Mother’s Pearl Pin

Mother's pearl pin and blue scarfI walk under tall hemlocks, opening and closing the black umbrella borrowed from my brother’s hall closet, cutting through the small park at the end of his street before circling back to the house.

cold mist
round a shaded pond
after mom’s service
ducks swim away from me
while ripples widen

Later, Rose and I sit down to go through our mother’s jewelry.

The pink laminate box doesn’t contain much we want to keep. Over the years Mom bought her motley collection at Woolworth’s, then later Sears Roebuck, J.C. Penney’s, the local drugstore counter—each pin, necklace, and set of earrings chosen to go with some new dress or blouse.

Rose and I wear different clothes, different accessories.

We come to the drawer that holds the engagement and wedding rings. My sister sits back while I pick the set out from the jumble. Two joined bands about as thin as gold can be and still hold together, one diamond hardly more than a chip.

The rings rest on my palm while desire grows inside me, desire that swells and crests—but not so high, I’m happy to say, that I can’t see past it.

“These should be yours.” I hand them to our mother’s eldest child. With a quick smile of pleasure—maybe some relief—Rose accepts, and the moment passes. A good moment.

The final drawer, the last medley of colored glass and chipped enamel. All expectation gone, my eye catches on a gleam of gold and pearl.

“Mother’s pearl pin!” I pick it up. “This is real jewelry. We kids gave it to her on their 30th anniversary. That’s the year for pearls.”

Rose nods, uncertain. She barely remembers the occasion and is happy for me to have this gift.

Back home, I examine Mom’s pearl pin before putting it away. Will I ever wear it? Stylized leaf shapes, six cultured pearls. Can’t imagine buying anything like it for myself. Slowly, I close my jewelry box’s carved-wood lid.

Memory comes in bits and pieces. Was it me who did the math, realized it was their 30th? Me who suggested that we three kids go together on real pearls? Back then, our family was far flung. Certainly, it was me who took the bus to a downtown Seattle jewelry store, explained the occasion to the Asian clerk, picked out one pin from a selection she placed on the glass counter. I remember doing that.

Memories of the occasion itself—the giving of the gift—are fuzzier. I know I would have pointed out the appropriateness of pearls for their 30th. And I would have made sure my parents knew that this gift was real gold, real pearls.

As far as I could tell, Mom loved her anniversary pin. She wore it often, until the clasp became too hard for her to manage. When was the last time I saw it on her? Ten years ago, at least.

A pile of cards on the kitchen counter. I open square envelopes, one by one. It’s nice to get real mail. I resolve to buy cards appropriate for condolences, next time I’m at the stationery store.

One envelope has a return address of St. Paul’s, my home parish. Expecting more sympathy, I tear it open, then stare in puzzled surprise at signatures around the message—Happy Anniversary!

“Honey, look at this.” David is surprised too. What with everything else going on, we had both forgotten about our wedding anniversary. We don’t have kids. Now that Mom is gone, no one else in the family will be keeping track. If it weren’t for this one card, the date would have passed without remark.

I do the math. 1981…2011.

In two more days, David and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

A couple days later, dressing for dinner out, I place mom’s scarf around my neck, take the pearl pin out of the box.

piercing blue folds
I clasp the pin
in the mirror
mother’s pearl broach
becoming my own

About Margaret D. McGee


  1. I have a very fond memory of going through my grandmother’s jewlery box with her and my mother (at night) three years before my grandmother died. Her boyfriend back in the 50’s owned Dana’a Jewlery Store in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont and I heard that he had given her things so I thought that she would have a lot. There wasn’t much just this tangles gold necklace that my mother let dangle through her fingers and a few other things. My grammy probably gave her expensive jewels to her other daughter before she moved in with my folks.

  2. Brad Offutt says:

    How beautifully said! Gifts often go full circle like that. On his last Christmas, I sent my dad a model of a maroon Whizzer motorbike. He and I had one like it when I was (yes, I confess) really too young to ride it legally. He was in the hospital, expected to recover from an infection, and I talked to him on the phone from thousands of miles away that Christmas. He was too sick to open the gift but we shared our precious memories. After the call he went peacefully to sleep and never woke up – not in this world. Mom later gave me the model and I had it for many years until it was damaged in a move. Isn’t it wonderful that so much love lives in your broach too?

    • Thanks Brad, for sharing that memory. Yes, I think it is wonderful — and amazing — how objects with deep associations can be carry so much feeling with them.

  3. Oh yes, I meant to say that my grammy did give me a Christmas broach and although it is costume jewlery I wear it every Christmas when we get together with family.

    • Wonderful! I have Christmas ornaments that my mother gave us over the years, and I think of her every year when they re-emerge. And we have a nativity set given by my grandmother, still stored in the box she used to mail it, with her handwriting on the address. Amazing how spirit intertwines with matter.

  4. Nevermind I found your share button and I am sharing your site here on mine. I am hoping that my mother will check it out. I think it will give her some comfort.

    • Thank you, Jessica — I hope your mother enjoys the site and that it gives her comfort. There’s a place on the Home page ( where she can sign up for our email list. That way she will get email when we update the site with new prayers and meditations, which usually happens about once a month. Blessings to you both.

  5. Jessica Bernard says:


  6. Jessica Bernard says:

    Another thing is that I can remember after my grandmother died last year that her presence in my parent’s home was suddenly replaced by sypathy cards. They were covering the fireplace mantle, on the kitchen table and the end table in the corner of the love seat and the sofa. Her death happened very quickly. She had a stroke and I could not make it to her funeral, because my kindergartener had school that day and it was in the middle of the week in the afternoon about a one hour drive south of where I live.

  7. Ida Wingrove says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this story of your Mother’s Pear Pin. The gentle, powerful telling was very touching….and though provoking.

    Condolences ….and congratulations on your 30th Wedding anniversary.