Wherein Lies the Value?

Are there questions that you would like to have asked your parents while they were alive? For me, there are many. However, the questions of the moment would be directed to my mother. I would ask her about the double-strand of pearls that I wore on my wedding day. These pearls were “the something borrowed” from my mother.

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I wore white on my wedding day from toe-to-head. White patent-leather shoes, a white satin prom dress with a lace overlay purchased from Lerner’s on Market Street in San Francisco.  My mom ordered a short white veil with an imitation drop pearl crown from the Montgomery Ward’s catalog.  The crown dipped low onto my forehead.  The white fingerless gloves came to my elbows and, for the finishing touch, I borrowed my mother’s double strand of real pearls.  It was to be a low-budget wedding for two recent high school graduates. 

The wedding day itself went well.  Arriving at the reception, the only thing that was missing was the bride and groom for the top of the cake.  I remember a young man riding up on his motorcycle to the Presidio NCO Club beside the ocean where our reception was being held.  He pulled the plasticized couple from his backpack and unceremoniously placed it on the three-tiered wedding cake.

Perfection, like the double strand of pearls, like the creamy-skinned bride, like the perfect midsummer day by the ocean.  The sort of day that poet’s write about evaporated rather quickly into a too-young bride and groom who didn’t know themselves well-enough to forge a lasting relationship with one another.  Yearning for that perfect partnership didn’t make it a reality. 

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Recently, sifting through old photos, I came across a picture of that long-ago wedding day.  I noted the pearls, the same ones which my mother had given to me a few months before.

“Go into the bathroom,” she said.  “In the second drawer of the vanity there is a beige box.  Get it for me,” she directed from her wheelchair.

I returned with the rectangular beige box.  My mother opened it and handed me the double strand of pearls.  “I want you to have these,” she said.

I teared up as I tried on the necklace. 

I confided to my mother “When I was married, I asked Tom for pearls on more than one occasion.  He seemed not to hear my request.  He bought me a strand of pink and white ceramic beads from a craft show.  The tag read Parrot Pearls.  I guess he thought he was being clever.”

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My mother died in 2011. I wore the pearls for three weeks to honor her memory.

Last year, on a whim, I stopped into a local jewelry shop. My mother had collected a lot of costume jewelry. I was curious if any of it had monetary value. At the same time, I inquired about the value of the pearls.

“They are” the jeweler said, “impostors, a good imitation…not real pearls.”

I must have registered shocked surprise as the jeweler remarked “Sorry to disappoint you.”

Inside of the beige box was the label, Richelieu. It turns out that Richelieu Inc., was a “faux (fake) pearl manufacturer based in New York City, formed in 1933. Richelieu pearls were popular as an affordable alternative for consumers who were looking for inexpensive yet attractive faux pearls.” (Wikipedia)

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So much about my family history had been based in lies and betrayals. Was this just one more lie?

The questions I would ask my mother if I had the opportunity to would be:
Did dad buy the pearls as a gift for you? If so, were you with him when he purchased the pearls? What was the occasion? Did he tell you that they were real? or Did you buy them for yourself?  Did you think the pearls were real? These are some of the things that my inquiring mind wants to know. And I realize that I won’t ever have answers to my questions. Being a writer, I could conjecture a bigger story around these pearls. But I won’t.

Finally, though, a question to myself…Does it matter? Although the pearls aren’t real, the sentiment was–a mother wanting to give something of value to her daughter.


Soup Night

Navigating winter in the mountains, for those who don’t fly south, is an art form.  Of course, there are those who love winter sports and they are in their element.  I am not a skier, snowboarder or snowshoer–although I’ve experienced two out of the three.  For me, the challenge with winter is getting through it–overcoming the isolation which heavy snow imposes.  Travel north or south is inhibited as the highway may have restrictions.  Or, driving in a “white out” with poor visibility can be daunting.

A few winters back, when the first heavy snow hit, a depressed feeling settled over me.  Looking out my window as the large flakes whirled abundantly, I could see that soon my world would be covered in white.  While pretty on a postcard, there are the practical challenges.  I need to contact the men who shovel my driveway and walkways.  Be sure that I have enough fuel.  Is the cupboard fully stocked if we are going to have several days of snow?  Do I need to wrap the water pipes if the temperature drops too low?  Living close enough to the stores, I layer clothing,  don my hiking boots and trek through the snow and slush to get to the post office and grocery store if necessary.

This particular day, I was dicing onions and carrots for a pot of soup.  It occurred to me that I could invite friends over to share the soup.  I called about six friends.  They couldn’t promise, but they’d see how bad this storm was going to be.  One friend blatantly said, “Christine, no one’s going to come!”  However, just the thought that someone might show up spurred me on.

The invitation was “If you dare to come out tonight, I’ve got a hearty pot of soup on the back burner…bring your favorite soup bowl!”

That night, in a heavy winter storm, four people came.  The next week, there were eight of us.  By the end of the winter season, soup night had become an institution which rotated among several homes averaging ten to twelve people.  This meant we needed two pots of soup, bread, salad and occasionally dessert.  The warm feeling of sharing and communing while the world outside was enveloped in cold and white brought new meaning to winter in the mountains.