I have a sweet pearl necklace that my dad gave me way back when I was a young teenager. It’s a single, perfectly round pearl, with a gold holder and a thin 14 carat gold chain. Every time I wear it I am afraid I’ll lose it, but it holds on. The chain tangles, but it always untangles.
My dad gave me a few pearls – I have a ring he gave me also. I don’t know why pearls – my birth stone was the yucky pee coloured Topaz. Perhaps he mixed me up with my sister, or perhaps he just knew me better than that.
The pearl is a live thing. Like amber, it comes from a slow, natural process. And it has to be worn to keep its luster. Other gems stay, cooly glinting, not caring whether you wear them – in fact probably preferring to be left alone to shine on their own. A pearl, though – it rubs against your skin, and it becomes warmer, more alive. It takes on your body oils, becomes part of you as you become part of it. Perhaps my dad knew that sort of ornament would be more me than any other.
My dad and I did pottery together, taking earth and forming it with our hands. We drew together, taking charcoal from the ash and sketching. We gardened together, and he taught me how to grow foods in a small plot of land, taught me the immense pleasure of eating vegetables right off the plant. He taught me to see the world, taking all of us to canyons and mountains and caves and seashores, sharing their marvels with us, always finding something to wonder about, learn about. He made kites out of scraps of paper, built sand castles, carved boats and Kachina dolls and walking sticks, taking what was there and adding his touch. He taught me to see, to smell, to feel. To relish the world and all that was in it.
I still wander around, touching stone and sensing its roughness, feeling objects in stores, disobeying the look but don’t touch warnings we all heard from parents. The sensory world is my favorite, and one of my favorite things to sense is the slight insignificant weight of my father’s pearl around my neck as it warms to meet my body temperature.
My dad’s been gone 24 years now and it is so hard when I realize he’s been gone almost half of my life. He is still such a large part of me. As with my pearl, we were able to rub against one another enough through the experiences he shared with me that some of him has seeped into my skin. Tomorrow, for Father’s Day, I’ll put on the pearl, and remember him from when he gave it to me – crazy funny, laughing, finger outstretched to attract birds, always interested, often challenging, endlessly interesting, warm and wonderful.