I wear my grandmother’s engagement ring every day.
It was once my great grandmother’s made for her by a Jewish jeweler in a tiny store somewhere in north Berlin. My great grandfather was a lawyer in the German government. My great grandmother was a Polish Jew who he met on a country vacation to Poland when he was just 17 and fell in love with the way her hair curled out of the edge of her scarf. His family almost disowned him when he told them he was in love with her. It is rumored that they died together in a concentration camp, or maybe they never made it there—perhaps they were dragged out of the trucks that picked them up in the country home they had fled to shortly after sending my Grandmother to America, and shot on the side of the road. No one in either country was ever able to tell us much.
I don’t know if we would have wanted to know either way.
At 15, my great grandparents sent my grandmother to America to live with her Aunt and Uncle in Southampton, NY. She was the oldest of seven. My great grandfather, with help from his sister in New York and her American husband, got my grandmother a visa one short month after the German government had decreed that all Jewish Lawyers must stop practicing.
“He knew what was coming,” my grandmother once told me during an interview for a school project. “He didn’t tell any of us, but we all knew. There wasn’t anything we could do though, not there.”
My great grandfather thought that sending my grandmother, clutching a photo of their entire family, would get them some sort of help from the United States Government. She went every week to the all different Embassies , just a tiny fragile 15 year old girl with a nose that sloped elegantly out from her beautiful face, and begged them to help her.
The help never came. My grandmother never saw her family again. If any of them are alive, she never found them, despite two trips to Germany and a pound of money paid to all sorts of helpful, or not so helpful, men who spoke with thick German accents out of the speakerphone of her beige telephone in the study.
The night before my grandmother left, my great grandmother sewed family heirlooms and jewels and even money into a new lining she put in my grandmother’s coat. I imagine her slipping this ring off her finger and the pain that must have caused her, perhaps she didn’t know if she would ever see it again or perhaps, most likely, she knew she never would.
My grandmother wore the ring from the day she married my grandfather, till her knuckles grew so swollen she could not slide it on. Then she wore it on a white gold chain around her neck until she fell into a coma. I inherited it, with the rest of her estate, when she died.
It is four carats total. The last time I had it appraised it was worth a lot. I wear it almost every day to remind me that life is so much bigger than I am. When I write, I often find myself staring at my left ring finger, awed at the pain and love and pain that exists inside of it.
Mostly though, I wear it to remind myself that I have roots that span oceans, continents, and painful moments of history that for most people are just another page in a history book, but for me are moments that define part of who I am.
Whenever I want to give up it is there to remind me of all the things that I have to go on for—a woman who loved me so much, the loss of it is worse than any break up; a woman who once lost much more than I ever have or will and she still got up every morning, took one step forward, and never ever thought to lay down to die.
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- shmemson said: Such a heartbreaking and beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.
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