Drop Earrings

Drop Earrings

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Drop Earrings

Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.

George Eliot

We had come to the park that day to celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday. We were two enduring friends, mothers with three children apiece.

From a picnic table we watched as our kids laughed and leapt their way through a playground fragranced with scarlet apple trees and lavender lilacs.

It was a good day for a picnic. Dressed in shorts, denim jackets and sunglasses, we unpacked a basket bulging with bologna sandwiches, Doritos, and Oreo cookies.

We toasted friendship with clear bottles of mineral water.

It was then I noticed Laurie’s new drop earrings—tiny interlocking loops of silver laced with stones of indigo blue. For the thirteen years I’d known Laurie, ever since college, she’d always loved drop earrings.

Over the years I’d seen her wear pair after dangling pair—threaded crystals cast in blue, shiny silver loops, strands of colored gemstones, sapphire hoops, beaded pearls in pastel pink, diamonds set in golden links.

“There’s a reason why I like drop earrings,” Laurie said.

She began revealing saved images from a childhood memory that changed her forever. A tender tale of truth and its power to transform . . .

When Laurie was in the sixth grade, her desk was the last one in a row of seven near a bank of brick-framed windows. She remembered with amazing detail the way her classroom looked one spring day—the yellow May Day baskets suspended on clotheslines above her desk, the caged hamsters that rustled through shredded newspapers, the window shelves where orange marigolds curled over cut-off milk cartons, the cursive writing charts above the blackboard. That classroom felt safe to Laurie, a sharp contrast to a home riddled with dysfunction.

“Mrs. Moline made that classroom feel so safe,” Laurie mused. She recalled the way her teacher looked on that long-ago morning; how her auburn hair flipped onto her shoulders like Jackie Kennedy’s, how her kind, hazel-green eyes were full of light and sparkle.

But it was her teacher’s drop earrings that Laurie remembered most, golden teardrop strands laced with ivory pearls. “Even from my back row seat,” Laurie recalled, “I could see her earrings gleaming in the sunlight from the windows.” They provided a beacon of hope in a dark, depressing life.

That year her father’s alcoholism had escalated. Many late nights she had fallen asleep despite the sounds of the disabling disease: whiskey being poured into shot glasses, can openers piercing metal beer tops, ice cubes clinking in glass after glass, the loud slurred voices of her father and his friends in the kitchen, her mother’s sobs, slamming doors, pictures rattling on the wall.

The previous Christmas she had saved babysitting money to buy her dad a shoeshine kit, complete with varnished footrest, a buffer brush, and a copper can of cordovan shoe polish. She had wrapped the gift with red and green Santa Claus paper and trimmed it with a gold ribbon curled into a bow.

On Christmas Eve she had watched in stunned silence as he had thrown it across the living room, breaking it into three pieces.

Laurie took off her sunglasses and began to rub her eyes. I handed her a napkin . . . I knew the pain of that Christmas memory still lingered.

When she continued the story of that day in the classroom, Laurie said, “That spring day had been set aside for end-of-the-year conferences. Mrs. Moline stood in front of the class reminding us that both parents and students would participate in these important progress reports.” On the blackboard an alphabetical schedule assigned a twenty-minute conference slot for each family.

Laurie was puzzled that Mrs. Moline had placed her name at the end of this list, even though her last name began with a B. She wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t matter much—her parents would not be coming. She knew this despite the three reminder letters she’d seen at home and the phone calls her teacher had made.

All day long she listened as the volunteer room mother called out her classmates’ names. Laurie watched each child being escorted past her desk to a doorway five feet away, a doorway where parents greeted their sons and daughters with proud smiles and pats on the back and sometimes even hugs. The door would close.

Though she tried to distract herself with assigned projects, she couldn’t help but hear the muffled voices just beyond the door as interested parents asked questions, children giggled nervously, and Mrs. Moline offered affirmations and solutions.

She imagined how it might feel to have her parents greet her at the door.

When at last everyone else’s name had been called, Mrs. Moline quietly opened the door and motioned for Laurie to join her in the hallway.

In silence she slipped out without one of her classmates noticing. There were three folding chairs set up in the hallway across from a desk covered with student files and projects.

Curiously she watched as Mrs. Moline began to fold up two of the folding chairs. “These won’t be necessary,” she said. While Laurie sat down in the remaining chair, her teacher looked through her files and smiled.

All Laurie could do was fold her hands and look down at the linoleum floor; she was embarrassed her parents had not come.

Moving her chair next to the downcast little girl, Mrs. Moline lifted Laurie’s chin so that she could make eye contact with her. “First of all,” she began, “I want you to know how much I love you.”

Laurie lifted her eyes. In Mrs. Moline’s face, she saw things she’d rarely seen—compassion, empathy, tenderness.

“Second,” she continued, “You need to know that it is not your fault that your parents are not here today.”

Again Laurie looked into Mrs. Moline’s face. No one had ever talked to her like this. No one had ever given her permission to see herself as anything but worthless. No one.

“Third,” she went on, “you deserve a conference whether your parents are here or not—you deserve to hear how well you are doing and how wonderful I think you are.”

In the following minutes, Mrs. Moline held a conference with Laurie—just Laurie. She showed her grades and Iowa test scores and academic charts that placed her in the upper national percentile. She scanned papers and projects that Laurie had completed, always praising her efforts, always affirming her strengths.

She had even saved a stack of watercolor paintings Laurie had done.

“You would be a great interior designer,” she said. Laurie didn’t know exactly when, but at some point in that conference she remembered hearing the voice of hope in her heart, somewhere in that inner place where truth takes hold and transformation starts.

And as tears welled up in her sixth-grade eyes, Laurie could see Mrs. Moline’s face becoming misty and hazy, all except for the golden curls and ivory pearls of her drop earrings. The irritating intruders in two clams’ shells had been surrounded and transformed into pearls of beauty.

It was then that Laurie realized, for the first time in her life, that she was lovable.

We sat together in the comforting silence that follows a story worth remembering. In those quiet moments, I thought of all the times Laurie had worn the drop earrings of truth for me.

I too had grown up in an alcoholic home, and for years I had buried my childhood stories. But Laurie had met me in the symbolic hallway of empathy.

There she had given me the courage to name the truths hidden within each of those carefully concealed tales: that alcoholism is never a child’s fault; that self-worth is a gift from God that everyone deserves, a shimmering jewel, bestowed at birth, to be worn with pride for a lifetime; that even adulthood was not too late to don the dazzling diamonds of newfound self-esteem, to finally define myself as lovable.

Just then the kids ran to the table, dramatizing famine by flopping onto the grass and picnic benches.

For the rest of the afternoon, we found ourselves immersed in the interruptions of parenthood. We cut bologna into small pieces, wiped up spilled milk, praised off-balance somersaults and glided down slides much too small for us.

But in the midst of it all, Laurie handed me a small box, a birthday gift wrapped in red floral paper trimmed with a gold bow.

I opened the box. Inside was a pair of drop earrings.

Nancy Sullivan Geng

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