The Mystery of Aunt Eva’s Engagement Ring

Irish musicians will often give a short introduction to a song before singing. Within the introduction, the musician will share the story of who taught the song to them. In the Irish way of speaking English, this act is expressed as “Johnny O’Rourke gave me this song down in Kerry back in the nineties.” Gave is the verb form of the noun gift, and a song is certainly a gift to a musician, just as a story is a gift to writer. My oldest brother, Art the second, named after my father, 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 focus primarily on his weekend farming adventures, discussed by my parents over dinner at the dining room table. Well, my oldest brother, Art the second, gave me this story just last week.

Art the second was plucking feathers off a slain hen when his eldest son, Art the third, appeared and took the opportunity of being alone with his father to tell him that his girlfriend was pregnant. Art the third’s memory of the conversation is more of how his father never stopped plucking the hen than

what his father’s advise was. However, Art reminded me 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 Taffy, 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 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 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 returned to Holy Cross, and went on to law school and then to raise  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, Aunt Eva’s daughter, Sheila, was seriously ill, and Art went to visit her. In the course of the visit he asked his cousin about her mother’s engagement ring, sharing with her this story. Sheila had never heard this story, but assured Art that her mother had always worn the engagement ring that her father had given to her mother when they became engaged.

Often my siblings tell stories about my mother when she was in her twenties and thirties, raising her first five children. She did not give birth to me and my brother till she was in her fourties. My memories of Mom is of a woman in her fifties and sixties, and usually quite a different person than the woman recalled by my older siblings‘ stories. This  is why I love this story so much, for the woman who did this Is the same woman who raised me.

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