Volume 2, Number 2, Winter 1965
"Mine eye poureth out tears unto God." Job 16:20
It would be interesting to know who first conceived the idea of stringing brightly colored seeds and using them for personal adornment. This much we may be sure of: that person was a member of the fair sex.
Perhaps on the morning on that same day, she also wound a garland of wildflowers in her hair; then, using the clear depths of a woodland pool, she gazed at the likeness mirrored there. The next step? The inevitable one: she glanced over her shoulder and smiled at the first man she saw.
Ah, that was many moons ago. But savage tribes and wanderers over the earth from the dawning of time until the going down of the sun have followed traditions and customs until today that same urge for personal adornment .is as pronounced in Eves descendants as it was with Eve herself so very long ago.
Many beads used for bracelets and necklaces were seeds of wild plants. Some with bright colors were strung between the drab ones. Some were used because of their attractive shape or size. Always, the fair one sighed and admired her handiwork.
A very common seed with a legend going back to the days of Job, the Patient One, is that of a tall grass with the scientific name Coix lachrymajobi called Jobs Tears for short. The name comes from the hard, shining tear-like seeds that have a bluish-gray porcelain appearance.
Legend says that in his grief for the many agonies he endured, Job wept tears unto God. And they werent wasted for, as his tears fell to the ground, a miracle happened. The tears were as seed which sprouted and grew into a tall, luxuriant growth of rare beauty. That tall grass, in turn, produced seed resembling those same tears Job wept so copiously in his hour of grief.
In the Old World, in India particularly, this tall stout plant of-ten reached the height of eight feet and was -- perhaps still is -- grown for food. A distant cousin to our corn, It is used as a cereal and sometimes flour is made from it, in China it is thought to have medical properties.
In the United States and in various other countries, it is grown as an
ornamental grass and the seed used for bracelets, necklaces and rosaries. It is quite common in our southern states and may be grown farther north if the plants are produced in greenhouses and transplanted. Here in our section of the Ozarks, I have found the plant to be quite hardy. Once you get a start, you wont have to plant the seed; they will come up year after year.
With the current craze for winding ropes of beads about Miladys neck to make her look her prettiest, she should try growing her own beads for the novelty of the thing. Thats what I did. I got out my chalk box of Jobs Tears and a package of turquoise Indian seed beads and set to work. With two blue beads between each gray seed I had a long strand that would go twice around my throat and hang down just the right length decreed by fashion.
Then to carry on an old custom, I sometimes wear a gray choker of the smooth gray beads to ward off any sign of goiter. Not that I ever had any goiter trouble, but then who knows when a body might? Not when shes wearing Jobs Tears!
Another use for Jobs Tears is to help Baby with his teething. Now that pacifiers have regained their place with the baby specialist, a fine way to keep one handy for a teething baby is to dangle it from a chain of Jobs Tears. Baby can chew on the beads or find comfort in the pacifier; its all a part of the game of growing up with teeth.
Years ago when I was a little girl, a kind old lady named Aunt Jane Hilton lived up the road from us with her brother, Uncle Jim Reynolds. Uncle Jim had helped build the Spring Creek Mill in the early days of the Spring Creek settlement. He left and after some years came back to live out his days and care for his sister. Aunt Jane was a nice, plump woman; her wrists had wrinkles that looked as if strings had been tied around them.
And I remember she had a nice lap, for then it was a wonderful thing for a little girl to be invited to sit on an older persons lap, especially Aunt Janes, for one could reach up and touch the strand of gray beads she wore tight around her throat. I called her beads a string, but she corrected me. Tis a strand, she would emphasize.
A favorite story was the one about how long she had worn the gray beads. Somehow she never seemed to grow tired of telling how, when she was just a little mite no bigger than a minute, her mother strung the beads which had grown in the yard and put them around her neck, up close, so she would never be troubled with that life-sapping evil of pioneer days, the goiter.
As long as I wear my Jobs Tears, Aunt Jane would tell me, I know I wont be bothered!
But what did you do when your neck got too fat? I wanted to know.
That was easy. Her mother kept enough beads for just such a day. And as the years went by, more seed-beads were added to the string. The beads I liked to hear about had been worn close up around Aunt Janes throat all of her long, useful life. And she never had a sign of a Goiter! Im not sure, but I believe Aunt Jane wore her beads to the grave. I know she would have wanted them close around her throat just as she had worn them every day and Sunday for many, many years.
Jobs Tears... the soft gray of a doves wing, the dusky shades of twilight blue. . . these are beads of a day we know too little about though we often hear of it in song and story. Most seed catalogs list Jobs Tears as ornamental grass. Mark the page and send off for a packet of seed. And come another Spring, plant and grow your own beads, right in your garden or backyard. Mark my words, you will have fun!
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues
Local History Home