If my wedding ring could talk, it would sound like Jean Arthur, the throaty-voiced spitfire in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It would be full of piss, vinegar and the kind of wisdom you earn the hard way. Picture 84-year-old Katharine Hepburn: blunt, memorable, sarcastic and dressed in baggy trousers. She would be full of good gossip and zingers. My ring would be the life of the party, if rings were dames.
Of course I have no basis for these flights of fancy – just an overactive imagination and an antique wedding ring that once belonged to Joe’s great-grandmother Millie.
Here’s what I know about Millie: she was a small Italian woman who lived with my mother-in-law in a three-story walk-up in Brooklyn, where she cooked big dinners and sewed fabulous clothes. She was married twice and couldn’t keep a secret, especially if it was a pleasant one. Other than that I don’t know much else about the woman, which feels kind of wrong since I wear her wedding ring 24 hours a day.
Some girls spend their girlhood picturing their ring finger bedecked in a diamond, emerald-cut and mounted in platinum, fastened to a band that was dipped in gold at the end of a rainbow somewhere in Africa. Me? I had other fantasies. On more than one occasion I said I’d be perfectly verklempt if my husband-to-be proposed with a hot tub.
When I did, however, finally warm to the idea of a ring I latched onto one word: antique. I wanted a ring with a past. But since Joe and I rarely spoke of marriage, much less marriage BLING, my fondness for antique rocks never came up. I figured if my hand ever needed a swift Liz Taylor-ing I’d browse Zales in my jammies and order one of those eternity rings middle-aged husbands buy for their middle-aged wives to let them know they’re still the cat’s meow.
The universe intervened before it reached that point when Joe got down on one knee five years ago, sprung open a velvet ring box and slipped Millie’s ring on my finger. No ring shopping. No resizing. No drama. No fuss. Just one big romantic surprise that still throws me for a loop when I think about it.
So naturally, because I’m odd, I developed an imaginary rapport with Millie. It began with my wondering what she did or didn’t do while wearing her ring.
For example …
I’d go for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Hey Millie. Is this your first dip in the Gulf?
I’d read a book. Hey Millie. What did you read? Stories about vampires are hot right now. I don’t get it either.
I’d eat ice cream. Hey old Mil. What flavor’s your favorite? Chocolate? Vanilla? They’ve got places now where you can load your ice cream with Gummy Bears and Frosted Flakes. My sister heaps hers with Sour Patch Kids. It’s disgusting.
I’d drive around St. Pete and belt out Beyonce. I’m up on him … he up on me … don’t pay him any attention … just cried my tears for three good years … ya can’t be mad at me … cuz if you liked it then you shoulda put Millie’s ring on it …
When I was eight months pregnant and my fingers were too swollen for jewelry, I pulled my ring off and quietly apologized to Millie. Under the white gold band was an unmistakable tan line, a pale reminder of Joe’s great-grandmother. For three ring-less weeks I stopped talking to Millie. It seemed stupid to séance with a tan line. When I slipped it back on after Henry was born I felt like I’d been reunited with an old friend.
Hey girl, I had a baby. I got too fat for our ring, but I’m baaaaack.
These days I’m fairly cavalier with my ring. I wash my hands with degreaser. I scrub the toilet. I oil my bike chain. I get Desitin under the diamond and cookie dough in the setting. I wash the dog. I bite my nails. I snag it on a blanket. I peel an orange. I flail my hands while telling a story and accidentally rap it against the wall. Miraculously it’s still in one pretty piece.
I’m looking at it now as I type this.
Yo, Mil. When I concentrate really hard I spin our ring around and around my finger. It’s a nervous habit. Have you noticed?
She never answers me, but I have a feeling she did the same thing.
PS. Photo by the superb Wendy Mitchell in Buffalo, N.Y.