“Its gold plated,” the jeweler barked from the open door of his office.
He sat with his khaki legs crossed and an eyeglass strapped to his forehead. A Southern genteel Cyclops.
No, he could not clean my great aunt’s pendant of seed pearls and sapphire dangling from a necklace of gold beads.
According to him, the process would make its cheap chain turn.
For over 36 years I had stored the piece in a yellowing envelope lined with cotton balls in my bank safe deposit box.
I had told myself the story that I was saving this precious piece to give to my daughter. Now I learned from the jeweler that it was not valuable after all.
I have been thinking a lot lately about this necklace, about how uncomfortable it is to learn the truth about a story I had believed in all these years.
I wonder if for many of us who grew up in the South in the 1960s and 1970s things are like this necklace. We keep them tucked safely away for years to preserve them and the story they tell only to pull them out to discover they are something altogether different.
Objects, people, and places are surrounded by stories we tell ourselves. We hold on to them to make us feel better. They sometimes end up being simple fairy tales—not the complex truth.
The value in all of it lies not in the fiction, but the nonfiction—but this comes at an uncomfortable price.
Sometimes the legend is about a family member. Or even a place—the house in which we grew up, the elementary school we attended, or the church where we sat in the family pew.
The South is a place of stories such as these. It is a place where we make up tales to tell ourselves so that we can deal with complex issues of our present world easier and more comfortably—like eating a bowl of grits when the nightly news gets too bad to take.
But the South is also a place where holding on to the past can sometimes mean you later find out that valuable necklace is just gold plated. What you thought was expensive was not worth much. It forces you to change your perspective on the story – on history.
We in Summerville may need to reexamine our stories, search beneath our Spanish moss-covered ideas of history.
In the past 40 years the town’s population has grown from 3,000 to 50, 000. A lot has changed, especially for older folks.
For me, I need to realize that I live in a town which is not just the birthplace of sweet tea.
It is a place where Black Lives Matter and Jesus Saves and the school district has created a security task force to keep children safe.
It is a place where some still tattoo the Confederate flag on their biceps but sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic in a pew next to an old man whose great, great, great uncle was killed at Fredericksburg.
In this town high school prom-goers have their photos taken in Azalea Park each spring, but the portrait of Dr. Alston, the founder of Alston School, is nowhere to be found.
It is a city where it may take you 45 minutes to drive across town, but you make the drive anyway to share a coffee with old friends. There is a huge movie theater with multiple screens out near the interstate, but also a thriving playhouse on the old town square.
A pharmacy still delivers to your house, and a new grocery store now has a bar where you can order a beer while shopping for milk and bread.
With so many changes, it can be tempting to hold on to the way Summerville was—static like the pattern of flowers on your grandmother’s tablecloth.
But sometimes a closer look will reveal important details that might change our view. That is not necessarily a bad thing. And a younger generation may see things in a completely different way.
By the way, my daughter was very pleased when I gave her the pendant after all. It did not matter to her one little bit that the chain was gold plated.