I come from a middle class family. My mother was a farm girl who immigrated to the big city and made good in the world of banking. My father was a city kid who started out laboring in the dregs of a steel mill and ended up as a top-selling realtor.
The thing about my parents is that there were no trust funds, priceless antiques or real estate holdings accumulated during their lives. Rather our family wealth is valued by two treasured photo albums—-one of my father’s military service during the Korean War and the other a photo documentary of my parent’s courtship through to my grade school years—-along with a few pieces of not-quite-antique furniture, some cut glass vases and fine china tea cups and perhaps the favorite of all my heirlooms, a small collection of costume jewelry and several gold and diamond rings.
For most families, such estate rings tend to be engagement and/or wedding bands bequeathed by the matriarchs of a family. While that holds true in my case, I also treasure a gold and diamond family ring unrelated to any promisory proposal or bonding ceremony. It is an oval-shaped signet style accented with a diamond at the top curve and bearing the flourished monogram, “JWB”—-initials belonging to my father.
I can’t quite recall when or where my father purchased this ring. What I do remember is his getting “dressed up” routine of shaving and splashing on some Old Spice, donning a carefully coordinated outfit of his best clothes, adding an attractive tie and tie tack along with a matching pocket square. Then, as finishing touches, he would slip on one of his favorite watches and his signet ring. It was a process that never varied, with an end result that could cause my teenage girlfriends to swoon over my handsome father and which, undoubtedly, influenced my own fashionista tendencies.
Ultimately, when my father passed, I sorted through his jewelry collection of tie tacks, cuff links, watches and his singular ring. Fingering each one I experienced fleeting memories of the man who help create me, yet whom I really didn’t know. He was a quiet person who could be the life of the party when so inclined, but in the privacy of our home he isolated himself from my me and my mother in his thoughts and activities. It was a sad realization but one that encouraged me to save every piece of his jewelry and store it away in velvet pouches in my jewelry drawer.
All except for the ring.
My father treated that ring as a coming of age symbol. Something his father could never have afforded but he attained through backbreaking work in a gritty foundry that led him up and out to a better life. With a new-found understanding of his struggles and pride in his accomplishments, I began slipping my father’s ring on each one of my fingers until it rested upon one that fit. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the gold signet on my hand as it became somewhat of a coming of age symbol for me…..one helping re-connect a lifelong disconnect between a father and his daughter.
That’s how the ring became part of my “getting dressed up” routine, just as it had for my father. More significantly, it continually reminded me of who I am and from where I come, life lessons that have provided me with a core wisdom and strength of character.
Two years ago. after returning from a family trip, I was unable to find my father’s ring. Despite searching high and low and offering every known novena to St. Anthony, the end result was the same—-no ring. Eventually, I determined that I must have carelessly lost it somewhere on the trip. Slowly I came to grips with that reality and stopped reproaching my humanness, instead choosing to hope that who ever found the ring would enjoy it, as my father and I had. Yet still, when ever I chose an outfit for a special occasion, I wished for my wear dad’s ring to wear one more time.
Last week as I begrudgingly took down my Christmas tree, I began sorting through the cupboards where Santa and his elves always hide away my home’s year-round decorations. In the process, I decided to thoroughly clean out each section and vacuum and polish the wood surfaces. As I began tackling the first empty cupboard, a glisten caught my eye. Reaching in, I felt an object that I grasped and retrieved.
Even now in writing this story I feel a sense of wonder, as I recall opening the palm of my hand and discovering my father’s gold signet ring magically returned—-once again to be worn and passed along through generations of our family, providing wisdom and strength in knowing who they are and where they come from.