My home burned down in the Malibu-Agoura firestorm on October 23, 1978. I was in 8th grade and I often think about what it must have been like for my parents; my mom and step-dad. That fire was started by an arsonist. It was surreal to go to school in the morning and never see any of our things again, or the place that was just becoming my new home, in a new town with the new life that was beginning for me and my mom post her separation from my dad. We had moved into our condo 9 days before. Rental insurance wasn’t in effect yet.
I have this vivid memory of a cute sundress I had borrowed from a friend at my new school. It was laying on my bed that day, ready to be returned to her, but I hadn’t put it in my backpack. After the devastation ripped through 25,000 acres, our home being one of many that burned down, I remember her telling me how lame it was that her dress burned and that she was mad at me for not returning it before that day. Her house was not one of those that was lost. This is one of the first times I can ever remember an awareness of someone self-centered and hurtful, someone who really didn’t care about me at all. She didn’t express any sorrow that I had just lost everything I had ever known. I remember standing there dumfounded, at age 11, with this realization that there are people like that in the world.
You know, it’s not the loss of furniture or dishes that bothers you, it’s the irreplaceable things that make you ache inside for the loss like all the photographs and my great grandmother’s handmade quilt who had passed away years before. One of my real treasures was a black pearl ring that I had tucked away in a safe place to wear when I got older.
My mom had me when she was 19 and has always been so fun. Maybe because she was such a young mom with loads of energy. I was never left out of anything. Even when my step-dad came into our lives, I was a part of everything like vacations and roller skating together on Venice beach. When he pulled over on the way home from work to buy my mom a bouquet of flowers, he always bought me one too.
When I was little my mom had an at-home pearl jewelry party at our house. Her friends came over and the pearl party representative brought a tank of oysters along with settings for rings and necklaces. I got to come join all the grown-up ladies and “dive” for my own oyster. I remember being in my pajamas and all the crazy excitement that happened when that beauty was opened for me because in the oyster I chose there was THE most beautiful, huge black pearl; a rarity. None of the ladies got a black pearl! My mom had it made into a ring for me.
I had told my daughter the story of that raging, scary fire, and how my mom couldn’t find me for many hours that day, and about losing that beautiful black pearl. I told her the story of why I had it and why it meant so much to me. In 2016 my teenage daughter had just gotten a job at Sea World. She quickly discovered the pearl shop there and spent the entirety of one her first paychecks to buy a beautiful black pearl for me. She had it made into a pendant for a necklace. She didn’t ask me. She just surprised me. She so far surpassed her own thoughts for how to spend that money from her first “real” job. She only thought of me, and when she gave me this pearl, I realized that those awful things that happened actually created a beautiful moment for my daughter to love me in one of the most thoughtful, selfless acts of care to help replace a sad memory, with a new, beautiful one. I often think about that. How “fires” can burn up what we thought was steady, but so very often, there is beautiful growth like lush green foliage, full of life, that come later in ways we never expected. Her act not only replaced the pearl itself with a new beautiful memory, but her actions reminded me that although there are people in the world who care nothing about what we have lost, there are others whose actions of kindness and deep love far surpass those hurtful moments.
I love wearing my pearl. It reminds me of my mom with all her fun, kindness and generosity and how I was never left out of anything in her life. It reminds me of a raging fire that may have destroyed our things, but built us into stronger people who have learned to navigate difficult roads and still find joy. And it reminds me of my daughter and a rare thoughtfulness that took the time to see deeper and make an effort to heal an ache in another human being without thought for herself.