The day Daniel placed the gold band on Jane's finger, she twisted and turned it, gazing with wonder upon it and proud that her husband had kept his word. They had married in North Carolina and spent the equivalent of their honeymoon traveling through Cumberland Gap and then down the river by flat boat. Well she remembered the evening of the promise, when he took her aside at a brush arbor meeting, and she knew by the determination in his
stance and the serious set of his jaw, that he had come to a decision. "There ain't nothing for me here, Jane. And I am aiming to leave. I want you to leave with me. I have not much to give you, but one day I will have. And when I have made my place, one day I will put a ring on your finger." And so they had married, without a ring. She made him a
promise the day he kept his. "I will never take it off."
Jane called Tom, her youngest son to her bedside, the day he announced he would be marrying Lavinia. Well she knew Tom's circumstances.and her own. "Tom," she told him, "You got five youngins to raise and good it is
Lavinia will take your family on. But I expect you have no money for a ring, and so I want you to hear me out. I promised your Papa I will never remove this ring while I am yet living, and I will not. But when I am gone, I am telling you to remove it. And place it on Lavinia's finger. You make her a promise, same as your Papa made me. You have not much to give her, but this ring is a promise you will stick by her same as she has promised to stick by your youngins."
Lavinia stuck by Tom's family. She raised them, and she raised the ones she and Tom brought into the world. And Tom kept his promise. He never had a great deal materially to give her, but he stuck by her, same as she stuck by his family. All of her young years, Martha watched the golden band glinting in the sun, the light of a fire, as Lavinia worked. She thought as the years passed how strange it was that the band never lost its gleam, its luster, when the hands that wore them told such a different story. Lavinia's busy hands, the hands the children watched kneading
dough, firmly grasping a hoe, determined in their attack of a wash board, slowly changed as the years went on. They went from smooth and soft, to reddened and rough, and finally the busy hands lay gently clasped, wrinkled and work-worn, on a chest that grew quiet. Martha put the ring away.
Molly loved to sift through the bits of treasures in Mama's trunk, and sometimes if Mama was not too busy, she would sit beside her and tell her the stories of the treasures. The pretty blue silk covered box, she told her, was from the pie supper where she met Papa, and the Indian head penny was what her uncle had given her the day she was born. And the wedding ring that just fit on Molly's thumb was her grandmother's. "It was my Mama's," Martha told her, "And it was my Papa's mother's before that. It came with a promise each time it was passed, and the day I kept it, I decided on a promise of my own. It will be passed right on, Molly, and each time the stories of the promises can be told. It is the story of our family in this place. One day the ring will be yours." Molly, raised her bright blue eyes to meet her Mama's, and furrowed her eyebrows in concentration. "Then, Mama," she proclaimed, "I promise to give it to my own little girl, and tell her all about Samuel and Jane, and the flat boat. And about Tom and Lavinia, and the poor little children without a mama she raised."
Molly never had children, and so she never kept her promise. She kept it tucked away and now and then would see it and think perhaps she should tell the story to someone, perhaps Nancy, but somehow that time never evolved. It was her niece who cleared out the home Molly had known, and distributed first one thing and then another to those she thought could use it, keeping only the things she would find useful herself. When she came upon the wedding ring, she wondered where it had come from, for Molly had never married. It could not have been Martha's for Martha was buried in hers. Shrugging her shoulders, Nancy pocketed it and dropped it in her jewelry box, never intending to wear it, but thinking perhaps one day she would have it melted down and something made of it.
With Mother in the nursing home, and it obvious she could never come back home, all Jim knew to do was to clear out her apartment. The bills at the nursing home were outrageous, and there was no sense wasting what little money she had on utilities and upkeep for something she was not likely to ever return to again. He saw no reason to upset her with his decision, and so did not tell her of her plans. He quietly cleared out her belongings, storing some, and selling others. Her care fund did not swell a great deal with the sales, but enough to help. She did have some pieces of jewelry that fetched a fair price, and a few that really were worth little, but he sold them as a lump. He saw no reason not to do so, as he had no wife and no daughters. His brothers assured him the pieces meant nothing to them.
Nancy died and never knew her things were not still as she had left them. She could not have told the story of the ring anyway.
Shirley stood in front of the jewelry case at an antique mall. A visit to such a place was as much a walk through time as reading a historical novel, she thought, for when she held in her hands the bits and pieces of past lives, she could not help but wonder the stories they could tell. And so it was, a wedding ring gleamed softly in the light from a nearby window. And these were the thoughts she had, and the thoughts she wrote to me: "Obviously well worn. Was there really 'romance' in the eyes of both the bride and groom when he slipped it on her finger? How much did it
originally cost? Hundreds of minuscule scratches could each tell a story of the original wearer of that gold wedding ring. How old is it, really? Did it remain on her finger when the meals were cooked, biscuit dough was kneaded? Was it there when clothes were hand washed on an old scrub board? Our great and great-great grandmothers could tell a story, but our imaginations are vivid as we look upon or hold one of these priceless rings. Why do descendants, sometimes, inherit something like this, and sell it at a flea market, or worse yet, throw it away because it may not look like much?"
Just a bit of imagining, from both Shirley and myself,
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