Another old tale of mine… a family tale when I was a teenager.
About ten years ago when my great-uncle Homer died, my family acquired no lavish inheritances or priceless antiques. Following an ordinary auction, all that was left was a few cases of precious things. After sifting through service medals and faded dime novels, I found a dusty tarnished ring in a small pool table-shaped jewelry box.
It was odd that a lifetime bachelor like Homer would have such a feminine looking ring among masculine looking service medals. The ring looked like a diamond, but my grandmother said it was quartz. The quartz had clouded from all the time it was tucked away in the jewelry box. The gold wasn’t real either because it was tarnished underneath the ring. However, it certainly was an engagement ring.
As grandma sifted through old boxes of dishes, I put the jewelry box in my lap and studied its contents. I wanted to play a small game of pool with the top of the jewelry box, but sadly the cue and the tiny balls were glued to the top of the dusty green felt. I had no real interest in the medals after Grandma had told me they were standard issues for time in the service and going to World War II. He had no purple hearts; thus he didn’t do anything to keep my interest in the medals. After Grandma had bored me about how all her brothers were in the service and did this and that, I turned my attention back to the ring.
I tried the ring on, and, of course, it was too large for my ring finger. The only finger of mine that it remotely fit was my thumb.
“This ring was made for a big woman,” I said, a little baffled by the size of it. “Whose ring was this, Grandma?”
Grandma walked over looking quizzingly at the ring. “Oh.”
“Whose was it?” I asked when I saw her look at it in heavy concentration.
“Homer was going to marry some girl when he got back from the service.”
“What happened to her, Grandma?” I asked. The ring was still here. How could he give this to someone when it survived after his death and it belonged to no widow? “Was Homer married before?”
Grandma stepped back, and her face tripped into a daze, “No, your uncle never married. He was engaged to this woman and she sent him a ‘Dear John’ letter while he was stationed in Europe. After she had left him, he never saw another woman.”
“Wow! How cool!” I said, “Well, it’s sad too.” How dramatic! Without knowing this woman, I felt as though she was cruel to break my uncle’s heart for so long. I felt the urge to find this woman and let her know how she made my uncle feel until he died.
“Who was she, Grandma? What was her name?”
“Oh, I don’t remember. I think it was Katharine or Betty or something.”
“Wow! Can I keep the ring?” I asked.
She looked at me puzzled. “Sure, I guess. It’s not worth anything.”
Yes, it was, I thought. The ring held an amazing story within the cloudy quartz and tarnished gold plated band.
As I stared at the ring I thought about what really happened, and for some reason, I could only imagine in black and white. Two people were standing on a pier where thousands of soldiers were ready to depart. The woman was short and petite and had dark hair like Betty Davis and gentle feminine eyes like Ginger Rogers. She wore a medium gray hat, jacket, and shirt. She hadn’t pantyhose on because she couldn’t afford them. Her heels were scuffed and her gloves were slightly damp from crying. She gave her damp handkerchief to my uncle, who I could not imagine young. In real life, my uncle Homer was always mean looking and brooding. Was he always brooding about that lost woman?
Instead, I pictured my uncle tall like Gregory Peck and with a soft youthful face like James Stewart. He really didn’t want to leave her, but it was his duty to go for his country.
“I’ll write you,” he said softly as she choked on her breaths.
The scene faded into another where my uncle was in a dismal soldier’s bed reading letters by a weak gray light. His demeanor was more tired and disturbed than from the last scene. Reading letters was his only moment of comfort among the dizzying reality of war. As anticipation filled his face in opening a new letter, his face crumpled after he read the first couple of lines. The gray light fell weaker and was swallowed up into strangling darkness as my uncle slumped crying into his own lonely arms.
I could almost hear him reading her letter in his head. Like Anne Frank reading her diary, Katharine or Betty spoke calmly and full of hidden anxiety. Did she write her letter bluntly and shortly? Or did she write in great lengths and in much detail? I felt that if she had caused my uncle to be single for the rest of his life her letter must have been unfeeling and short.
“Dear Homer (that was his nickname and I never knew his real name), I know this may be hard for you to understand but I cannot see you anymore. I am sorry for the pain this will cause you but this long distance between us has made me restless. I can not wait any longer for you. I regret to tell you that I have met someone else. I hope you will understand this parting to preserve my happiness. Sincerely, Betty or Katharine.”
The only record of these two lovers was the ring that he had gotten overseas. He must have gotten it large enough for her to size down when he found out her real ring size. I envisioned him buying this ring in small English shop cheap because he could not buy pricey things on his soldier’s salary. I still feel this ring doesn’t belong to me even if I had inherited it. The ring was for only her finger and its value became richer than any diamond.
When I put the ring away I still think of the mysterious woman who could have worn it. I wonder what would have happened if she had waited and claimed this ring.
[Originally written in 2004.]
© 2015 HK Rowe