I was eleven years old the year my mother’s younger sister, our Aunt Dote, graduated from college. As a World War II veteran, she took advantage of the GI Bill and, while working full time, completed her degree in six years. She graduated second in her class, and my younger sister and I got to see her receive her diploma. It may just be a coincidence, but my sister and I are the only people in our entire extended family that eventually went to college and graduated. And yes, we did it part time and not at the traditional college age.
After her graduation, Aunt Dote purchased a class ring, which, in addition to the year of her graduation, contained a ruby in the center of the University of Detroit emblem. The ruby was Aunt Dote’s birthstone, as it was also mine, as we were both born in July. For a while Aunt Dote sported two ruby rings, one on each hand, since she had already had a birthstone ring, a gold band with a row of three rubies.
One day when Aunt Dote and I were admiring them both, she surprised me by saying, “Nobody needs two ruby rings. I’ve decided to give this one to you.” I was delighted, even after she added a condition to the gift. “You can have this until you get your diamond engagement ring. Then you’ll need to give it back to me.”
At eleven years old, the idea of a future engagement ring seemed so far into the future as to be an unreal fantasy. But I agreed to this condition and wore the ring gratefully during my growing up years. Then, a decade or so later, when I accepted a diamond ring from my fiancé, I give the ring back to my aunt without her having to remind me of our agreement.
Neither of us could know then that ten years later, my diamond ring would be stolen, most probably by a fellow cast member in a theater production, or that thirty years later, she would receive her own diamond ring, given to her by my father when they married, several years after my mother died.
I did think about asking her if I could have the ruby ring back, but such a question didn’t seem to fit the festivities at the time. And when she died at 90 years old, I wondered whatever happened to it as it wasn’t on the list of her possessions. But most every day, when I look at the ring I’ve been wearing for the past 23 years, a ruby surrounded with tiny diamonds, I remember her and all those other rings.