I remember my grandmother Annie as a woman of extraordinary integrity, compassion, and dignity. Although she died when I was very young, her influence on my life has been monumental. A devoted Catholic, the loving wife of a hard-working husband, and the mother of 16 children, she epitomized grace even at the most difficult of times.
As a young girl I suffered from a perforated eardrum, a condition that colored my young life for many years. Because of it, I was unable to learn to ride a bike, as it affected my balance. Lack of coordination made me clumsy and prone to falling. I always seemed to be sporting scrapped knees, sprained ankles or wrists and I was constantly plagued with painful ear infections. I remember one year when all my classmates were enthusiastically involved in swimming lessons at a local pool, but I was doomed to sit out, and watch them have fun because chlorinated pools were breeding grounds for bacterias that I was not able to properly fend off. I felt isolated, excluded. awkward and sad. My grandmother understood my disappointment, but never allowed me to fall into self-pity. When my doctors determined that they only way to deal with the condition was surgery, I was frightened, but hopeful that I would soon be able to participate in the many childhood experiences that my condition had kept me from enjoying. Sadly though, my dear grandmother had become ill, and died of pancreatic cancer days before my surgery. One of her last requests was for my grandfather to make sure that I received a bouquet of roses from her after my surgery. When I awoke from anaesthetic my eyes focused on a beauty lady's head vase filled with pink baby roses, with a small card that simply said "with love from Meme". It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The porcelain lady wore a grey-black hat, a diminuitive strand of antique white pearls around her neck. I was smitten by her simple elegance, and have always wanted to own just such a necklace of my own.
Pearls however, are an expensive luxury, and not something I could ever justify buying for myself. Even for my wedding, fifteen years ago, it just wasn't possible to see my way clear to indulging in something so costly. Five years ago my husband, a fine piano accompanist, visited China as part of a cultural exchange with the British Columbia Girls Choir. Knowing that China was renowned for pearls, and thinking that buying them from the source mught make them affordable, I requested that he look for a strand for me. When he arrived home, he informed me that, in fact, the pearls were VERY expensive, and it just wasn't in the budget. I was disappointed, but understanding. Two years later, on Christmas day, he gifted me with a gorgeous, long strand of ivory pearls, presented in a pink box from the pearl district of China. I loved them, but they were not the short elegant string of antique white pearls I had dreamt of for so many years.
The following year I began to teach ESL(English as a Second Language) to a group of wonderful Asian adults at my Church. At the end of the year, it is their custom to gift their teachers with a token of their appreciation. That day in June, I opened a little box to find something that took my breath away. There, cradled in a cloud of white cotton batton were the pearls of my dreams. My students did not know, as I had never mentioned how much I had always wanted just such a necklace. I was taken back, shocked really at how they were exactly as I had imagined them; unassuming, pure and elegant, just like the ones worn by the demure lady with the pink roses in her hat, that bitter-sweet gift from my Meme. So, it seemed appropriate to wear them on that special day this summer, lovingly coupled with my engagement amethyst when I once again renewed my wedding vows. The idea of them, a gift from my beloved grandmother, the reality of them from precious ones whom I have had the priviledge to teach and befriend in my adopted province.