My Grandmother always gave me pearls for a gift. Regardless of the occasion, a land-mark birthday or simply a souvenir from her many trips, she would always produce a pouch or velvety box that contained a piece of jewelry with pearls, sometimes real and sometimes fake.
My Grandmother never professed any profound reason for her actions. I don’t think she gave pearls to her granddaughters because they were elegant or would become a family keepsake; I think she gave us pearls simply because she liked them.
I believe my Grandma (as I used to call her) was one of those people who did as she pleased; and then just kept it simple. By no means did she openly disrespect the strict rules laid down by my severe Great Grandfather, but in her particular way, my Grandma broke the rules and did a few things that were deemed outrageous from her family’s point of view. I believe deep down she was a bit of a rebel who was overprotected, being the youngest of five sisters and always regarded as the silly little girl.
My Grandma used to say that men who sent flowers were not her type. She regarded them as impractical simply because flowers were only pretty to look at, but they died quickly and then, in her words, the gift had already become obsolete. Gifts were meant to stay with the person, at least for some time. She said she rather date a man who sent fruit baskets because fruit was edible so the gift would be put to a better use than just making a vase look pretty; plus, she said, fruit adorns just as well as flowers.
The thing I always liked about her peculiar reasons was that regardless of what people thought about her decisions, my Grandma would always defend and stand by her choice, even if it meant being branded as silly. My mother and uncles (her daughter and sons) often made jokes about my Grandma’s choices and sometimes they would repeat to her the original reason why she did one thing or another, when she questioned (more for herself rather than for others) the course her life had taken.
And so my Grandma collected pearls while other girls collected, jewelry, fur, hats, gloves, properties and, a few of them, husbands. She wore pearls on every occasion and on any day of the week, just because she liked them, despite what other people would say. While I understand why people may have regarded her as silly for the choices, I believe my Grandma always did what she did for herself, without really trying to prove something or go against the flow.
Because of my Grandma I learned to love pearls. When I was a child I used to like shiny stones; pearls always looked boring and dull to me, but I loved my Grandma and I decided long ago to wear her presents even if they were not as shiny as I wanted my gift to be. As a gesture of love to my Grandma, even when I was in college, I wore pearls to the most inappropriate of occasions, much to the dismay of my very correct and fashion-conscious mother. I thought they looked cool with jeans and a top for dancing until dawn at a club or on top of my bikini for Bloody Mary’s the next morning at the pool. I wore pearls to exams, to movies, to pizza parlors, to anywhere because my Grandma loved them and had gifted them to me. We both wore them to any occasion whether appropriate or not, just because my Grandma liked them and we liked each other.
Quite a few years have gone by. I passed my law exams, started practicing law, got married, moved to a new city, had two girls and went through many life changes. And then last April my life was sent into a spinning vortex. Pearls and Grandma were the last thing on my mind.
Do you know that feeling of confusion you get when you are underwater and for whatever reason you are not sure where the surface is? That’s exactly how I felt. My husband was starting up his own consulting company, and I desperately needed to find a job with a decent pay and benefits for the family. Without much hope I sent out my resume to a prestigious firm, to my surprise they were interested and called me for an interview. I was extremely nervous and managed to give myself both gastritis and dermatitis at the same time. I was so concerned about how my skin looked that I went to the dermatologist. While I was with the doctor my cell-phone started ringing incessantly. Angry thoughts ran through my mind, “Can’t I even make a doctor’s appointment without being bothered?” I thought. The doctor told me I could answer the phone if I needed to. Thinking it was the office or some small matter that could be dealt with later; I kept disconnecting the line until I left the doctor’s office.
As I exited the building, my phone rang again. Without even looking at the caller I just hit the answer button and barked angrily “What?” into the phone. And I just heard the sad voice of my sister say: “I’m sorry I knew you were at the doctor, but I just wanted to tell you that Grandma died today.”
At first I did not know want to say. I must have mumbled something into the phone which my sister thought was odd because of the connection I shared with Grandma. I went to the car, sat down, and thought about things. Everything from childhood until the present flashed before my eyes. And then my head cleared. The confusion was gone. I had found the surface and my head came up above the water. Strange! But the news of her passing away had arrived exactly at the moment when I needed perspective the most.
Even in her death my Grandma had given me a much needed pearl. I realized that true to her nature and to her likes, she had given me a gift that lasted. She had given me fruits and not flowers.
As I sat in the car that afternoon my mind went back to the time when my Grandfather lost his business. My grandmother, who had been one of the most pampered and well off girls in town, simply rolled up her sleeves and went to work. No complaints. No murmurs.
It is thanks to my Grandma that I am the way I am. From her I not only got this love of pearls but I learned the important lesson that even if you have everything, a mere turn of events in your life can make you a stronger woman.
I see her tenacity and resolve in all the women in my family as they use their talent, skill or pure will to get their families through tough times. This was taught to all of us by my Grandma even though she never really sat us down or told us explicitly.
I drove back home and took out the pearls my Grandma had given me. As I looked at them I remembered that she never explained to anyone why she did the things in her own particular way. My Grandma’s pearls taught me that sometimes the things you do only make sense to you, and that is perfectly all right.
It is because of her that I love my family and my job, I love being a working mother – a mother and lawyer (all rolled into one). It is my grandma who made me a Mom-yer (mother + lawyer) much before I actually wrote about being one.
© Paola Sanchez