Rachel Rodrigues

For as long as I can remember, my mother has worn a little gold signet ring. It has no gems on it, just a small engraving — a single stem rose, with the initials MdC. I once asked my mother what the initials stood for. She told me that the ring was a family heirloom, and that it once belonged to an ancestor called Miguel da Costa. I was always intrigued by the ring. Mother rarely took it off, and when she did, she always hid it away inside a little blue jewelry box at the back of the drawer in her bedside cabinet.

Once, I took it out to look at it when Mother wasn’t around. She hadn’t noticed I was there, watching her put it away carefully. She didn’t know that I knew where she kept it.

There was nothing particularly special about the ring. It was a simple gold band with a circular seal. The letters, MdC, were engraved in a fine, monogrammed script, all curls and fancy flicks. The rose stem was simply carved. There were no other embellishments, other than a circular groove running around the outer edge of the seal.

As I was preparing to put the ring back in its box, my fingernail caught in that groove. That’s when I realized that the groove was not actually an engraving at all. As I managed to free my nail, a small disc became dislodged from the ring’s settings. It dropped to the floor before I noticed what had happened, and I found myself scrambling on all fours, trying to find it. After a few seconds of frantic scrabbling around, my fingers felt a small piece of metal underneath the bed. Breathing a sigh of relief, I stood up again, seal safely in my closed fist. I fiddled around with the ring’s setting, trying to fit the seal back in its groove.

Something didn’t look quite right. Where was the picture of the rose, and the initials MdC? Where those should have been, I saw the letters ches and yud, engraved in a simple block style. Chai. Why did my mother have a dual-sided signet ring? And why did she keep the chai hidden?

My parents had never told us children much of their family history. We knew that we had Spanish ancestry — Rodrigues is, after all, a Spanish name. At some point, the family had settled in South America, most likely in one of the Portuguese countries, as evidenced by the spelling of our name, which ends with the letter s rather than the Spanish z. That was all we knew of our family. We’ve lived in North America since the beginning of the 20th century, and my family is about as American as it gets. The only clues to our Spanish past are our last name — and that little gold ring.

I was curious to know more about that ring. It wasn’t very expensive, but according to my mother it was very, very old. And now that I’d discovered the secret seal on the other side, my curiosity had been further piqued. I put the ring back where it belonged and waited for the right moment.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 736)