What the Hell

What the Hell

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Mother's Ring and Her Legacy to Me

I wear my mother's high school ring.  It's quite pretty, what the hipsters nowadays would call "retro" in design, gold, and harking back to an era of much greater craftsmanship than one sees today.  I always used to admire it when my little sister and I as children would go sit on our parents' bed and dump out either our mother's button box or her jewelry box and go through the treasures found therein.  I've been familiar for years with some of those items....the gold heart-shaped locket that she received from her father that I wore at my wedding, the intense yellow green of the peridot in a birthstone ring, and of course the class ring, emblazoned with the year 1957.  I had "borrowed" the ring back in 1984 when I went away to college, feeling somewhat bereft at not having one of my own.  My father had lost his job during my senior year of high school when his company went bankrupt.  There wasn't money for college, much less a ring.  I went to work full time and saved my own money for college.  My father was too proud to sign the application for student aid and they wouldn't let me apply based on my income because I was only 18 and still living at home.  When I met my future husband at college and we decided to marry, the ring (which I wore on my left ring finger) came off to be replaced by an engagement, then wedding ring, and went back to the jewelry box in my mother's dresser.   After she died two years ago, and my sister asked me which of the jewelry I wanted, and I knew what I would ask for.  I didn't quite know why I wanted it, but I do now.  As adults, I think we all think about the legacy our parents have given us; good, bad or indifferent.  Mine was a mixed bag....most of the attitudes I was handed down have had to be re-examined, re-thought, and eventually discarded as unhealthy motivations.  But a few jewels remained.  As a child I never really thought about the oddity of a young girl who came from a family so poor having such a nice possession as that ring.  Now I wondered aloud to my sister, "Where did the money come from to buy that ring?"  Perhaps I was even unintentionally thinking about the ring I didn't get when I graduated.  My sister had some insight.  "You remember how she got that job at the dime store and worked very hard to help her mom and dad put food on the table and the electricity going; she probably bought it with her own heard-earned money," she said.  I thought about it, and agreed.  My mother was a conflicted person.  She never really allowed herself to have what she wanted.  When we were growing up and asked her did she know that she wanted to have children (us), she would say (unthinking I am sure) "Oh, I NEVER planned on having a family....I wanted to travel and see the world."  Yet, she never did that.  So many of her dreams were never realized because she always put other people's needs first.  That sounds unselfish and generous, but in actuality all it does it dry up and empty out your own soul so that you have nothing left to give to anyone else.  And then one day you get a diagnosis of terminal cancer and realize you have no time to do those things you always wanted to do.  She put up with so much in her life that brought her no joy, thinking perhaps that she "had to" or "had no other choice" and would always be able to do what she wanted "someday."  I have struggled for years trying to understand that aspect of her.  It divided us, specially at the end.  Since both she and my father are gone, I have spent many hours going through countless "what if's" and "if only's" in my mind, trying to find a way that things could have been different.  Fifteen years ago, I moved away, wanting to make sure I didn't make her same mistakes.  I didn't have those children that might get in the way of my dreams.  I think there is a deeper reason why I wore that ring when I went away from home for the first time, at the beginning of my life apart from my family.  But it wasn't until a few days ago, looking at that ring that, resized, now resides on my right hand, that I realized why, and exactly what part of her legacy I had wanted....the part that was willing to work hard for something she wanted and felt she deserved, in spite of difficulties....I finally found a part of you Mom that I am proud of, awed by, inspired by.  I knew you always had it in you.  I just didn't get to know that person.  Maybe she wasn't around by the time I came into the picture.  But I know she's still living.  She's living in me.     

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