My grandmother felt every girl should have a good strand of pearls. She gave me my first. Somewhere between the loss of her at the start of my college days in Chicago and today as I again live far from the farm lands where she and I both were born and raised, my mother passed on to me some of my grandmother’s best pearls. She is always on my mind when I struggle to clasp them around my neck- my grandmother’s beautiful pearls.
As the cool, stale are rushed my face and hair, and my skate wheels whirled fast and smooth but rhythmlessly around the wooden rink, I would always smilingly search for Grandma Rosie when “Elvira” played. Her eyes would brighten, and her cheeks would flush as her white skates danced on the old wooden floor, arm-in-arm with her best friend.
I don’t know how they did it. She and her friend Ramadonis knew a way to skate that was like a wartime dance. Rozella and Ramadonis, with a dance as outdated, unique and beautiful as their names, like a peacock in a commercial chicken house. No one else knew how to recreate that beauty. The best most people could do was stay on their feet as they went around that circle. Few could go fast and smooth. None other could make it beautiful.
My grandfather had known how, and he’d been on grandmother’s arm before I was born, doing their gliding, shuffling, waltz across the smooth skating floor. That is a grand sight I would love to have seen. I wonder when they had a chance to learn that art, between the Great Depression and WWII, where they had both served.
My grandmother grew up one of the youngest of many, to a mother whose drunken husband was long gone and who managed to provide by washing others’ laundry. Her reddish-brown curly hair and flashing eyes reflected her fiery spirit and strong will, which seemed to harden some with age and pain.
I was scared of her as a child. For all her rough exterior, her strong, almost biting, will, and her fierce opinions, there was beauty inside. And she created beauty outside. Beauty with meaning. She would spend hours digging, weeding, and filling the flower beds of our home with love. Her own gardens were rich with red and blue raspberries, strawberries, sweet and sour cherries, and vegetables of all kinds, birthed out of the kind of labor that leaves you dripping and sore and rich inside. I sat in somber silence when I saw her gardens leveled after the auction when she passed. A flat, beauty-free yard remains to this day. Less work, I’m sure.
There is something wholesome about a person who stands tall for what’s right, because they know from experience that it is right- and totally worth the cost. There is something rich about tasting the fruit and vegetables and watching the flowers wave in the summer’s breeze, especially when you have experienced the work it took to make it happen. There is something marvelous about a dance I could never do on skates or off of them. There is beauty birthed in struggle.
Gary Thomas in his original version of Sacred Marriage said of marriage something that I believe is true of any struggle:
“There are few natural wonders more startling in their beauty than Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. Geologists believe that the Himalayas were created by the Indian continent crashing into Eurasia. “Crashing” is a writer’s hyperbole; actually, the two continents collide with a movement of about ten centimeters per year. But slow and steady does the job. As India keeps moving inward, compressing and lifting southern Eurasia, a spectacular natural treasure continues to be created.
If there were no collision between India and Eurasia, there would be no Himalayas. Without the wrenching force of continental shifting, the world would be a poorer place aesthetically.
In the same way, the “collisions” of marriage can create relationships of beauty. Beauty is often birthed in struggle. These points of impact may not be “fun”- in fact, they can make us feel like we’re being ripped apart- but the process can make us stronger, build our character, and deepen our faith” (Thomas 128).
Those pearls she used to wear in her ears and on her neck- the ones I now wear- they were birthed in struggle, too. Some kind of parasite had broken in to cause trouble to an untested oyster, mussel, or clam. The testing led the small creature to put layers and layers on top of that irritant until it became a thing of true beauty. A thing of beauty passed down to me- along with a heritage of beauty birthed in struggle.
May God birth beauty in each of us through each of our struggles.
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