“I remember thinking as a child
that diamonds were stars that fell from the sky …”
“I’ll pick you up at 11:30, no make that 11:45,” I told DooDaddy as we were making plans for Sunday Brunch at Bravo, a geezer favorite.
“Should I wear a jacket? I’ve got a nice seersucker one,” DooDaddy asked hopefully.
“Sure, why not?” I replied, mentally upping my fashion game.
I put on a new dress (50 percent off at Banana Republic) and my mother’s jewelry, because I knew it would please my father. A “dinner ring” for each hand, one in yellow gold, one in platinum, some gold bangle bracelets and the brooch/pendant made from the diamonds in my great grandmother Lida Lewis’ engagement ring. Properly blinged in family jewels, I picked up DooDaddy for some brunchaliciousness.
We started off with the Doo’s usual vodka rocks with a splash and a twist and my favorite peach Bellini.
Over cocktails, DooDaddy told me about his friend Willard’s wife Joanie’s big three-carat diamond ring and how Willard bought it for her because their son gave his wife a similar ring, and Joanie had to have one just like it.
“She wanted it, so I had to get her one,” Willard told DooDaddy, who understood completely.
Jewelry carries such symbolic meaning, beyond its monetary value. Especially for my father. It has always mattered a great deal to him that my mother have nice things – “statement jewelry” – and that family heirlooms be handed down and cherished.
“You can always tell a lady by her jewelry,” DooDaddy once cautioned, as if giving advice about guarding one’s virginity. “Even if you fall on hard times, you must never sell your jewelry.”
He also knew you buy retail and sell wholesale. Pennies on the dollar.
Doodaddy’s beloved Aunt Edie, his mother figure, after his own mother died tragically of tuberculosis, had a lovely three-carat diamond engagement ring bestowed upon her by her doting husband, Uncle Vic. A widower, he was smitten with Aunt Edie, who had turned down numerous proposals and managed to still be single and sought after at the age of 40. She was no old maid, mind you, but no one was good enough for the auburn-haired beauty who could light up a room with her dazzling smile. She was Scarlett O’Hara and Marilyn Monroe all rolled into one. No man could resist her charms, and even when she became a widow at 65, she had no shortage of gentlemen callers, pledging their undying love and devotion.
Perhaps because my father idolized Edie, her ring took on an extra magic for him. “I’ll leave it to you,” she promised him, and then left it to her sister Laura instead.
“What, this old thing? Oh, I’ll wear it a bit and then leave it you, ” said Aunt Laura, who had her own jewelry, having outlived two husbands herself.
In fact, Edie and Laura, the two youngest (of six) Kirby girls both lived to be 98.
When Aunt Laura died, true to her word, she left the ring to DooDaddy who presented it to Gmamma, like Cinderella’s glass slipper. Well, Gmamma had been judged and passively/aggressively bullied by “the Aunts” for years, and she didn’t want anything to do with the legendary ring, which by now had taken on mythical status in DooDaddy’s mind.
So my father gave it to my sister, who promptly sold it.
I have never seen my father so distraught. It was as if Keeling had ripped his heart out of his chest and trampled on it.
“I would have given her the money, if she didn’t want the ring,” he said, choking back anguished tears at my nephew’s wedding. I died a little that day.
Aunt Edie’s ring represented family for my orphan father. It meant acceptance and respectability and belonging for this child of the Great Depression. And my sister had inadvertently thrown all that away. Without meaning to, she had disrespected our father and everything he held dear.
Now that Gmamma has passed away, Keeling has our mother’s engagement ring, a simple diamond solitaire, which DooDaddy tried to upgrade over the years, but Gmamma wouldn’t consider it. It wasn’t the size of the stone that mattered to her, it was the love and commitment it represented. She never removed it in 60 years of marriage. I eased it over the knuckle of her still-warm finger with dental floss the morning she died.
Just as brunch isn’t really about the food, jewelry isn’t really about the diamonds. It’s a metaphor for family, those who are still with us, those who have left us and even those we never knew.