I wear my grandmother's ring.
I've been doing so off and on for years. She gave it to me maybe fifteen years ago. It is the largest ring I own, large in an old-fashioned cocktail-ring sense. I know cocktail rings are back, but not quite like this. It is an oval amethyst in a bright gold setting, a particular brightness that evokes the 40s and 50s. The setting, too, is oval. The stone is circumscribed by a pattern of tiny golden circles within circles, with a delicate golden braid around it all, and the wide unbroken gold of the border encircling (enovaling?) that. If I turn my hand palm-up, you can see the wear pattern on it - it is thinner in the middle. My grandmother wore this ring for years. My grandmother wore this ring while she did laundry, did dishes, raised children, did her mending.
I have used this ring as an example when people ask me about character-building. Picture your character
, I say. Tell me something about her that doesn't fit the rest of her.
I would hold up my hands. Silver rings on all of them, silver cuff bracelets on my wrist, and one awkwardly-large old-fashioned gold ring. That's where the story is. In what your character didn't choose for herself, but wears anyway. Tell me why she has this thing that doesn't fit.
I went with my mother to her mother's house, days after the funeral. We went through her things, and Mom encouraged me to claim pieces to remember her by
. If you've seen me out and about, you may have noticed her gold brooch on my winter coat. We each have a strand of her pearls, my mother and sister and I.
I am wearing my grandmother's bracelet.
If you saw the bracelet unattended, you'd never think it was mine. I like large, ornate jewelry. This is a very simple, very delicate tennis bracelet. I don't know why I picked it up that day, why I slid it on and fastened the tiny fiddly clasp.That's where the story is.
My mother's tennis bracelets are standard tennis bracelets, flashy with diamonds. I even have one she insisted on getting me years ago, though I insisted on silver and semiprecious stones. I don't wear diamonds.Tell me why she has this thing that doesn't fit.
This bracelet isn't flashy. It's barely postwar, I'm pretty sure, and the diamonds are barely chips. If they are diamonds. But I think they are. They're cunningly set in faceted silver settings - from a distance, the silver settings between gold tildes, with the flash at the center of each, looks as if it is the diamond. It's a clever little piece of artifice. It looks like The Real Thing. But it's a
My grandfather was a soldier when she fell in love with him. She fell in love with him when she saw his picture. She famously declared "that's for me!" And that was for her. She was a great beauty, a Jewish Snow White in appearance, and he obligingly fell in love with her as well upon receiving her letters and photo. He came back from the war and married her, and he worked hard, but he had no money to speak of for a long time. My grandparents never were wealthy. But they were happy. They were a good match. They did well for each other.
I don't know the bracelet's story, but I imagine it. I imagine my grandfather, who worked hard but could not afford luxury, wanting to give my grandmother something sweet, something dainty, something she admired on others. I imagine him finding this bracelet, with its tiny flecks of shine that look so much bigger and brighter than they should.
My grandmother had a lot of cheap costume jewelry. And she had her favorite earrings, her magen david
, her three strands of pearls, a few pieces my mother particularly loved, and she had this little bracelet.
It wouldn't fit anyone else. It fits me.
Today we got a little package from my mother. Two cards, one each for me and for Elayna, each with a check inside. My grandmother had told my mother to split whatever money was left when she was gone with her brother, and for them to distribute it as they would among her descendants. Mom didn't know if any would
be; she didn't expect my grandmother to die so quickly, thought she'd be around for months longer. So there was some money left. Elayna's goes into her college fund. Mine? It isn't a large bequest. It isn't enough to sweep away our debt. It is modest, like my grandmother. It does solve a few of my problems, which she would have wanted. I'm not depositing it yet. I have to think about how best to use it.
I've never had a bequest before, so I didn't know how I'd feel about it, but it seems that I think of it as being a little bit sacred. It's not just a check you deposit and make merry with. It requires a pause, a thought. Well-considered decisions. It requires that you honor the person who left it to you and consider what they would have wanted.
There's a story, and I don't know all of it, and I wish I did. But I'm glad I went to see her when I could. It mattered to her.