To rummage there was to be let in on a secret. You whispered. You tiptoed. Among the satin, lace, and letters of my mother’s was a string of pearls I let trickle across my palm. It had clung to the collarbone of her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Anna B, the one who claimed to be born on the boat coming from Slovakia. Mom and I would roll our eyes. We both would have died in childbirth, we believed, without modern medicine. Sure, born on the boat.

I have since worn such necklaces with proper office attire for important meetings where I told grown men what to do with their business’s marketing budgets, and they listened. I felt brave. I even drove my own car there and back as if we women have always been doing such things. Anna B, that supposedly water-birthed babe, never got her license.

She was ninety-five when she died in 2002. She had a drawer, too, drawers and drawers of Things of Significance I fingered sacredly, brooches and costume jewelry, stretched out nylon stockings, embroidered pillowcases, rosaries, a whole drawer of twist ties and rubber bands and the backs of used envelopes. I touched everything. It was all odd and otherworldly, important because it was hers.

Only after her death did the genealogical records surface to confirm it, yes, Anna B, “born on boat.” Anna B’s mother had two other young children with her and her husband when they set sail. Her parents’ names were anglicized from Stephanus and Bronislawa to Berdie and Steve. Berdie set out for a new country that pregnant. Berdie had already lost two infants in Slovakia. Berdie would lose two more children, age six and age eight, in the New Country, the country of foreign tongues, the country of promise.

Berdie birthed a baby between two continents.

I can feel the heat of reverence in my fingertips still, decades removed from my mom’s top dresser drawer, where she kept her Things of Significance. I open my own top dresser drawer. There’s a Westminster Abbey bulletin, a map guide to Paris, ticket stubs from my trip back to the Continent, countries maybe Stephanus and Bronislawa traveled through to get my in-utero great-grandmother here, to get her only son born, to get her granddaughter, to get to me. There are hospital wristbands identifying my three birthed children who survived in sterile rooms with gloved surgeons and nurses, the ones that made it despite the four we lost to miscarriage.

It is my fifteen-year-old daughter who holds in her hand the string of pearls and asks to wear them now. They make her look old, too old, too much like a woman who came before her. Someday these things will be yours to wear, yours to bear, I think, watching her in the mirror. I unlatch the strand and put it back in the drawer.

You can tell they’re real because of the knots, I hear my great-grandmother say, showing me the way we’re strung together.

Sarah M. Wells is the author of five books: a memoir, American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting TemptationThe Family Bible Devotional Volumes 1 and 2, and two collections of poems, Between the Heron and the Moss and Pruning Burning Bushes. She is a freelance marketing content writer and also writes regularly for Root & Vine News and God Hears Her, a blog from Our Daily Bread. She lives in Ashland, Ohio, with her husband, a dozen fish, three children, two westies, and one bearded dragon named Joey.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore