Alexis settles down between the pillows on her dorm room bed with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and the string of heirloom pearls around her neck. She takes the letter from the bedside table and breathes in the familiar smell of her late grandma’s perfume.
Over the past week, she has had to restrain herself from opening the letter that her mom gave to her while she was home on college spring break.
She tears open the envelope, unfolds the letter, and starts to read.
My dearest Alexis,
I trust your 19th birthday is quite enjoyable.
Alexis smiles as she remembers her friends’ surprise breakfast party that morning with their silly hats and out-of-tune birthday song.
I have another wonderful story that I want to share with you about Charlotte, your ancestor and the granddaughter of Blythe. Born around 158 AD during the Han Dynasty, Charlotte had the same adventurous blood in her veins as all of her female ancestors.
Shortly after her 16th birthday, Charlotte left Scotland, where her family had resided since Blythe and Niven settled there decades ago. She wanted to find out more about her family’s history and itched to walk where they had.
Her first stop: Rome and the Greece. She was captivated by the Roman and Greek architecture and infatuated with the silk togas worn by the people – so different from the simple clothes she grew up with. She heard that silk was combed from trees in China, so she decided her next step would be to travel to China to see these wondrous trees for herself.
At the time, the only way to travel to the East was to join a caravan of traders on the silk road. But, there was one problem – girls weren’t allowed to travel the route without an escort. Charlotte wasn’t one to give up that easily, so she decided that it was time for a transformation.
She cut her hair, traded her dress for men’s clothes, and introduced herself as Charles – or Charlie for short.
She sold everything that could give away that she was a girl – except for the string of heirloom pearls that her grandma gave her before she left Scotland. These she tucked inside a little bag hidden in the folds of her toga.
Charlie persuaded a trader from Constantinople, who was taking wine to the east, that he needed someone to help him with the camels. During the day she would lead the camels, and at night she would feed them, brush them down, and file their nails. It was hard work, but she enjoyed every minute of the affectionate animals’ company.
She met many interesting people from all over the continent – each with their own stories, traditions, and religious practices – and she saw the most fascinating goods, like jade, ivory, saffron, tea, incense, tortoise shells, peacock feathers, glassware, and, of course, pearls.
When they passed Dayun in the Fergana Valley (modern-day Tajikistan) a few months later, a horse trader joined their caravan with the most beautiful horses in tow. Dayun was famous for breeding massive, strong, and fast horses, which made them ideal war horses that were highly sought-after by the Han army. The horse trader was accompanied by a young man, Tyan, who cared for the horses in the same way that she did for the camels.
As the only young people in the convoy, Charlie and Tyan soon became friends. She loved the horses. She had never seen such majestic creatures before – their eyes were bright and intelligent and their hair shimmered in the sun. Over time, she developed a bond with one of the mares, and sometimes she would help Tyan brush her down once she was done with her own chores.
One evening, as they were busy wrapping up, the animals became restless. Tyan motioned to her that she should hide under a nearby wagon. Moments later she saw four dark figures charging towards them with their knives gleaming in the moonlight. Frightened, Charlie clutched her heirloom pearls – like she always did when anxious or afraid – and she prayed for strength and protection for Tyan.
What the highwaymen didn’t expect was that Tyan was a master knife fighter. The people from his village were the descendants of soldiers who fought in the army of Alexander the Great – the village boys were taught to hold a knife before they could walk. It didn’t take him long to overpower the thugs and send them running.
In the commotion, Charlie’s favorite mare got loose and ran away in panic. They searched for her all night and finally found her lying in a ditch, her leg badly hurt. Luckily, they were near a monastery, and the trader she was working for had some business in the nearby town. They stayed at the monastery until the mare was on her feet again. Though her leg healed nicely, she was left with a slight limp.
A few months later they arrived in China. It was then that Charlie learned that the silk was actually spun by silkworms, and didn’t come from the trees. She was so fascinated by these amazing little creatures that she bought a few worms right away using money that she earned from looking after the camels.
Tyan’s boss tried to sell the mare to the Han army, but because of her limp, she wasn’t a suitable warhorse. Grateful to Tyan for saving the rest of the horses, he gave the mare to him.
Charlie and Tyan fell in love with the culture, traditions, and the landscape, so they decided to make China their home. By now, Tyan had realized that his best friend and soul mate was actually a girl, and it didn’t take him long to propose to her. He gave the mare to Charlie as a wedding gift, which she called Lex after her great-great-grandmother, Alexys.
They settled on a farm just outside a small village in the mountains, where Charlie started to build up her silk business, and Tyan bred horses. They lived a serene life and immersed themselves into the culture of their new home.
They both became famous for their exquisite silk and prized horses and soon employed half the people from the nearby village.
As you prepare yourself for your future career, remember always to follow your heart. Like Charlie, you will find exactly what you are supposed to do, and you will be successful in anything to which you apply yourself.
Pearls themselves won’t bring us luck or prosperity, but hearing great stories about our ancestors and knowing that they wore those same heirloom pearls that we are wearing, inspires us also to do great things.
If you do not yet have heirloom pearls to give to your girls, check out our shop to start your own family tradition.