in good health!!

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    1. Great idea, Dianne. I am sure your pearls will be cherished by all your girls.

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  4. I gifted this wonderful book to my houseguest a week ago and we read it together. What a thrill. We were our own "Summer Girls". Now I can hardly wait for the next book. When can we expect it?
    SO Thankful for your gift of writing and so grateful you are sharing it with us.

    Hugs, kathy in Bend, OR

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    1. Kathy, Thank you for your kind words and for sharing my book with friends. The second installment comes out Summer 2014, and then the final book the following summer.

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  5. My mother had an antique silver ring with tiny green stones that she gifted to me when I turned 16 and I loved it and wore it for years. When my daughter turned 16 I passed it down to her and it was a beloved link to her dear "gammy" who had passed away when Erin was 8. After my mom passed, I took the emerald ring my father had designed for her for her last birthday and had it split into 2 rings for Erin and for me. I still miss my sweet momma every single day but am so grateful for the rings that link the 3 of us always.

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  6. I, too, received a choker of pearls when I graduated from high school. And when my daughter graduates in two years I will give them to her. She's not really the type to wear pearls but I'm big on tradition. When my mother died I received her length of pearls so I won't be without any. I suppose, as my only child, she'll receive them one day, also.

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  7. For me, it is the Jade pendant, because I am Chinese. My dad got my mom a lovely heart shape apple green jadeite jade pendant with a 24k gold bail & chain for it. The necklace is lovely and classy for everyday wear. My mom loved green jade and pearls. Due to the humble salary my dad made back in the 50's to 60's, the jade pendant was all he could afford beside their white gold simple wedding bands. Therefore, more so it is so semi mental to me. My mom passed away many years ago when I was only 12, and my dad gave me this pendant she loved. My dad passed away too 10 years ago when I was a young mother in my late 20's. I treasured this pendant a lot and only wear it on special occasions, worried that I may lost it or the pendant slip off the chain and would be gone. I am planning to pass this to my only child, my daughter too when she turns older. She just turned 18 and loves her sterling silver, white gold look kind of jewellery. My husband & I, therefore got her a set of high quality gemstone sterling earrings & a matching pendant for her for high school graduation & her birthday. She looks great with them and loves them. She is not quite ready for fancy jewellery or my jade pendant for the time being. I do have my 2 strands of white & pastel colour fresh water pearls necklaces. They will be hers one day too when she comes to cherish pearls. Yes, I love the parts about passing on the pearls to the grand daughter, such love, thoughtfulness & traditions.

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  8. Beautiful pictures! Beautiful pearl necklaces! Lovely story! Thank you for sharing.

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  9. As a southern woman, I agree that this tradition is alive and well in the south. I love the gift of pearls and their role as tiny memory keepers. You have certainly captured the passion behind the gift of pearls, their stories, heir longevity. Thank you for your beautiful voice and the wonderful stories you weave!

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All the best,
Mary Alice