Please welcome Terri Ryburn, coolest boss I’ve ever had and a sage in the ways of pearls and lots else. A guest post.
I bought my first pearls when I was ten and lived in San Francisco. I took my savings hopped a bus, made one transfer, and walked a few blocks to the five and dime on Mission Street to buy a string of pop beads. They were lovely and pearly white— pearlescent I think was the wording on the package. They were reminiscent of pearls, in a weird sort of way, but much larger and, of course, much, much more plastic. And, with such a satisfying “pop” as you shortened or lengthened them.
My senior picture, taken 50 years ago, when I was 17. (Unlike some of my classmates, I had the good sense to remove the cat’s eye glasses with the little rhinestones at the upswept corners.) I’d slept on spiky wire rollers the night before, removing them at the studio, teasing the crown, and carefully brushing my long, red hair into this impossible flip.
The photographer’s breath smelled of pipe tobacco, kind of wet pipe tobacco actually, with just a hint of whiskey, as he leaned in to adjust the flip on my shoulder, just so. But look at what he captured! Just look at this face—Mona Lisa-like in its innocent, virginal gaze. The mysteries that lurk within the smile. Oh, the possibilities that await this smooth, untroubled countenance. This is before life kicked my ass, of course.
You must agree that blue was my color. Never mind that the sweater was faux mohair purchased at Uncle Adolph’s, a cut-rate store in Bloomington, Illinois, that sold household goods and clothes and tires. Kind of like Blaine’s Farm and Fleet, but not as upscale. You, of course, know what the sweater so sorely needed—pearls. A short strand or choker of pearls, perhaps. But, alas, dear reader, my 17-year-old self didn’t know that and couldn’t have afforded them if I had. The pop beads were long gone, no longer in fashion or eaten by the dog. I forget which. And, the sweater, after all, set me back at least $3.49.
Lest you have the impression that I have never owned real pearls, let me disabuse you of that notion. I’ve had real pearls. Not a strand of pearls, mind you, but real pearls nonetheless—a gift from my first serious boyfriend. Really, Mark wasn’t my type. He wasn’t my type at all. Well, I didn’t know it then, of course. It was 1966 and boys weren’t types, were they? They were just boyfriends or not boyfriends. I have kept his letters, re-reading them just yesterday. I wept as I read his protestations of undying love. There is no greater love than that of a 19-year-old boy!
Mark was a sweet boy, really, from Niagara Falls, New York. (That’s what we said about boyfriends then—they were “sweet.”) He was away from home for the first time, stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois. He was 6’2” to my 5’2” so we had kind of a “Mutt and Jeff” thing going. I was never considered beautiful, but, dear reader, you must agree that I was pretty. If nothing else, I had that dewy-eyed youth thing working for me. He, on the other hand, was not very good looking. Did I mention that he was sweet? To be honest, he was kind of homely. Of course, I wouldn’t have said it then, but when you’re 67, you’ve got to tell the truth, even if it reveals how shallow you can be and the truth about your character and the real reason you’ve been married three times!
At Christmas, Mark gave a ring to me—a plain silver band with two pearls—one black, one white. I suppose now one might see that as metaphor for the complete opposites that we were but who knew metaphor from Mephistopheles back then? I guess it was what would be called a promise ring now, back when life held promise, prior to the aforesaid ass kicking. Whatever the promise might have been, it was never kept. And I weep now for Mark’s 19-year-old broken heart.
[Editor’s note, post-publication: Then, she gave the ring away. Then, the recipient read Terri’s guest post. Mixed feelings here.]
This brings me to my current pearls—the closest thing to pop beads that I have ever found. A necklace and a bracelet, mind you! Not as plastic, perhaps, as the pop beads, but plenty, plenty plastic. And, this is the way I wear them today—on my night stand! (Until I took this photo, I didn’t realize how much of a shrine to my late husband, Bill, my night stand has become. And before anyone makes the inevitable crack about “pearls before swine,” let me hasten to tell you that he was the only one of my husbands worth a damn!)
Why do they repose on my night stand? you may ask. Because dear reader, dear sweet, gentle reader, when you reach a certain double-chin age, nothing, and I mean nothing, looks good around your sagging and hopeless neck, full of age spots and skin tags and too-much-sun wrinkles. And the occasional stiff-bristled grey hair. Even a lovely silk scarf can’t disguise all that. So, hello, young lovers, wherever you are—get those pearls on now and wear the hell out of them! Do you hear me?! Yes, wear them to the grocery store or the pool or the gym. Laugh knowingly at jokes and touch your pearls lightly, calling attention to your lovely neck. It won’t be so many years that you will, alas, desire to wear pearls but realize that you no longer have the beautiful neck upon which to do so. You, too, may resort to hanging your beautiful pearls at your night stand shrine.
And remember, dear readers, what this pop-bead-wearing, 67-year-old former innocent has learned and learned well: If life kicks your ass, kick back! In pearls, of course. Faux or real—your choice.
Dr. Terri Ryburn, who was my boss and mentor back in the day at ISU, has kicked the ass of some serious life. Here is the story of her connection to Route 66. Here is her book about Route 66 in McLean County. She’s brilliant and it’s adorable that pearls thought Terri might have use for them. Adorable.
Tomorrow: Depends on who devoted their weekend to writing a guest post about the agony and ecstasy of pearl-wearing. One of them did. I know they did. I love and trust my street team. TOMORROW.