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The Ring


Harry Buschman

 My mother jutted out her lower lip belligerently and stated to no one in particular, "She wanted me to have that ring, I sat up up with her for three nights just before she died and she said to me, 'I want YOU to have this ring'."

My mother went on and on about the twelve nights she and her sisters sat up with my grandmother dying of cancer. They took turns, and five of them rotated sitting with her until she died.

The ring was my grandmother's only possession of value, and she played the game like a pro. She told each of her daughters in turn that they were the favorite daughter and she left the ring to each of them in turn. It was her way of getting as much mileage as she could from each of her five girls in her final hours. Though it's hard to admit, without a treasure to dangle in front of
each of them in turn, she would not have lingered as long as she did. "Let them fight over the ring when it's over. I'm gone then. The good Lord knows they fought over everything else."

My Grandfather gave her the ring on their twentieth wedding anniversary. It was after the five girls were born. It was a diamond, a really big one and it made you wonder where the old man got the money to pay for it -- money that he might have spent on his daughters. But he would have none of that -- "Rachel," he told her, "That ring is your ace in the hole, you're gonna need that ace some day." So it sat in her ratty old mahogany jewel box in a blue velvet bag tied with string, and except for special occasions (and to remind everyone she still had something valuable), it never saw the light of day, but each of the daughters knew it was there.

While they sat with her they checked it out, each of them on their rotating tour of duty, and even in the dim light of the sickroom it sparkled like a living thing. There was the temptation to slip it into a purse and take it home, but the old lady held it tightly and said it was hers while she lived. Each daughter was sharp enough to have a slip of paper signed in my grandmother's shaky hand saying it was hers when she passed on, and each was sharp enough to keep it a secret until she did. I can hear her now ... just as if I were there ... "Emma, I'm thirsty, get me some apple juice ... or, Bea, fix my pillow, it's slipped down again." As Grampa said, the ring was her ace in the hole all, and it kept the girls running and fetching for twelve nights.

When the old lady breathed her last there was hell to pay, each daughter had what she thought was a bona fide document stating the ring was hers, and each one (by God), was going to get what was coming to her.

"She must have been crazy, she'd never leave that ring to you -- what did you ever do for her?"

"You must have forced her to sign it!"

"That doesn't look like her signature anyway!"

Yes, there was plenty of that. It went on and on. Even at the funeral there were harsh words, and Pastor Sweetwater, sensing an impending confrontation, cut his homily short. At the laying in, the five husbands were at the point of fisticuffs. The grandchildren, even with the promise of a full day off from school, were restive and cranky. My father, always the pacifier, seemed to have a sensible solution. He suggested they split the damn thing five ways. "After all," he said, "we can hire five lawyers and they'd wind up with everything."

On the very day after the funeral, the five sisters cast aside their mourning clothes and agreed to meet in the city. The eldest of the five held the ring and stood on the corner of 47th street and Fifth Avenue. The other four, coming from different parts of the city, gathered around her and jostled for position. En Masse, they headed for the Diamond Exchange just west of Fifth Avenue.

If you haven't been there, let me describe it. There are hundreds of diamond merchants at the Diamond Exchange, each of them in his private, brilliantly lighted cubicle. Each with a loupe suspended from his neck. Each sifting through his precious stones with tweezers and looking nervously at his neighbor. The girls walked up -- all five of them to Felix Weingarten who had two cubicles to himself, and obviously a more dependable dealer. Bea, the oldest of the daughters, who had been entrusted with the blue bag, unzipped her purse, untied it, and withdrew the ring. She placed it on the white table top in front of Mr. Weingarten.

Clearing her throat importantly, she said, "We have this here very valuable family heirloom and we wish to have it appraised."

Mr. Weingarten found it unnecessary to bring the loupe to his eye, and told her this was no valuable heirloom, the ring was glass ... "See, madam," he said, "the prongs of the setting are embedded in the glass -- to keep it from falling out," he added.

There was nothing to appraise, nothing at all. "No charge, Madam ... I see such tragedies every day -- you have my deepest sympathy. Is there something else I can do for you?"

A profound transformation came over the five sisters. The cherished inheritance each of them felt was theirs was a gimcrack glass ring. Something a child might wear at a masquerade. They had been had! Had by their dying mother! Not only had they been had, but their mother, most likely had been had by their father.

The ring was worthless. But as they slowly walked out of the brilliantly lit Diamond Exchange, the realization slowly dawned on them that their father had done something quite extraordinary. He had given their mother a carrot to dangle in front of five voracious daughters -- a carat-less diamond, but worth its weight in gold.

"Well, son-of-a-gun!" Bea said. "I'm sorry for everything I said -- as long as we're here, let's have lunch."

©Harry Buschman 1996

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