The Engagement Ring

My oldest brother, Art, raised his nine children in Arlington, Vermont, where he practiced law Monday through Friday and “farmed” over the weekend. As Art was sixteen when I was born, I have few first-hand memories of him, but a slew of stories that focussed primarily on his weekend farming adventures, discussed at times in humor and others with concern, by my parents over dinner at the dining room table. However, it was My brother Art who told me this story just last week.

Art was plucking feathers off a slain hen when his eldest son appeared and took the opportunity of being alone with his father to tell him that his girlfriend was pregnant. His son’s memory of the conversation is more of how Art never stopped plucking the hen than what his advise was. However, Art recalled that when our own brother, Tom, went to tell our father about his girlfriend’s pregnancy, Dad was sitting on a lawn chair playing fetch with his miniature collie. Tom remembers the harshness of the conversation but mostly he remembers the fact that the game of fetch never ceased.

When my brother Art was 15, he fell in love and there could never have been a more consuming romantic love than his first one. They were together always, and he meant ALWAYS. On the phone, in the back of the bus, in the last pew at church, at the shore, and all sports events, as she was his personal cheerleader. He waited for her always and drove her everywhere, as she was on her own having no brothers and sisters. Art even took her for her drivers test. They talked endlessly about their marriage and saved everything for that great occasion. Art was her slave and she was his hostage. When Art went to Holy Cross, an all male college, she went to a co-ed college that was 40 miles away. About half way through his freshman year, Art went to Lebsons Jewelry Store on Main Street in Westwood, the town we grew up in, and bought a diamond engagement ring.

Our parents paid Art’s room, board, and tuition for college. Art had earned all of his spending money doing summer and holiday jobs during high school. He spent a large portion of those savings on the engagement ring leaving just barely enough spending money to make it through to the next summer.

Art remembers being awakened by his sister, Liz, who was saying “What have you done…getting engaged…Daddie is downstairs crying and Mom is furious”.

“0h, Boy! Did I ever get it from them. Pop told me I am on my more college money Mom gave me an even more devastating list of “no mores” the worst of which was “ no more driving my car- get your own car or take the bus”.

For my brother Art, who was all of 18, not having access to the car was the clincher. He asked his mother to use the car one more time and drove to Ridgefield Park, where his first love lived, and took back the ring. The screeching hatred in his girlfriend’s response still plays painfully and is almost as harsh as his memory of the day a short time later when she married someone else.

Mom attempted kindness to her son through his sorrow. She offered to buy the ring back from Art. She explained that her sister, Aunt Eva, would then buy the ring from her. Apparently Uncle Harold, Aunt Eva’s husband, had never given his bride an engagement ring and Aunt Eva had decided that she would like to have an engagement ring. Art took Mom up on her offer, and with his spending money back in the bank, he returned to Holy Cross, and went on to law school and raising nine children of his own with his devoted wife, Roberta.

The years passed. A few times my brother inquired about Aunt Eva’s ring but he never saw it again. About five or six years ago, Art went to visit Sheila, Eva’s daughter, who was battling cancer. Art knew it would be his last visit with his cousin. Art inquired about the engagement ring believing that Aunt Eva would have passed it on to her daughter. However, Sheila knew nothing about that ring and assured my brother that her father, Uncle Harold, had most certainly given her mother, Aunt Eva, an engagement ring.

And then this past Mother’s Day, Tom called his brother Art to reminisce about Mom. The seven of us lost our mother on Mother’s Day weekend in 1998, and we each still grieve.

It was in this reminiscing that Tom told his story about Dad playing fetch with Taffy while admonishing Tom for the situation he was in with his girlfriend’s pregnancy. Tom, who was in medical school at the time, drove off bathed in regret, remorse and misery. It was a few days later while he was visiting Mom when she led him to the dining room table, sat him down, and put into his hand a diamond engagement ring.

Here, Tom, she said. That girl should have a ring.

My parents raised seven children. The first five were born between 1934 and 1942, but in 1951 they had a boy, and in 1954, I came along. My mother was in her twenties and thirties raising the first five, but she turned 50 the year I was 8, 60 the year I was 18. Most times when the first five reminisce about Mom and Dad, I hardly know who they are talking about, as my parents were such different people in their twenties and thirties than they were in their fifties and sixties, as we all are. But not this story about the engagement ring. Not at all. That woman without a doubt is the woman who raised me.

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