Diamonds have served as engagement rings for almost a hundred years. The rule of thumb was if a young man could afford a diamond ring, which at the time equaled three months’ rent, he could afford a wife. However, not every diamond in a woman’s jewelry box is tied to saying “I do”. Some of these precious stones came to us from other avenues in life. Such is the story behind two small scruffy diamonds that have served me as stud earrings since I turned 21.
I was with my mother, who was recently widowed, at the dining room table in the house where I grew up. Most events in our family occurred at the dining room table, as we gathered there not only for meals but for a mid-morning cup of coffee or an afternoon cup of tea. But this day it was just Mom and me. She disappeared upstairs without any explanation. When she returned, she sat down and took out of her pocket a ring with three small diamonds set in a straight line in a platinum setting.
I want you to have this, Susie, for your 21rst birthday.
Then she told me this story. When Dad and her married in 1933, the country was still in the throes of the depression. My father, a freshly-minted attorney, managed to open his own office at the end of WWII. A couple had come to my father for assistance in adopting a child. They were immigrants, my mother told me, but she could not remember from where they had come. Dad gave the them the legal assistance they needed to adopt a child. When this had been completed, the new father came to my father’s office to explain he did not have the cash to pay him, but he did have these three diamonds.
Dad and Mom had already had five of the seven children they would eventually bring into the world at that time and money was still scarce enough. But Dad took the diamonds in payment, went to a jewelry store around the corner from his office, and had the stones put into the platinum setting, so he could give the ring to my mother.
As she put the ring into my hand, she urged me to do something new with it. No one wears old settings like this anymore, Susie. So I went to the jewelry store on Main Street in the town where I had grown up and had two stones reset as stud earrings and the third diamond set in a simple gold ring. I had just broken up with a boyfriend of many years who had decided he did not want a wife. The break up was hard, and I was trying to start a new life for myself. I have often thought that my mother was showing me that if you wanted a diamond ring, you did not have to wait around for a man to give you one.
The ring was stolen twenty years later, but that is another story. The stud earrings have prevailed. They are invaluable to me for all they stand for. My father’s work, his admiration for my mother, my mother’s innate understanding of me, and the way those two remarkable people raised me, the youngest of their seven children. I have also given thought of that young immigrant couple, with no relatives around them, intent on creating their own family in their new world. This thought leads me to my own career of 30 years teaching English as a second language to the steady stream of immigrants who come to this country looking for a second chance, a clean slate, a new life.