Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Grandmother's Ring

My grandmother's ring bears an oval-shaped amethyst as large as the tip of my pinkie finger. Set in 14-karat gold with 16 bulky prongs holding it in place, it reflects light in a kaleidoscope of rosy purples.

When I inherited this ring, a gift from my mother, I was sure I'd struck gold. It's hard to believe the stone is fake, so pure is its color, so smooth and cool it feels against my finger tips, the ring's prongs, worn with age, catching my skin gently as I rub the stone.

Each time I bring it to a jeweler for repairs, I ask, "Is it really fake?"

Their answer is always the same, "It's a very good fake. But it's a fake."

I don't care. Like the fairy tales my grandmother used to tell my sister and me at bedtime, the stone may be fake, but the extraordinary feelings it evokes are real.

When I take her ring off my finger and set it on the porcelain plate by my bathroom sink, it makes a glassy clink and the face of my grandfather - his enormous brown eyes, thick shock of black hair, chiseled cheekbones and a smile fed by a positive nature and perhaps a hair too much bourbon – pops into my mind.

When I look at this ring, I remember the smells of the places my grandparents lived: the metallic smell of diesel fumes on the streets of urban East Orange, New Jersey; cool clean ocean breezes wafting through the screen door of their home in Los Angeles; the smell of strong coffee and fried chicken at the grocery store cafe where they took me to lunch as a teenager in Phoenix.

Sometimes I lick the amethyst to polish it; it tastes of 90 years of grit and salty tears.

She returned to Wisconsin in the early 1900s after hitchhiking to Hollywood at age 16. My grandfather Howard was handsome and charming, maybe a little dangerous - that's what she would have liked. She married him. He gave her the ring as a birthday present.

She wore it every day of her life until the day she died in a nursing home with one person, a chaplain, to sing her a final lullaby. I was too young at the time to comprehend that when the nursing home called to say, "She doesn't have much time," they meant "She'll die within hours." I arrived too late.

Seventy-one years of this ring's grit and tears belong to my grandmother. The other 19 are mine.

1 comment:

Anil P said...

A touching tribute.

What does it matter what the world values of a stone so long as the light it 'trapped' for you in its embrace brings a shine to your memories of your grandmother.