| LifeTakes |

Mother of Pearl

In the vintage ring I found, I seek an echo of my life


When I first saw the ring at the vintage sale, it was buried in a pile of gold trinkets.

The garnet stone was so hidden, no light could catch it. “What do you think about this one?” I asked my sister. We were at the shop together, scouring for a good find.

“I like it,” she said. “The stone is such a pretty color.”

I continued looking through the rings, but each was dull next to the garnet I was already holding. By the hour’s end, I knew what I wanted to buy. I handed the woman my credit card, and when she started packing the ring in a small box, I told her it was fine. “I want to wear it now,” I said. My sister and I headed home, the new ring snug around my finger. I twisted it round and round, trying to make it feel like my own.

“Isn’t it strange to wear someone else’s things?” my sister asked. Maybe, but old things also come with a story, one I can decide to hear an echo of in my own life. My great-grandmother’s typewriter — I could clack at the keys, writing poetry, and imagine her writing letters to her family overseas. My grandmother’s pearl bracelet, the one she got as a wedding gift — I often wore it on dates as a prayer that I’d see that blessing too. This new garnet — someone else wore it before me, although I didn’t know who or why or when.

“That part is strange,” I told my sister. “I know that Bubba got the typewriter when she started working, and that Bubby got the pearl bracelet from her parents, but I don’t know the story of this ring at all.”

Maybe the woman before me got it as a birthday gift, a present from her husband, who saw how she eyed it every time they passed the shop. So one day, after his long hours at the office, while she was home preparing dinner, he stopped in the store and asked them to wrap it nicely. Then he nestled the gift in his leather attaché case and headed home, a spring in his step, happy that she’d be happy.

Maybe she bought the ring for herself. When her boss gave her an envelope with cash at the end of each week, she’d put just one dollar aside. She kept the crumpled bills folded on the bottom of the plant pot on her desk — no one would think to look there. And then, after months of late nights and early hours and working and working and working, she took the damp bills to the jewelry shop and asked the owner for that one, please. And then she used the corner of her dress to shine the stone and walked into the sunshine, her fingers dancing as she tried to catch the rays of light in the little stone.

Maybe the ring is the last thing she has from her parent’s home. When she came home one day and announced that she’d found a truth called “Judaism,” the same one her parents abandoned years before, they asked her to leave. So she packed her bags and moved to another neighborhood, one closer to a shul, where she’d eventually meet her husband and raise her children. During those turbulent years, the ring stayed steady, the one thing she carried from that home to her current one.

Maybe she wore the ring every day, the gold clanging against her keys or the keyboard or the kitchen knife. Maybe she kept it in the little velvet box and only pulled it out for special occasions, polishing it each time. Maybe to her, the ring was just a pretty thing and never meant anything more.

Before I went to bed that night, I slipped the garnet off, the red stone casting a prism of pink on the wall. I tried to undo the clasp of the string of pearls around my wrist. They jingled with a soft clatter. These pearls were my grandmother’s before they were mine. They’re a symbol of a story I thought I knew. I thought about my grandmother, the pearls she left me, and the memories she shared when I came to visit. There were long pauses in those conversations, silences filling the spaces of memories she didn’t share.

Did she wear the pearls to weddings? Or while she prepared Zaidy’s tea? Did she look at them every day and smile? Or were they nothing more than a pretty thing?

I rummaged through my jewelry box again to pull out the garnet. I had a ring with no story and a bracelet with a story I think I know. I looked at the two pieces, side by side, and wondered if I really knew anything at all.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 754)

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