Several years ago I was visiting my mom in her apartment and she suddenly stopped and looked at me and asked if there was any jewelry of hers that I wanted. I don't wear much jewelry but I was curious.
I hesitated and so she said she had already given most of her jewelry to my sisters but she could give me either a pearl necklace or some costume jewelry she had gotten from my dad. She said the pearl necklace came with a story. I chose the necklace and asked for the story.
Here it is....
My mom was 17 years old in her junior year of high school in 1940 and very popular. Slender with dark brown hair that framed a lovely face, she had clear brown eyes and a mischievous grin. The one I have inherited from her, Frances Lucille Smith.
That same grin hid in the corner of her eyes as she settled into her comfy blue recliner and into her story. Once upon a time there was a boy ... a boy who would remain nameless.
It was only a few short weeks until his graduation and he was already enlisted in the Army. He was preparing to go to the war in Europe but it was spring and he had a question that couldn't wait.
The sweet scent of Lilacs filled the air as he walked her home from school but as she turned towards the walk to the front door he gently tugged her into the blooming Lilac tree, so full of blossoms that it hid them from view. The heel of one dainty white pump caught on a root as she fell into his arms.
She smiled, leaned in closer and nestled under his chin as he lifted her face and gently kissed her. She sighed, "I wish you wouldn't go" she whispered. He nodded, "I know. But I don't want to leave without a promise."
Her eyes widened.
"I want you to come with me to the jewelers so we can pick out an engagement ring." She stepped back, her eyes round with surprise.
Then she lifted her chin. "But what ..." she hesitated, straightened her shoulders. Her voice dropped, "not everyone comes back."
He started to protest but she rushed on, " I want your ring, I do, but not like this." She stepped closer and whispered, I want the ring and you, together."
He caught her hands in his. "But what can you wear so everyone will know you are mine?" His voice wavered. "Fran, you ... you are mine?"
Her voice raised with that teasing note he knew so well, "Well, I love pearls."
Several weeks later, fingering the strand of pearls that graced her slender throat Frances watched as his train disappeared around the bend. He would come back; he had to come back.
Over the next three years she repeated that well-worn phrase. His letters were scarce unlike the black edged posts that were hand delivered around every town, large and small. She spoke often with his mother, who lived in a nearby village, every time fearing the worst but if letters were scarce at least the black edged telegraph never arrived either.
Finally his mother called, he was coming home. She was so excited, she chatted on, she'd wear the pearls and her pink dress with the white eyelet collar and.... she suddenly stopped as she noticed the silence on the other end. "Well Fran" his mother began hesitantly, "he wants to wait to see you. He was hurt and he wants" her voice dropped, "to wait a bit."
"How" her voice wavered, "how long?"
"Not long Frannie," her voice forced a confidence that was missing. "I'm sure not long."
But it was long. It was well over a year after the war ended when she stopped waiting and volunteered to go to Japan and aid in efforts to rebuild. The pearls still went with her everywhere, though seldom adorning her neck.
They, her and a good friend, went by ship to Japan, then just a few months later, she took the long cruise home again when her father fell ill. She boarded the train from California home to Indiana. It was on that train that she met the handsome young Air Force sergeant who would become her husband a year later, Joe.
The pearls sat in her top drawer, in a box of cotton, hidden but not forgotten. They might have stayed there forever, except for a trip home one fall, back to Indiana, a small vacation without three little girls. On a whim she decided to take them, and wear them.
Joe had spotted a small bar, while visiting her family, on a rainy afternoon. Sitting next to him she considered how different her life was from what she had imagined. He ordered drinks as she got up to powder her nose, walking around the long curve of maple bar. She glanced towards the bar as she turned towards a dim hallway and there he was.
It would be hard to decide who was more surprised. She stepped back, her heel caught on the edge of the carpet and he reached out to steady her. A quick glance behind showed that Joe was flirting with a waitress. She sighed in relief.
"It, it's really you," he whispered, drawing her into the dim hall. He looked back at the table too, sudden understanding filling his eyes. "I, I am so, so sorry Frannie."
"You never called. Never." Her words hung in the air between them as she fingered the pearls. His eyes dropped to the floor.
"I, I was sick Fran, really sick. It was, well, it was hell. You were my hope and I, I wasn't worthy of you any more." His chuckle was dry, "When I felt better, I went to see your mom. She told me you were married. She told me to move on."
His arms waved to encompass the bar, "This is mine Fran. But it's not too late. It can be ours, you," he glanced at her throat. "You have the pearls." For a moment hope sprang between them. "You have our promise."
"Five years, five years I waited." She glanced back at the table and saw that Joe's eyes were peering into the dark hallway. "No, it's too late. I'm married and I have three little girls .. maybe four," she glanced at the waist of her dress.
She gave him one last sad glance, and turned back towards the table, to her life. As they left the bar an hour later he stopped by their table, and asked Joe if he'd been overseas. They chatted for a moment and he told them that the drinks were on the house for servicemen and shook his hand.
My dad died in1991, after years of torment from his years as a POW in Japan. His torment finally had ended as did my mom's. A year later the phone rang. An old friend, he said. She told him, with a smile, that she remembered.
"I'd like to see you." She said, "Yes, yes I'd like that."
He picked her up in a rental car, handing her a bouquet of Lilacs at her door. "You remembered?" He smiled. Dinner was comfortable as dinner with an old friend can be, and as he walked her to her door he smiled.
"A little late," he gently touched the pearls nestled around her throat. "Too late?"
She looked up at him. That same smile erased the years of loss. "I should have waited longer. If I had known...," she looked down at her sensible black heels and glanced up again, "but I didn't. It was wonderful seeing you again. I wish you well."
He gazed at her for a moment longer, nodded and turned back to his car, glancing back for one last look. "May I call again?"
It was almost two years later when his daughter called to tell her that he was gone. "He always loved you, you know," there were tears in her voice. "Thank you for seeing him, it made his so happy."
Mom sighed and handed me the box of pearls. "Now these are yours." We both smiled as we looked at the slender white vase that sat on the low maple table between us, and took in the sweet sweet smell of the Lilacs dancing there.