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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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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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