Heads Should Turn

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Tonight is the Beaufort Art Walk – where our little city’s outsized collection of galleries stays open late for buying browsers and just people who like a free glass of wine. When I get ready to go out, I’ll undoubtedly look through my jewelry box for something to wear. And more than likely, I’ll pick something that Byrne Miller gave me.

She gave away all her jewelry before she died, to her adopted daughters. I asked her why, once, and she said “Because when you step out, heads should turn.”

I’ve been thinking about why that means so much to me. Byrne was utterly unmaterialistic, yet she wanted her “daughters” to share the few possessions she did have. She passed down everything – from the silly costume earrings that dangled on either side of her impossibly long neck, to tiny strings of pearls her own mother wore. She didn’t wait until she died to decorate her “daughters” with these treasures, she wanted us to wear them while she could enjoy the stories of where they went – balls, dinner parties, operas, first dates, weddings.

I’ve been writing an essay about “re-parenting,” how it is possible to find the parents you need in their complete opposites, and somehow I keep thinking of Byrne’s mother’s pearls. Her gift of them to me made her history mine. She mingled her story with mine. So that I would feel connected. She didn’t have to ask, but somehow knew that this was not a tradition my own mother understands.

The mother I was born with doesn’t have roots. She and my father are grown-up runaways. She has never passed down any pretty jewelry that she loves, not because she’s selfish or petty, but because she doesn’t save any. There isn’t room in her life for remembering. The past is something you survive, not celebrate. She looks squarely forward, as if roots and connections will drag her down. It worries me, but it’s her choice. Byrne Miller gave me another choice. So if you see me tonight, wearing something spectacularly odd around my neck, go ahead – do a double take. It’s exactly what Byrne would have wanted.

4 thoughts on “Heads Should Turn

    Mark Shaffer said:
    March 27, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    You’re getting pretty good at this. We won’t be at Art Walk, but we’ll do a “head turn” in that direction in honor of you and Byrne.

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    Margaret Evans said:
    March 29, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    This is so beautiful, Teresa. In your essay about “re-parenting” (which I’d love to read sometime), I wonder if you included any comments from your good friend Pat Conroy…? That’s the same term he used in an interview he gave me a few months ago. He believes he’s done just that (“re-parenting) over and over again, here in Beaufort… I just wondered if you two had discussed the idea… I’m really sorry I missed Art Walk! I’d like to have seen what piece you ended up choosing. But you always make heads turn!

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      teresabrucebooks said:
      March 30, 2010 at 7:59 AM

      Great minds must think alike. I did talk to Pat Conroy for the piece. When you have time, I’d love for you to read the essay.

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    Suzanne Larson said:
    July 28, 2010 at 8:02 AM

    You make me weep, Teresa. How wonderful and well written. This is so moving. Thank you for writing about Byrne.

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