It Starts With a Ring

Only a couple of months after we started dating, Tim and I were already talking about marriage. We had known each other for a few years through business and we weren’t getting any younger!

One afternoon, in the parking lot between our two jobs, Tim showed me the ring and asked me to put it on so he could get it sized. It fit like it was made for me. He took it back so that a week later he could give it to me officially. It doesn’t seem very romantic as I write it, but it was just right.

Not long after the ring was slipped on my finger for good, Tim’s mom took me aside to tell me about the ring and what the expectations were.

The ring had been given to Tim’s mom, we called her Memaw, around the time that Tim was born. When Memaw and Tim’s dad split up years later she put the ring away, hoping to someday pass it on to Tim whenever he was ready to marry.

When Memaw first talked to me about the ring I was unsure if I should be hurt or honored. Her dream for the ring was for it to not really be mine, but the beginning of a tradition, the beginning of an heirloom. Traditions and heirlooms have to start somewhere and she and I made a pact that it would start with us.

She also talked about the ring in case things didn’t work between Tim and me. I was a little dismayed to consider breaking up before we ever got married, but Memaw was nothing if not practical. In case of divorce, the ring was Tim’s not mine.

The ring was to be on my hand until the time when we had a son and he found the person that he wanted to marry. Then the ring would be on her hand until their son (I inserted “child” here- no patriarchal rules for me!) found the person he wanted to marry and on and on. I promised her then that I would follow her instructions, that the ring was not mine. I would honor and protect it until such time as I passed it on to the next generation.

I loved that ring and considered it my duty and responsibility to keep it safe. For 36 years I looked down at it every day and I never tired of seeing not only it’s sparkle and beauty, but I saw the past and the future living together on my left hand.

When our son Jon was born, as Memaw seemed to know all along that he would be, she again reminded me about the ring. I again promised her that I would honor our agreement.

Jon recently came to us to tell us that he had found “the one”, someone that made him better, who made him happier than he had ever been, and was the first person he wanted to talk to every morning and the last one he wanted to see each night. I knew that the time had come.

Don’t get me wrong, I asked him lots of questions like “what did he love most about her” and “what did she do that drove him nuts.” After all, it isn’t real love until you realize that even when someone drives you crazy, they are still the first person you want to call about… well, really about everything. He answered all of the questions in a way that let me know this was for real.

That meant it was time to get the ring ready to pass on.

The last weekend I had the ring I got weepy, something I didn’t expect. For 36 years I have had a part of Tim’s mom with me. While she was sick and in a nursing home, I had the honor of taking care of all of her business for her- paying her bills and making sure things were kept the way she would have kept them. (I am not much of a nurse, but I am a hell of a bookkeeper so I did what I was capable of.) While doing that, I got to know her even better. I found out how organized she was, how precise she was, and above all how smart she was. I saw how she had everything thought through and how she had made decisions, hard decisions with an exceptional intelligence I hadn’t realized she had. I made sure that I did things the way she would have, not the way I would have.

When she passed away and I handled her estate, I was again struck by how thoughtful she was and each time I looked at that ring I felt how sure she had been when she gave it to Tim to put on my finger. I remembered how serious she was when she told me it wasn’t my ring, that I was holding it for the future generations. Every time I looked at it for 36 years, I felt the importance of family and the tie she wanted to have with the generations she would never meet.

In 36 years my whole life has changed. I’ve become a mother and lost my mothers, Tim’s and mine. I have lived in 4 different homes, worked several different jobs, gone back to school and become a college graduate. Every cell of my body has been lost, sloughed off and changed. That ring and my love for Tim have been the only constants.

When I went to church last Sunday, I looked one last time at the ring on my hand and felt only love from Tim’s mom. The faith she had shared with me and the faith she had in me came through. The next day we went to the jewelers to get the ring sized for a new hand.

Tim is having a new ring made for me, one that is also sentimental and lovely. I have fulfilled my duty of not only keeping this ring safe, but being willing to pass it on when the time came. I won’t say I haven’t cried, just as I did when I gave birth to Jon and suddenly realized that I couldn’t protect him in quite the same way any longer. But at some point you have to let go. It isn’t easy, but it is the way life goes.

There is something to be said for tradition and continuity. There is even more to be said for sharing the promise of love, life and the joy of not only today, but throughout the generations. Memaw knew how to be generous and pragmatic, sentimental and practical. She knew that it wasn’t all about her, but all about her family. She knew there would be family that she would never meet, but they would be her family nonetheless. She knew more than I ever will, but I can hope that I have learned from her and will continue to learn from her. I hope that I can be as good of a mother-in-law to the sweet girl that is about to join our family. And I hope that everyone who wears that ring will feel the love from all of us who came before.


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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.