As a young 26-year-old, successful store manager with experience in multiple high-profile companies promoting and managing women and men in the fashion industry throughout South Florida locations, you might assume that I found my extraordinary and glamorous sense of style at a young age. Similar to Sara Blakely, (CEO and founder of Spanx), I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in textiles and consumer science from Florida State University, and since then have worked multiple jobs to get to where you might believe I found by leaving my classmates standing in the shadows.
But my personal sense of style and my free spirit developed when my great grandmother rescued my middle sister and me from an adoption home after my drug-addicted parents lost hope. My great grandmother, “Granny”, Elizabeth Chronister, at age 63, gave up relaxing in her retirement years to raise two young children because she believed we deserved a far better chance at living than where we were headed.
I remember the afternoon that my grandmother chose to give me her most treasured necklace – the first gift and only gift I still have to remember her by to this day. It is a silver feather charm with a turquoise stone embedded held on a unique silver cable chain that Granny told me had been handcrafted for her by a Cherokee Indian. Native Americans were often inspired by natural objects when crafting and creating jewelry designs and created pieces as life symbols. When I clasp that chain around my neck, I am inspired by who I am and where I came from, and I’m reminded to be proud of that.
At a very young age I knew what it was like to feel thankful and acquired the habit of “thrift shopping” by rummaging through Goodwill finds, bags of hand-me-downs given to us by church members, and charity shopping sprees by family members and friends. My grandmother did not have a lot of money and was not able to shower my sister and me with gifts like many grandmas are known to do. She barely had energy to attend my soccer games.
But she taught me to be independent and continue to learn, she preached the value of a dollar and the belief that family and the people you love come first. Listening to her cry herself to sleep after counting her penny jar – which made us worry that she regretted taking us in – and sometimes going to school with no lunch money were hard lessons to learn, but they have made me who I am.
The generation gap in my upbringing – I was 2 when I went to live with Granny – is reflected in my style and made evident by the most stable piece in my Granny-inspired wardrobe. I have had ex-boyfriends tell me that I dress like a grandma as in insult, but it was very much a compliment to me, and I have received gifts inspired by this necklace that is a mirror to me.
If I wanted to reflect on my life, I could look back at where this necklace has gone and who has been there while I wear it, and smile proudly of its existence. It’s always been the choice accessory for all big events in my life, and it will continue to be for the rest of my life. My most special necklace walked across the stage with me as I accepted my diploma at high school graduation, even though Granny “threatened” to not show because of a teenage spat (she was there, though, as she always tried to be). It accessorized my gowns at both of my sisters’ weddings as I traveled to Naples, Florida, and Virgin Gorda, Virgin Islands. It was my choice of “flare” as I served tables to get myself through college, and it was the perfect expression and symbol of my unique style on every important job interview I’ve been on since.
I’ve learned that you can’t always change the past, but you can always change your clothes, and this necklace changed my life because my grandmother changed hers.