I think I figured it out. It took a little introspection…and some cleaning out. But I think I know now.
Why I love bling! When I was a little girl, we called it “diamonds”. As I grew older diamonds were anything that “sparkled”. I didn’t care if it was glitter, sequins, or rhinestones. I loved the colored stuff too. We used to joke that I had a streak of blue jay in me. If you’ve ever lived around the jays you know that they love anything that sparkles.
Bling hasn’t become an obsession, but it’s pretty close. Almost everyone who knows me knows that there are two kinds of gifts I give: books or sparkly stuff. My mom used to say I should have been named Sparkle Plenty (like the Dick Tracy character.) I never knew why I was so attracted to the glitz. But I think I was born with it.
My mother had been out picking cotton in the fields across from her house in Texas, when my grandma called to her, “We got company – Preacher Gray and his wife have come for a visit.” Mamma told me she went running as fast as she could. She knew she had to look good. She didn’t have any nice clothes, except for one Sunday dress – but she could only wear that after she had a bath, and it wasn’t Saturday so there wasn’t a bath available.
Mamma quickly washed her hands and face, and went to her orange-crate dresser and picked up a piece of red string she had found. She had tied the two ends together and pulled it over head and thought she was all dressed up, because she was wearing a “necklace”. Her little blouse and trousers were all dusty, and bits of brown from the cotton bolls, and dust from the road, were still clinging to them. But she felt pretty.
Fast forward. I was eight and my sister was ten. I was tall and slim. My sister was tall and not. We looked a little alike, but I think it was because both our names started with “S” that people got us confused. The way we were distinguished? Shirley’s the pretty one – Sharon’s the talented one. I always wanted to be the pretty one. It would be a long time before that ever happened. I was cute! I was funny! I was compassionate and tried to be the very best little girl I could possibly be. I could play piano very well…not quite a protégé, but close.
One day I heard someone say “pretty is as pretty does”… to me that meant whatever I do that is pretty will make me pretty. I was in third grade. When my mom wanted to know what I wanted for Christmas or birthday. I wanted jewelry, or beads – something that sparkled. I started stringing beads and making my own jewelry, and sewing sequins on everything I possibly could. I cut animals out of cloth and covered them in sequins. I added a row of sequins to the tail of every hair ribbon. I covered cardboard boxes in sequins and fake pearls. I got in trouble for gluing them on to my shoes. “Nobody would ever wear sequins on their shoes.”
During the summer of my sixth grade we drove back to Texas for a family reunion. I hadn’t seen my aunts and grandmas since I was three. I don’t even know how it came about, but they all discovered how much I like jewelry and beads. My Aunt Margaret said she would talk to the others in the family and send me some old jewelry. I was excited and never forgot about it. Every day I checked the mail. I wondered if such a dream would ever come true.
About two months after we returned home, a package came addressed to me! I never received a package before. It was heavy. It was as big as a shoebox. I opened it and was instantly in my own world. Nestled beneath old wrinkled tissue paper, was the most incredible assortment of jewelry and beads I had ever seen. I went to my room and sat on a little blanket in the corner – my mother says I stayed there for hours. I took every piece and carefully laid them out. Then I carefully tried on each one – at the same time. I’m amazed I could stand up. Beads weren’t plastic then. They were stone or crystal or glass. There were bracelets and pins, and earrings and rings, and broken things and rhinestone doo-dahs.
My favorite? Loose rose quartz beads actually etched with a tiny rose on each bead. They were about 12 mm. My second favorite was a long strand, probably thirty inches that seemed at the time more like five feet, of citrine-colored glass faceted beads alternating with elongated ovals of faceted jet interspersed with tiny pearls. I dumped the beads from the broken strands and restrung the rose quartz with the black jet and pearls. I made a triple strand collar and added the black jet vertically on the bottom to hang like fringe. I must have re-made that necklace at least five times.
The following day I wore one of the necklaces to school. It was about twelve strands of small gold metal beads very heavy, and very tarnished. I felt beautiful. The other kids pointed and laughed. I didn’t care. I knew I was beautiful, because pretty is as pretty does.