My Grandmother’s Pearls and the Nature of Memory

Nanny Kay's necklace croppedMy father’s mother gave me a pearl necklace many years ago. I think the occasion was my high school graduation, but it could have been for my sixteenth birthday or some other milestone in my teens. It was the first “old” piece of jewelry I received.

In fact, I thought the necklace looked too old-fashioned for me to wear as a teenager. It is a triple strand of nicely matched pearls . . . although with the greater knowledge of an adult, I don’t think the pearls are real. They have chipped over the years and appear to be glass beads covered with a lustrous paint to look like pearls. Nevertheless, the necklace looks old—like something your grandmother would wear.

Because I thought the pearls looked old-fashioned, I didn’t wear the necklace through my college years. But by the time I was an attorney (a very young attorney), I was ready to look older than I was. In reality I looked younger than my age, and I needed all the help I could get to appear competent and professional. So I wore the pearl necklace regularly with my skirt suits. I liked the sepia tint of the pearls, which made it perfect for wearing with tan and brown suits and a cream blouse.

Now that I’m no longer practicing law and rarely wear dressy clothes for any reason, I have little need for pearls. The necklace lies in a back row section of my jewelry box and I seldom notice it.

Occasionally, I take it out and run the pearls through my fingers. It reminds me of my grandmother—the one who played the piano so beautifully and seemed glamorous to me as a child with her painted nails and carefully coiffed hair. I smile as I think of her. I remember how she appeared to me as child, and I remember how much she aged as I grew to adulthood. Her birthday would have been this week, though she died in 1990 at the age of 79.

The necklace also reminds me of my professional days, when putting on pearls or other jewelry was a necessary part of dressing each morning. I relish the more casual lifestyle of retirement that I now have. I miss the professional camaraderie of the groups I worked in, but I don’t miss the stress of the corporate life.

Some memories I treasure and wish those days back again. Other memories I’m glad to leave behind.

As a writer, I can decide which memories to record, but I can’t control which memories to banish forever. We can’t choose the memories we keep and those we toss. We are the sum of our memories, good and bad.

What memories do you treasure? Write them down.

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  1. I work because I have to but also because I stayed home for two years ‘to write’ and came very close to losing my mind. I am one of those people who needs human interaction and I do love working in teams. So I admire anyone who can keep their head down and get on with the solitary occupation of writing. Your grandmother’s necklace brought back memories of my own gran who loved pearls. I still have her pearl earrings and rings.

  2. Nicely written. Something’s in the air as lately I’ve read several posts from various corners, including mine, all about memory and remembering the stories. And how cool is that. How nice that you grew into your grandmother’s pearls!

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