34: Grandma’s Pearls

34: Grandma’s Pearls

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Grandma’s Pearls

When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left.

~Sufi Epigram

Two weeks after Grandpa died, Grandma came to live with us. Every day, she sat in a rocker in the living room, staring out the window and fingering a small red pouch that she kept with her always. I would try to joke with her and make her laugh like she used to, but she would just nod sadly and continue rocking.

One day, I noticed Grandma looking out the window. I stood up, stretched my cramped legs and walked over to her. “What are you watching, Grandma?” I asked.

Grandma’s head jerked, like she was waking up from a nap. “Nothing, really. Just looking into the past.”

I didn’t really know what to say. Grandma stared at me, seeming to really see me for the first time in the weeks since she’d moved in. I pointed to her lap. “Why do you keep that red bag with you?”

Grandma’s skinny, bent fingers moved lovingly along the bright velvet. “Everything I ever learned is in this bag,” she said.

I pulled up a stool and sat by her knees. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll show you.” Grandma gently pulled the worn ribbons that held the bag closed, then reached in and removed a strand of large, silvery-white pearls.

“It’s beautiful!” I said. Leaning closer, I realized the huge pearls were strung on a slender length of leather.

“Your great-great-grandmother gave this to my mother, who gave it to me.” Her eyes glistened. “I remember it like it was yesterday. She gave me this piece of leather, with one pearl strung on it. She called it a pearl of wisdom. She gave it to me because I ignored the stories everyone was telling about a man who had moved into town with his two daughters. I made friends with the girls, even though I lost my old friends for awhile. And she gave me this one when I didn’t ask Jim Redmond to the Sadie Hawkins dance, even though I was terribly in love with him, because my best friend Penny wanted to ask him.

“She gave me another pearl each time she felt I’d done something special, learned some kind of lesson, or had done something she felt was wise.”

“So, every pearl is a pearl of wisdom,” I whispered, running my hand over the cool spheres.

“That’s right,” she said, slipping the pearls back into their bag. She pulled the ribbons tightly and smiled at me. “Your grandfather gave me the last one, on our fiftieth wedding anniversary, because he said marrying him was the wisest thing I’d ever done.” We both laughed.

Grandmother died that fall. After the funeral, my mother gave me a round jewelry box of polished dark wood, with cut glass set in the top. “Your grandmother wanted you to have this.”

I lifted the lid. Inside the box rested the red velvet pouch with a note written in my grandmother’s crooked scrawl. “I should have given these to your mother a long time ago, but I always felt like I still had things to learn. I hope you’ll keep these pearls safe, and continue the tradition with your own child.”

Angry and sad, I stuffed the box with its contents into the very back of my dresser’s bottom drawer. All the wisdom in the world didn’t keep you from dying, I thought.

Three years later, I was fourteen. The last thing I wanted was to start high school with glasses so thick you couldn’t see my eyes. I wanted contacts, but my parents couldn’t afford them.

I mowed every lawn in the neighborhood that summer. I pulled weeds, painted garage doors and washed cars. Two weeks before school started, I picked up the contacts I had been able to order with the money I had earned.

I took the hated glasses and stuffed them in the very back of my bottom dresser drawer, and there was the box. I took it out and opened the lid. Smiling, I untied the leather and let all but one of the pearls fall into the pouch. “I’m not going to continue the tradition with my own child,” I whispered, “I’ll continue with me.”

I had worked hard for something I wanted instead of expecting someone else to hand it to me. I added one more pearl, retied the ends and put the box on my dresser, where it should have been all along.

In those few moments, I felt I had learned something important. In my memories, and in those pearls, my grandmother and her wisdom lived on.

~Catherine Adams
Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul 2

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