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Although I’ve written extensively about the culture shock I endured after moving to the Deep South, there was one regional custom that I welcomed with open arms: Pearls.

They’re everywhere.

Worn with jeans, with workplace attire, with date night dresses and especially at formal functions. Hell, I know a woman who is mostly house-bound and wears comfortable sweatpants and shirts, but by god, she’s boasting pearl earrings.

I. Love. It.

See, I’ve always preferred classic stuff over trendy. I’m pretty sentimental, too (shh, don’t tell anyone), so when my favorite grandmother gave me her best pearls to wear on my wedding day, my heart overflowed. Not just because they’re beautiful, but because they came from her. From what I understand, my grandfather wasn’t always the nicest guy (he died when I was in 4th grade) and there wasn’t much money to splurge on niceties, but every Christmas and Easter, he picked out and bought a nice outfit for my grandmother to wear, complete with jewelry and shoes.

On their 40th anniversary, he bought her a pearl necklace. We all figured it was nice, but nothing overly special beyond sentimental value. It came from a local department store, not a jeweler.

I wore it on my wedding day, even though my cousin and maid of honor accidentally broke the clasp putting it on me. I think my dad secured it with a safety pin? Something like that.

One Christmas a few years later, my now ex-husband snuck the necklace out of my jewelry armoire and took it to a local jeweler to be cleaned, re-strung and the clasp fixed. I was thrilled. To this day, it’s still the most special gift anyone’s ever given me — both thoughtful and practical.

The jeweler also thought it was pretty special and offered to buy the necklace on the spot. He said the pearls themselves were exquisite in color and shape, the graduation of the size was flawless, and he hadn’t seen such a perfect necklace in years.

Obviously, selling something with that much sentimental value was completely out of the question, but he did a fantastic job re-stringing and re-knotting it, cleaned the pearls and gave a surprising appraisal.

They are my most prized possession. I usually save the necklace for very special occasions, but I’ve fully embraced the Southern tradition of wearing pearls. My parents add a piece to my collection every Christmas. One day, I can’t wait to hand them down to my daughter, maybe a granddaughter or two if I’m blessed, and I’ll be sure to tell them all about their great-great-grandmother who started it all.