When I was 11, my grandmother, whom I called Granni, gave me her diamond engagement ring. She was tired of wearing it.
She had been a widow almost half a century by then, since she was 28 and my dad was 6. She never remarried. We agreed that my mom would wear the ring for me until I was “old enough,” which was not defined further.
At 16, I was aching to buy a car and my Granni chipped in. There wasn’t much in my price range, and in one of those sturdy, fatherly decisions that we all appreciate in retrospect but resent at the time, my dad forced me away from a shiny red sports car that was probably on its last mile to a Plymouth Valiant Scamp, icky green with a vinyl roof, about 4 years old. I splurged on an eight-track player and drove it to Denver to take my Granni for a ride.
Into her 70s my Granni had mowed her own lawn with a push mower and shoveled her own snow, but that year she had moved to a senior citizens’ apartment building after finally giving up the house she raised her boys in.
We had a wonderful visit; I slept with her in her double bed and we’d listen to the radio in the dark, enjoying the cool breeze that came through her window. First the baseball game, then old radio shows: “The Shadow,” “The Great Guildersleeve.”
Despite a lifetime of smoking which she had just recently given up, and a mastectomy, she was still fairly healthy, so we were able to take rides in my car, she in bermuda shorts, orthopedic shoes, and short, curly hair, and me sporting some semblance of adulthood.
The first time out, she told me that the car was a perfect fit for me. I wasn’t pleased by this; I never thought the car was very impressive, but she went on to say, “It’s a Valiant Scamp and so are you!”
That evening she asked, “You smoke, don’t you?” I stammered a surprised “yes.” (I gave it up years later, in her memory.) “You don’t need to contrive places to go all day; you know where the ashtray is.” She was just like that - omniscient and so direct. She always amazed me and scared me a little. Mostly though, we got along famously. I was her only granddaughter and by then she was my only grandparent.
The next day, we had just returned from a drive in the Scamp when she took me into her bedroom. She opened the top drawer of her dresser and produced several boxes and envelopes.
“Here's my certificate from the cremation society,” she began. “You must call them as soon as I die. The phone number is here. And this is the key to my safe-deposit box. It’s in the bank on South Federal Street; here’s the address. This is my bank book with my checking and savings account numbers. There’s a copy of my will in this envelope. Here’s my Eastern Star membership card. They’ll want to do a funeral.”
I stood there, mostly in shock, very uncomfortable, nodding and forcing myself to concentrate.
“I'm not sick or anything, but I’m getting old and I’ve had cancer,” she said. “We need to be able to talk about these things. Death should be as natural as birth.”
She complimented me on being very grown-up and informed me that my father, my uncle, and my two adult cousins wouldn’t let her talk about her death and wouldn’t take her seriously. She said I alone had helped her be able to rest easy, comforted in the knowledge that someone would know what to do when her time came.
Then she asked me, “Where's your diamond?” That’s how I learned I was allowed to wear it; no ceremony involved.
My Granni’s diamond ring is a symbol of love three times over. First, it was given to her by a boy who loved her for her sparkling eyes, her easy laugh and her peculiarly entertaining way with words. Not long after returning from World War I, he died of tuberculosis contracted during the war. She then wore it in his honor for 45 years before she expressed her love by giving it to me.
I’m lucky enough to have a fine young man of my own, not a soldier but the peaceful son of a conscientious objector. Fate has let me stay married much longer than my Granni, but I don’t have any kids or grandkids. Sometimes I wonder who my trusty 16-year-old will be.
That will be determined down the line somewhere, but in the meantime I cherish my Granni’s ring, bought 90-some years ago. I remember her with love and I wonder where the love will go from here.
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.