When Alexis came home after school, she was certain that she would be greeted by her favorite chocolate brownies, delicious as only mom could bake. What she got instead was unexpected.
The chocolaty goodness was waiting for her on the kitchen table, but next to it was a little box and an old envelope addressed to her in a handwriting she faintly recognized, but couldn’t place. She smelled the envelope, and the sweet, comforting smell took her back to years ago when she would sit on the porch in her grandma’s lap … Is it possible? Could this be a letter from Grandma?
She quickly opened the letter and saw that it was signed by Grandma. But how was this possible? Grandma passed away six years ago. She must have written the letter years ago and had given it to Mom to give it to her.
Alexis shoved one of the brownies into her mouth, picked up the little box and the letter and went to sit on the porch in what was her grandma’s favorite rocking chair. She opened the letter, and started to read:
My dear Alexis,
I wish I could have been there in person to give you this treasured gift and to tell you the story our family has passed on for centuries from grandmother to granddaughter on her 16th birthday.
This story explains the start of the journey of the pearls that you’re holding and the ancestor for whom you were named.
Pearls?! Alex opened the box and found a lustrous pearl necklace glimmering in the afternoon sun. With tears welling in her eyes, she continued reading her grandma’s letter.
In 348 BC, the first woman who wore these pearls was standing in the Parthenon on her 16th birthday, praying to the goddess Athena for wisdom and strength.
Her name was Alexys, and she was the eldest daughter of a pottery maker from Sparta, Greece. She was on her last trip to Athens before she was to marry the son of a tyrant from Sparta.
This tyrant was cruel, and he ruled the people in his territory with an iron hand. He treated slaves like animals, and the working class had to endure high taxes, leaving little to feed their families. After the marriage, her family was to receive a substantial amount from the tyrant, which would leave them living in comfort and help to pay for her siblings’ education.
Alexys’ name, just like your own, means ‘protector of mankind.’ She was kind and always looked out for others and the way the tyrant and his son behaved was against everything that she believed in – the reason why she found herself in front of Athena’s statue that morning.
She had accompanied her childhood friend, Pericles, an aspiring poet, to Athens. He was to perform that evening, and while he was preparing, she walked through The Agora, a marketplace in the shadow of the Acropolis. Her attention was caught by the stall of a Phoenician trader who was selling wares from the East. She was curious to see what he had.
The trader showed her an exquisite pearl necklace and told her that pearls were the gems worn by the pure of heart and that they were a symbol of wisdom.
Alexys was speechless at the beauty of these gems, but, as the simple daughter of a pottery maker, she couldn’t afford to buy the pearls and told him as much. The trader told her that Athena had visited him in a dream the previous night. She foretold that the daughter of a pottery maker would visit him. He was to make sure she left with the pearl necklace; otherwise his wares would no longer be bought by the people of Athens. Since his livelihood depended on selling his wares in the market, he was willing to take anything that Alexys had to offer him. She gave him the few coins from her purse and a small pottery flask containing olive oil that her mother had made. He accepted.
That evening, she met up with Pericles. The amphitheater was packed and the music of the bards and verses recited by poets filled the air. As if confirming her inner struggles, when it was Pericles’ turn, he recited one of his own poems about wisdom, courage, and treating others with respect.
Afterward, they talked for hours under the stars. When the light started to creep over the nearby Acropolis, they made a decision: they were going to run away together to save her from a life in a tyrants’ household.
After weeks on the road, they decided to settle in Thessaloniki on the opposite end of Greece. They later received word from Sparta that the tyrant had doubled her family’s taxes in revenge for her desertion. Plagued by feelings of guilt, Alexys and Pericles worked hard until they could finally afford to send for her family.
It was no surprise that Alexys and Pericles fell in love and got married. Athena blessed them, and they had a good life. They ruled their household with love, wisdom, and compassion, and they became advocates for the oppressed. During their lifetime, they were instrumental in inciting change in their own and surrounding villages. Both of their sons were sent to Athens to study under Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher and scientist, and they went on to do great things.
Whenever Alexys had a difficult decision to make or she and her family were going through tough times, she took strength from her pearls, and swore that the pearls gave her wisdom. On her oldest granddaughter’s 16th birthday, she gave her the pearl necklace, and started a tradition.
In your life, you may have hard choices to make, and sometimes you will go through rough patches. I wish I could be there to guide you on your way and help you to make the right decisions. But in my absence, take strength from the actions of your ancestors and the pearls that you now wear.
Always do what feels right in your heart, and remember: the world is your oyster.
Pearl jewelry is unique in that it can be passed down through many generations – maybe not for 23 centuries, but since this is a fictional story, we’re allowed to take some liberties. When cared for properly, pearls will keep beautiful and lustrous, but you may need to restring them every few decades. One of the oldest pearl necklaces we know of that has survived a few centuries is the La Peregrina, which is now about five hundred years old.
Have a look at our beautiful pearl jewelry designs and start your own family heirloom tradition.