September/October 2022

Amelia’s Pearls

By Jodi Hiser

Mags Dillard sat down sleepy-eyed at the breakfast table with her bowl of Fruit Loops and a banana. She believed that by adding the fruit to her breakfast, it was now complete and healthy. 

Grains? Check. Fruit? Check. Dairy? Check. All good.

She pulled out her phone for a quiet moment to catch up on her Instagram. She had received ninety-five friendly comments from her last post of the pastel line from Prada. She was already planning her next post to be even better: a write-up on the Bohemian prints from Valentino and PDN London.

In the midst of her scrolling, her twin sister Tallie came to the table. She had been up for two hours already, exercising and working in the garden. She brought in a basket of vegetables.   “Look what came in the garden today Mags!” she said, holding up three lettuce heads and a small bucket of green beans. 

Mags didn’t look up from her scrolling, but waved her hand in acknowledgment. “Yeah. Great,” she said.

Tallie pulled out the oats from the pantry and began a pot of oatmeal on the stove. “Mags, you’re going to scroll your life away,” said Tallie. “There’s so much of life that you’re missing.”

Tallie opened the fridge and pulled out a pear and two pieces of sausage and added them to her plate.

Mags looked up. “You’re deceived, Dear Sister. This is better,” She held up her phone screen towards her sister. “Fashion, friends, and being up to date on all the trends. You forget that we’re eighteen! You do yoga and pick vegetables like a middle-aged soccer mom who drives a minivan.”

At that moment, the girls’ mother entered the kitchen wearing her favorite pair of stretch pants. “Hey, I resent that!” she said, going over to the coffee pot to begin her morning brew. 

“You know what I mean Mom,” said Mags. “You’ve always said Tallie was an old soul. She needs to act more her age.”

“I like Tallie just the way she is,” said Mom, winking at Tallie. “And I love you too, Sweet Maggie.”

“It’s Mags now, Mom,” said Mags, continually scrolling her Instagram and not looking up above her phone. “It’s been Mags for a long time now.”

When all three ladies were sitting at the table, Mom spoke up again. “Mags, put away your phone for a moment. I want to talk with you both.”

Mags huffed and put her phone on the table.

“You know that last week your father and I moved Gram into an assisted living place up the mountain,” Mom said. 

Both girls nodded.

“How is Grammie-Ammie?” asked Tallie. 

‘Grammie-Ammie’ was the name the girls called their Grandmother Amelia when they were around a year old, just learning to speak. Neither one could say the word Grandmother, or Amelia, and so Grammie-Ammie stuck.

“Well, she’s pretty lonely. She’s making new friends, but it was harder than she thought to leave Florida after fifteen years.”

“Why did she move anyway?” shrugged Mags.

“She can’t take care of herself anymore, Mags, you know that,” said Tallie.

“Yeah, but why the mountain? Why didn’t she stay in Florida where she’s been all this time?” asked Mags, taking her last bite of cereal.

“She wanted to return to her roots,” said Mom. “She always said that she was born on the mountain and wanted to die on the mountain.” Mom took a sip of her coffee. “Besides, she’s now forty-five minutes away from us. That’s great, right?”

“I guess,” said Mags.

“I think it’s great,” said Tallie. “She’s closer for us to take care of her, and visit her.”

“And that’s exactly why I’m bringing this up,” said Mom. “I know you two have been busy since graduation, but I really want you girls to visit her. She said she’s free all day on Friday. You can bring her a loaf of banana bread I made, and tell her all about your summer plans.”

The girls looked at each other. An entire conversation of twin language passed between them without a word spoken. 

“Sure Mom, we can do that tomorrow,” said Tallie.

Friday morning arrived, and the girls finished their breakfast and got in the car.  Tallie carried a loaf of Mom’s banana bread and Mags took the keys.

“You always get to drive,” said Tallie.

“That’s because I don’t drive like Grammie-Ammie!” retorted Mags. “Seriously, Tallie, there are old women that drive faster than you.”

They began their forty-five minute drive up the mountain where their grandmother now lived. Outside their car window, the roads wound back and forth, zig-zagging their way through Tennessee archways of lush green trees with large stones sprinkled in and around them. Tiny waterfalls trickled off the stones, a tell-tale sign of the plentiful summer rains.

“I don’t see why we need to go see her today,” grumbled Mags. “It’s not like she has a job or even a schedule. Why couldn’t we have visited next week? I have to make that concert tonight with my friends.”

“We’ll be home in plenty of time,” said Tallie. “We haven’t seen her for a while, Mags.”

Mags took the curves a little too fast.  She was in a hurry to get there and get done with the visit.

“Slow down, Mags!” said Tallie. “You know I get car-sick when we go up this mountain.”

Just then, Mags’s cell phone rang and buzzed at the same time. 

“My phone!” said Mags.  “I’m expecting a call from Carter. He’s taking me to the concert tonight!”  She grabbed her phone from the front cup holder and turned it on.

“Hello?” she said, trying to sound nonchalant with the phone in her ear. 

Tallie frowned. “You aren’t supposed to be on the phone while driving,” she whispered loudly. “You know Mom hates that!”

“Oh, right!” said Mags, and laughed a girlish laugh into the phone, completely ignoring her twin sister. She had a whole conversation with Carter and then put her phone back into the cup holder. 

“Mags, really. You know it’s not just Mom. It’s the LAW!” snapped Tallie, gripping the banana bread a little too strongly. 

“Okay, okay! I know,” said Mags. “Next time I’ll wait and park before answering. Happy?” growled Mags.

“Yes, quite.” said Tallie.

The girls made it to the Sunset Acres Adult Living Community and parked the car. 

Mags snorted. “Adult living community! Hah! That’s fancy-talk for old-people-who-can’t-hold-their-bladders-anymore.”

Tallie looked offended. “Really, Mags, sometimes I wonder if you love Grammie-Ammie at all. Have some respect, will you?”

Mags huffed. “Alright, alright. Let’s just do this visit quickly. I gotta get home.”

The girls marched into the front door of the lobby and asked for directions to the new residence of Amelia Dillard. After weaving through a labyrinth of hallways, the girls finally found it: Residence #343. The door boasted a welcoming wreath with a “D” hanging from the middle, and fake blueberries woven around it as decoration. 

The girls stood at the front door. Within one knock, Amelia Dillard opened the door. She was wearing a purple blouse with black pants. Her red hair must have recently been dyed, because not a tinge of silver peeked through. She had on a full face of make-up, as if she were going out for a night on the town.

“Gammie-Ammie!” said the girls in unison.

“Magnolia! Tallulah!” said Amelia with her arms opened wide. She received both girls in a long embrace. “Oh, I have missed my darlin’ red-headed twins!”  Amelia had been born on the mountain and carried the drawl of a mountain accent her whole life.

Tallie looked up from her hug. “We brought you some of Mama’s banana bread, Grammie. We know how much you like it.”

“Thank you, my Dears,” said Amelia. “I’ll savor every piece. The cafeteria food here is not what I hoped. Don’t get me wrong! I’m glad to be free of the stove! But goodness, they cain’t even make grits! Can you imagine? I mean, it’s the staple of the south, and they cain’t even get that right.” Amelia huffed and sat down slowly in her comfortable chair.

Amelia’s new home was a miniature apartment. Her front door opened into a mini kitchen area that included a microwave, small refrigerator, and three-foot counter along with an area for a tiny table, just big enough for two. That space opened up into a small room with a couch, one rocking recliner, and a television. A window looked out into a courtyard where several residents were either playing bocce ball or sitting in chairs talking. The miniature living room led into a miniature hallway that held one small bedroom and a bathroom. 

“I like your place, Grammie,” said Mags. “Can teenagers move in here? It looks like they got everything we need!”

Tallie elbowed her sister. “Not funny,” she said. “Grammie-Ammie, how have you been?”

Amelia leaned back in her recliner. She began to unfold all the adventures she had experienced from her move. The twins’ mother and father had flown down to Florida to help Amelia move just last week. Amelia’s son, the twin’s father, was unable to get the moving truck she had ordered, so they had to settle with a second-rate trucking company, which handled her furniture “all willy-nilly like.” Then, the truck had a flat tire, which left them stranded on the side of the road for two hours while they waited for assistance. Then, once they arrived at the Sunset Acres Adult Living Community, her apartment hadn’t been cleaned! Amelia had to wait in the lobby with the twins’ parents for two hours while the apartment was deep-cleaned and prepared for her to move in.

“What a day that was!” she huffed. “But I’m glad it’s all behind me.” She stood up slowly from her chair. “And I have just the project for you spry young things. I need these pictures hung, please.”

The girls looked at a box of old pictures in frames. There were pictures of the twins in their different kid-stages, pictures of the old mountain home Grammie grew up in, a picture of the beach in Florida where she had lived the last fifteen years, and the wedding picture of Grammie and Papaw, married sixty years prior. Papaw had been gone for as long as Mags could remember– just a wisp of a memory–but he was still Grammie’s best friend. She talked about him like he was always in the other room. 

“Your Papaw always wanted our weddin’ photo to be the first thang you see when you walk in the door,” she said. “I think he would like it to go…there,” she said, pointing to a space over the TV.

As the girls worked hanging photos around the apartment, Amelia went into her closet. “I’ve got somethin’ for you girls,” hollered Amelia, her voice muffled by the depth of the closet.

She came out with a box in her hands. “I already gave your mama my engagement rings. I wanted her to keep ‘em. But I saved these for you.”

Amelia opened the box and held out a necklace strung with four sapphires on a chain of gold. “Tallulah, this is for you. It was an anniversary gift your Papaw gave me many years ago.”

Tallie reached out her palm and took the sapphire necklace with awe. “Wow, Grammie, it’s beautiful. I’m not sure I know what to wear it with, but it is an amazing treasure!”

“Aww, Sweetheart, you can wear it with anything! You need to dress up your life a little! Wear it to church! It’ll make your blue eyes and red hair sparkle.”

Tallie smiled and held the necklace in her palms like a delicate treasure.

Amelia pulled out a second necklace; it was a dainty string of off-white pearls. She held the pearls into the light. “These genu-ine pearls have been in our family for generations, Magnolia. They have always been passed to the oldest daughter. Since I only had a son, I held on to ‘em. And, because you’re the oldest of the twins—“

“Only five minutes older,” retorted Mags.

Amelia ignored the comment. “And since you’re the oldest of the twins, they get passed on to you.” Amelia placed the strand of pearls into Mags’ hands, and closed her eyes ceremoniously. 

Mags glared at the pearls and then at Tallie. “Thanks, Grammie,” she said.

“Yes, thank you again, Grammie. These are such lovely gifts,” said Tallie.

“Well, they were the only jewelry I owned in the whole world. I have no need for ’em here.” Amelia leaned in closer to the girls. “Besides, I hear the old gramps in room #367 likes to swipe thangs that don’t belong to him!  They’re much better in your hands, if you know what I mean!”

After sharing a glass of lemonade and telling Amelia all about their summer plans, the twins said goodbye, gave their Grammie a great big hug, and headed back home.

Back in the car, Mags turned to Tallie before they drove away. “Tallie, you have to trade with me. I can’t wear these pearls.”

“What? Why?” asked Tallie. “Grammie gave them to you.

“Oh come on, Tallie,” said Mags. “Pearls are so old-womanish. They just don’t fit my style. You like old vintage things. Let’s trade. Please!!”

Tallie furrowed her brow. “But, Mags, Grammie gave them to YOU! They’re a special heirloom for the oldest girl. Don’t you care about that?”

“Not really.  Please, Tallie. Trade with meeeeee!” Mags put her hands in a praying position and begged.

Tallie shook her head. “Fine. If that’s what you want, you can have it.” Tallie held out the sapphires and traded Mags for the pearl necklace.

The following Sunday, the girls appeared in the kitchen before church each donning the gift that Amelia had given them, or rather, had given the other. Mags had taken apart the sapphire necklace and had created new earrings that sparkled and dangled from her ears. Tallie proudly wore the string of pearls that Amelia gave to Mags, and patted them where they lay on her neck. 

“You girls look lovely!” said Mom. “Your grandmother was so kind to give you each an heirloom.”

The girls just looked at each other, having a silent, separate twin conversation of their own.

That afternoon, Mom peeked her head into the girls’ room holding a brown paper bag filled with cosmetic items from the grocery store. “I have to go into work early tomorrow, but your grandmother needs these items. Her grocery store didn’t carry what she needed. Do you girls think you could deliver them tomorrow?”

Sitting on her twin bed, Mags looked up from typing on her laptop. “Really, Mom? Again? Can’t Dad do it? How many times are we going to be expected to drive out there?”

“Honey, your Father has to go on his business trip tomorrow morning at 4 am! He doesn’t have the time to stop by. Can you please help out the family?”

Tallie stood up from her desk and looked at Mags. “We can go tomorrow morning, Mags. I don’t have to be at work until three o-clock, and you don’t have to be at the movie theater until 8 that night.” She stared at her sister.  “We can go.”

“Great! Thanks girls! I know your grandmother will love seeing you again. She is pretty lonely. I know your visit will cheer her up,” said Mom.

The next morning, Mags got to the car keys before Tallie could grab them.

“You said I could drive the next time, Mags,” said Tallie.

“No way, old woman, not in your life,” said Mags. “I want to get there today, so just deal with it and get in the passenger seat.”

Tallie grabbed the bag of groceries and huffed her way into the front passenger seat. “I’m not sure why I always let you have your way. You’ve become too bossy lately, you know that?”

“I’m just stating the facts, Tallie.” Mags put the keys in the ignition but then looked at her sister disapprovingly. “You’re wearing Grammie’s pearls! Why?”

Tallie looked defiantly at her sister and patted her neck. “I happen to like wearing them. Did you know that our great-great-grandmother Emmeline—”

“I don’t care about that! Grammie will know we switched! You can’t wear them to see her!” said Mags.

“Mags, one day, you’re going to care about someone else other than yourself,” said Tallie.

“I am caring about someone else! I don’t want Grammie’s feelings to be hurt. I can’t help that her pearls have no fashion sense whatsoever. No offense, Tallie, but you can’t wear them in front of her.”

“Fine!” said Tallie. “I’ll take them off and put them in my pocket once we get inside Grammie’s community. Are you happy now?”

“Yes, quite,” said Mags with a smile.

As usual, Mags took the turns up and around the mountain with the same grace as Danica Patrick in her best NASCAR race. 

“Slow down! Please!” whined Tallie. “Car-sick! Remember!”

“Oh yes, I forgot.” Feeling a prick of conscience for yelling at her sister, she decided to slow down.

Just then, Mags’s cell phone rang and buzzed at the same time. 

“It’s Carter! He was going to pick me up for the movie tonight,” said Mags. She reached for her phone.

“No, Mags, don’t you remember? You promised not to pick up your phone while driving,” said Tallie.

“Well, then, you answer it. Tell him I’ll call him back,” said Mags.

Tallie reached over to pull the cell phone out of the cup holder, but dropped it. The phone landed with a thunk next to the gas pedal where Mags was driving. The phone kept buzzing and ringing at Mags’s feet.

“Tallie! You dropped my phone!” Mags looked over at her sister and then down at her feet. 

“I’ll get it!” said Tallie. “Don’t worry. Just keep your eyes on the—”

Later that week, Mags would remember the events of this moment in slow motion:

The ringing and buzzing at her feet.

The winding curve up the mountain.

The waterfalls upon the side of the rocks trickling out upon the road.

The screeching of tires, and the scraping of brakes that were insufficient.

The cracking sounds of metal upon metal. 

Mags woke up in a hospital room with the ugliest hospital gown upon her body. Her arm was hooked to wires, and her leg was bandaged with a cast. She tried to lift her head and move her neck and quickly found that she was too sore to do so. With her eyes, she surveyed the room. Mom was sleeping in a chair beside the bed.

“What’s a girl gotta do to get a decent robe around here?” squeaked Mags.

With those words, Mom awoke and rushed to her daughter’s side. “Oh Magnolia! You’re awake! I am so glad to see those blue eyes,” she said, pressing into her daughter’s hand.

Mags cringed at her name, Magnolia. Her mother only called her that when she was emotional.

“What happened Mom?” asked Mags. 

“Do you remember the accident, Sweetheart?” asked Mom.

“I remember Tallie dropped my phone like a clumsy person. It was….buzzing at my feet…and that’s all I remember.”

Mom looked away and bit her lip. She didn’t say anything for a moment. “Honey, a semi truck hit a patch of water and slid into the right side of your car.”

Mags frowned and looked around the room, not saying anything for a moment. She furrowed her brow in confusion. “You mean…it hit us on Tallie’s side?

“Yes dear,” said Mama, catching her breath, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“But how—?” asked Mags in confusion.

Mom choked through her words. “I think the witnesses said you tried to brake for impact and when you did, it swerved your car to the right, where the semi hit it,” she said.

A gut-wrenching realization swept over Mags that squeezed her chest and made her feel sick to her stomach. She resisted the urge to throw up. “Mama…where’s Tallie?”

Mom sniffed. “She didn’t make it, Mags.” Tears streamed down Mom’s cheeks. “She’s…gone.”

Exactly four days after the crash, Mags sat in her room—the twins’ room—alone. Her bulky cast stuck out awkwardly in front of her. Being in this room, their room, overtook her with emotion. She shook her head as tears stung her eyes, making sharp pains in her throat. She looked at the twin beds on opposite walls. She couldn’t sleep here. Not ever again.  And she bowed her head and sobbed for what seemed like the one-millionth time.

A knock sounded at the door that made her jump.

It was her mom. “Magnolia? I know you’re just settling in, but we have to get going Honey. The funeral is in one hour.”

Mags couldn’t find her voice. She tried to speak but she couldn’t. She just sobbed.

Mom opened the door and rushed to her daughter’s side. “Magnolia, I’m here. You’re not alone in this.”

“But I am,” cried Mags. “I am all alone. The only person that completely understood me is gone. Oh Mama, what have I done?”

Mom reached out and embraced Mags. “Oh Sweetheart, you have to know that the accident wasn’t your fault. Tallie’s death is not your fault.”

“It doesn’t matter, Mom. Tallie is dead because of me! She was sitting in that passenger seat because of me! And the world is void of her goodness because of me! I would do anything to trade places with her.”

Mom pursed her lips and reached out to hug her daughter again. “Magnolia, we’re all grieving now. I miss Tallulah so much that I can hardly breathe some days. I know you miss your sister too. But Honey,” now Mom was whispering,  “if you don’t go to her funeral, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

Mags looked up, noticing the black streaks of mascara that clouded her mom’s face. “I know, Mom. I know.” Mags held out her hand, and Mom helped her up to her crutches. Together, they left the room in silence.

The funeral was a blur. Mags was in a fog. Numbly, she stood with the congregation and sat with the congregation. She listened to the songs. And she cried through the whole thing.

Afterwards, when the crowd had left, Mags sat in the second pew of the church, refusing to move. The sanctuary was empty. Everyone had gone to the fellowship hall for casseroles and jello. Mags couldn’t feel anything. Her whole body was numb. Her heart was numb. Her mind was numb.

Just then, Grammie-Ammie ambled over toward the same pew and sat next to her granddaughter. She clinked the hook of her cane over the wooden seat of the pew in front of them. The two of them sat silently, not saying a word for a full five minutes. Mags couldn’t stop crying. It was like the heavens opened a faucet of guilt upon her heart, and she couldn’t turn it off.  I think I will cry forever, she thought.

Finally, Amelia spoke up. “You know I’ve been stayin’ at your house this week, Sugar,” she said. “Your mama brought me there to stay for a while.”

Mags nodded, tears streaming down her face.

“Your mama told me that upon the moment of her death, Tallie was wearin’ these.” Amelia reached into her purse and pulled out the string of pearls.

Mags closed her eyes and bowed her head. An urge of regret and repentance burst forth from her insides. “Oh Grammie, I’m so sorry!” she said shakily. Her voice wobbled and warbled. “It’s all my fault! Everything! I convinced Tallie to trade necklaces with me, and I convinced her that I should drive, and I convinced her to sit in the passenger seat, and….and…I killed my sister!” She buried her face in her hands and wept bitterly.

Grammie put her arm around Mags. “Magnolia, I have something to tell you, and I need you to hear me when I say it.”

Mags wiped her eyes and hung her head, not bringing herself to look at her grandmother.

“Do you remember when your Papaw died?”

Mags shook her head. What did Papaw have to do with this moment? “We were just three, Grammie. I don’t remember much at all. I just remember the church, and the limo that took us to the grave site.”

Amelia leaned in closer to her granddaughter.  “Your Papaw died because of me,” she whispered, with a catch in her voice.

Mags looked up and cocked her head. She was confused. “What…what do you mean, Grammie?”

Amelia cleared her throat and blinked her eyes. She sat staring at the ground, as if she could see her memories in the wooden floor of the church.  “I convinced your Papaw to ride in the passenger seat that night. I told him I was the better driver. We were headed down the mountain for a Christmas party. The car skidded on some ice and our car went flyin’ over the side of mountain.”

Mags looked stunned. “You…what?”

“Our car hit a tree and lodged in between two large rocks. It took emergency crews five hours to get to us. I kept talkin’ to your Papaw the whole time, beggin’ him to stay alive until help arrived. But while we were waiting, he slipped…away. It was so cold that night.”

Grammie sniffed. Mags saw a tear run down her cheek. 

“I couldn’t bear to live on the mountain again…not without my best friend,” said Amelia. “So I packed up my things and willed myself to start a new life in Florida… alone.”

Mags turned so she could face Amelia in the pew. “Grammie, how did you…I mean, what did you do to….” Mags felt she didn’t have words to know what her heart longed to know.

“How did I deal with the guilt, you mean?” asked Amelia.

Mags hung her head and nodded. 

“It took many years, Magnolia. Many years of tears, of searching, of crying out to God. But I learned one thing that changed my outlook.”

Mags looked into Grammie’s eyes, searching for the relief she longed for; the words of wisdom that could alleviate her raw and jagged pain.

“No matter what you’ve done in your life, it’s not so deep that the love of God cain’t reach it. No matter what, Magnolia, there’s grace and forgiveness for you. Once you truly believe that, your heart will begin to mend.”

Amelia unhooked her cane and stood up shakily inside the pew. She reached over and hung the pearls around the neck of her granddaughter. “These belong to you, Magnolia. They are your heritage. Your mama is going to bring you by my apartment soon so I can show you what I mean.”

“What do you mean, Grammie?” asked Mags.

“You’ll discover it once you come, my dear Magnolia.” And with those words, she got up and hobbled away.

Mags didn’t feel up for going anywhere until a full two months had passed. By that time, her mother had finally convinced her that a nice drive through the valley and a stop at the ice cream store would be a good outing. After that, they would head up the mountain, see Grammie-Ammie, and then come home.

When they reached Amelia’s apartment, Mags stopped in front of the door. 

“I don’t know if I can do this, Mom,” she said. “Tallie was always the one that knew her best. Grammie and I don’t have much in common,” she said.

“Nonsense, Sweetheart,” said Mom. “You’re of the same blood. That’s common enough right there.”

Mags walked into Amelia’s apartment without crutches. She had finally graduated to an ugly unfashionable boot.

“My Magnolia!” said Amelia. “You’re walking!”

Amelia studied Mags from her feet all the way up to her neck and then gasped a small mouse-like gasp. “You’re wearing the pearls!” she said, and clasped her hands in delight.

“I figured they matched the boot,” said Mags with a sly smile.

Mom took a chair at the table to sit quietly while her daughter visited with her mother-in-law.

“I wanted to give you one more special heirloom,” said Amelia. “It actually goes with the pearls.”

Amelia disappeared for two minutes back into her closet. Mags and Mom heard a few banging noises and lots of rustling sounds. Amelia popped out with a book in her hands.

“This,” said Amelia, “this, my Magnolia, is the family heritage book. My mother started it and I have continued it, and I am giving it to you.” She handed Mags a large book with leather binding and a ribbon tied to close the covers.

Mags opened the book and saw a 6×8 miniature portrait painting of a woman with a string of pearls. At the bottom, it read: Emmeline, 1912.

“That’s my  grandmother and your great-great-grandmother, just five years before she gave birth to my mother,” said Amelia. “Do you see that red hair? That’s where we get it, my Dear.” Amelia turned to Mags and smiled. “Those pearls were a gift from Emmeline’s father on her wedding day. He sold his guitar to buy them,” she said.

Mags turned the page and saw a black-and white photo with a woman in front of a stone house with trees and a mountain rising in the background. 

“That’s Mama holding me on the day I was born,” said Amelia. “Mama wore the pearls for every fancy occasion. Having her daughter’s first picture taken was a mighty fine occasion,” she said and pointed to the necklace laced around her mother’s neck. “My mama married my daddy, who was poor as a church mouse. They could have bought a lot of groceries if they would have sold those pearls. But my mama wouldn’t have it.  ‘It’s your heritage, Amelia,’ she would say, and I believed her.”

Mags turned the page to see many pictures of her great-grandmother on the mountain, working in the garden with a mule they used for their land, and other pictures with the family of five sisters and three brothers for Amelia.

Mags turned to the last page. It was a different photo of Papaw and Grammie that she had never seen before, standing on a high point on the mountain, overlooking a river below and a sea of undulating mountains beyond. 

“That’s my weddin’ day,” said Amelia. “I wore the pearls the day I married your Papaw. Besides my weddin’ and engagement rings, they were the most valuable thing I owned at that moment, and I guarded them with my life. I even slept with them all during our honeymoon, because I was afraid they’d be stolen,” she said with a giggle.

“Those pearls, Magnolia….Those pearls tell the story of your heritage, and the women who came before you: myself, my mother, my grandmother. Those pearls have seen many years of plenty and many years of need. But through it all, those pearls have stayed in the family. They’re part of who we are.”

Mags closed the book. “Do I get to keep this book, Grammie?”

“You sure do, Sweetheart,” said Amelia. “And I’m hopin’ that you’ll add your own pictures inside it—pictures of you and your daughters to come.” Amelia patted the book like it had feelings. “And I have a confession to make,” said Amelia. She looked down at the floor and tapped her foot on the floor. “I made up the part about handin’ the pearls down to the oldest daughter. I just really wanted you to have them, Dear.”

Mags furrowed her brow and looked confused. “I don’t understand.”

“You see, Magnolia Dear, our Tallulah—” At the mention of Tallie’s name, Amelia choked and sputtered and sniffed. 

Mags could feel her own tears coming on as she watched her grandmother choke out what she was trying to say.

“You see, Magnolia, our Tallulah cared about the stories of our family, because she understood they were part of her story too. She could see God’s handiwork woven through our history. And knowing His work in the stories of our family gave her the confidence to walk in her own story.” 

Amelia looked at the floor before finishing. 

“I gave you those pearls, my Dear Magnolia, to remind you of the women that came before you, and God’s faithfulness in each of their lives. Their strengths, their weaknesses, their sufferings, and their triumphs are all part of your story. I gave you those pearls because… because somewhere along the way, I felt that you’d forgotten. And I wanted you to remember.” Amelia reached up and fingered the pearls that laced around the neck of her granddaughter.

Mags nodded. “I’m sorry I didn’t value these pearls before, Grammie.” She took Amelia’s hand and held it, looking into her eyes. “I understand now.” 

Amelia smiled at her granddaughter and squeezed her hand back. She beamed with a new joy that Mags hadn’t seen in a while.

Mags looked at the photo book and pointed to the portrait on the first page. “Tallie and I really look a lot like great-great-grandmother Emmeline.”  

“Oh my yes,” said Grammie Ammie. “You’re a lot like her, I have to say. Let me tell you about the time she traveled on horseback across the whole state of Tennessee with a group of friends just to see a Vaudeville show…”

About the Author

Jodi Hiser is a writer and editor for Kosmeo Magazine. She and her husband Matthew live with their family on a small homestead in Tennessee.