Gifts That We Grow Into (first published 12/25/10)

When I was ‘sweet’ sixteen, my parents bought me a long strand of pearls. The necklace was, and remained for years, my only piece of “real” jewelry.  At the time, I was told that the pearls ought to be worn, not put away, and that their color would change subtly according to my skin. However, I don’t remember ever wearing the pearls in high school or college – they never went with the preppy, then hippy, outfits I preferred.pearls over black gloves

But, the pearls always traveled with me and I did grow into them. Years later, when I was getting my Ph.D., my mother visited me in Evanston. She was sick at that time and gave me her jewelry and the few pieces left by my grandmother.  The pearls had company – I now had a beautiful, meaningful, small collection of ‘real’ jewelry.  Right after her visit, my friend Carol had a wedding to attend in Pennsylvania. Her Quaker upbringing had not provided pearls at sixteen so I easily offered her my pearls for the weekend.  They looked lovely on her.  The gesture, genuine at first, left me with second thoughts.  After Carol left for her weekend wedding, I tormented myself with scenarios of her losing the pearls, mistreating them, breaking the strand and watching them roll away, unable to recapture them.  I imagined that she would misplace them or lose her suitcase during the flight. I was as overcome with regret as if I had already lost the pearls.

On Monday, just before Carol returned to town, I unexpectedly had to take my daughter to the pediatrician. We were only gone for an hour.  As soon as we returned home, the house felt bad to me and as I walked through the rooms, I knew we had been burglarized.  The thieves were selective – money and jewelry.  I had little money.  They took all my jewelry.  They left the TV that I didn’t watch and ignored the stereo whose multitude of buttons I never learned to operate.  My jewelry box was emptied.  All of it: mine, my mother’s, my grandmother’s and my aunt’s jewelry – gone and never recovered.

Within hours, the pearls came back to me from Pennsylvania.  I still have them; I still treasure them.  My daughters like this story.  So do I.  What I gave away, was returned to me.  It’s a holiday story – it’s an everyday story.

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