All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography.
More than a half century ago, Father, while in Japan, where he'd been on leave at the close of the Korean War, bought Mother a lustrous, round, classical pearl, perhaps a half inch in diameter—set in a simple four pronged gold ring—which he took home to Mother after completing two years of overseas service.
As a young girl, I was in love with the pearl. It was perfect. It was what I called Grace-Kelly-pearl-perfect. Elegant and royal. What kept me entranced, though, was that the shimmery, cream-tinged pearl was loosely caged by its prongs so that I could gently flick it with my finger and watch it shake in its crown. My magnanimous mother let me wear it on occasion, and I wore it often enough that it became, unofficially, a part of my jewelry collection which, at that time, was comprised entirely of cheap mixed metals, glass, rope and plastic.
On a pretty autumn day after school let out, against my parents wishes, and with pearl ring slipped on finger, I went for a ride on a motorcycle with my then boyfriend. The sun, brilliant, the afternoon, T-shirt-warm and breezy—a perfect day for an Easy Rider freedom spin. We rumbled down the street, circled around the block, and as we reached the midway point back to the old colonial a crazed white dog lunged at the bike, bringing us down against a curb. Boyfriend was uninjured, as I recall, but my left hand was mangled and bloody. I still have the scars, literally, to prove it.
Back at home, where Mother tended to my wounds, I noticed that the gold ring's pearl had got loose entirely. So, of course, did Mother. Long lectures and the gallows ensued. Father came home and immediately went out in search of the pearl, which, he anticipated, had either been confiscated or lost to the storm drains.
But he found it. Without a blemish, beneath leaves and gravel in the gutter.
Along the Chesapeake Bay last month, Hubby uncovered a tiny, luminous pearl, smaller than the size of the sugar pearls that adorn wedding cakes, in an oyster he was about to consume. We wrapped the pearl in paper towel scrap and brought it home where it was deposited into a small, lopsided, three-footed clay vessel made by Max—in his elementary school days.
This morning, during the little pearl's outdoor photo shoot, I inadvertently knocked the pearl from the black-velvet-swathed teak table on which it sat. Rolling beneath the table and along the deck flooring, it quickly found its escape between the narrow spacing of the decking boards, falling one story to the muddy, mossy, pebble-covered ground below.
Thirty minutes later I had done the impossible: rooted it out.
It turns out, my family is good at hunting down pearls.
The pearl—calcium carbonate-layered grime, slipped between the oyster's mantle and shell—so it is said, has powers such as love, protection and good fortune. It symbolizes purity, wisdom and spiritual transformation. It represents triumph over adversity through transcendence. I'm not sure about that. In my experience, it seems the pearl has been a source of stress. (Or could it be my mishandling of the pearl?) An iridescent souvenir that fights captivity!
Then again, it appears to be more: a reminder to handle with care and consideration those things precious. What can be maimed and scarred when neglected. What we hold close to the mantle. Our gems. Flesh or stone.