This is a story about a ring. At one time, this ring was on the hand of my great aunt Julia Reed. I don’t know how it got there. Maybe it was a wedding ring. My mother gave me the name Julia for my middle name. Aunt Julia raised my mom when she was younger and her own mother couldn’t handle raising four young girls. She split them up between relatives. Sometimes my grandma (who I don’t remember at all) would sweep into town, gather up all the girls in a fit of maternal guilt, and try to take care of them for a while. But soon she’d cut out. My mom and her three older sisters would try to fend for themselves. Sometimes the neighbors helped out; sometimes they didn’t. Then the relatives would come and take the girls into their care until Grandma came and got them again. Needless to say, my mother didn’t have a very stable home life. She was out on her own at age fourteen with a fake ID working in San Francisco and living with her older sister Novelle.
My mom loved Aunt Julia. She was like the mother my mom never really had. Aunt Julia was ahead of her time. She wrote newspaper articles for the town paper in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was married to a wonderful man and never had any children of her own. I remember when I was about eleven, she came to stay with our family a little while. She seemed old to me then, but I was young, so what did I know? She wore support hose, and sensible shoes, and her hair was in a tight bun on the top of her head. She had pink powdery cheeks and a strange southern accent. She convinced my mom to drive us to the art store, and she bought some beautiful blue glass stones and a little round mirror, and glued them on cardboard so it looked like blue mountains surrounding a crystal clear lake. She was funny and creative and loving to my mom.
When I was in college I started signing my papers with my full name. One of my professors thought that my first name was Julia and started calling me that. I tried to correct him one day after class, and he said, “I like ‘Julia’ better,” and he just kept referring to me as Julia. I didn’t really mind.
When Aunt Julia died, my mom went to Arkansas. She didn’t go to the funeral. She never, ever went to funerals. If everyone got together for a funeral, she stayed home and cleaned the kitchen and got the food ready, but she never went herself. Even when my cousin, her niece died, she refused to go to the funeral. It really pissed off her sister, Louise, but mom didn’t care. The story goes that when my mom was little, her grandfather died and they laid his body out in the parlor and put pennies over his eyes. They made all the children walk by the body to pay their respects and the sight of dead grandfather, whom she adored, freaked her out so bad that she refused to go to another funeral ever again. And as far as I know, she never did. But she did go to Arkansas to be with the rest of her family.
Well, my mom came home with Aunt Julia’s diamond ring. I guess there was a big stink among the relatives over that ring. But mom didn’t care. Julia had left it to her, and she took it and flew home. I don’t think she ever went back to Arkansas again. She wore the ring all the time.
The summer before last, I was working in the garden at my parents’ home. I dug up a big patch under the kitchen window. I pulled weeds, rototilled, sifted out the big clods of dirt, turned the soil again, and raked. I was down on my hands and knees in the dirt pulling out little stones when I saw something shiny and pulled it out. It was my mom’s diamond ring—the one that had been Aunt Julia’s. My mom had lost a lot of weight, and it must have fallen off her finger while she was working in the garden. It was a miracle that the ring hadn’t been buried in the dirt forever. I showed it to my aunt Novelle who was visiting at the time. She said, “You were meant to have that ring.” We didn’t say anything to my mom about it because we didn’t want to upset her. I gave it to my dad, and he put it away for safe-keeping.
After my mom passed away, my dad came to me and said, “Before your mother died, she told me that she wanted you to have Aunt Julia’s ring.” He gave it to me on my fiftieth birthday.
When I took it to the jeweler’s to have it resized, they said that it is over seventy years old. They showed me how when you look at the center of the largest diamond, you can see a circle. At the time the ring was made, they didn’t have the technology to cut a the bottom of a diamond into a point the way they do now, so the tip underneath is flat instead of pointed. A lot of the prongs had been worn down over the years, so I had them replaced.
The other day, I picked the ring up from the jeweler’s. As I placed it on my finger, I felt so grateful that mom had given me this piece of her family’s history. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at it and think about how lucky I have been in my life.