Wearing the ring, which my parents dutifully retrieved from the family safety deposit box, I felt that I was inheriting the legacy she had left for me. I would finally become a Jewish wife and mother, build a family of my own, and carry her spirit into a new generation.
The ring didn’t fit my finger, though. I had always had very small hands, and after numerous failed attempts to make the size six ring stay on without permanent alterations, I decided to have the ring resized to a four. I wore it proudly to my wedding and for the first year of my marriage.
After I became pregnant and gave birth to my first daughter, however, the resized ring no longer fit. My hands had swollen and there was no way to get it back on my finger. I waited for the swelling to go down, but somehow it never did. My post-baby body was different in a lot of ways, and my fingers were the least of it. I sent the ring back to the safety deposit box at the bank. It would only get in the way changing diapers anyway, I told myself.
I changed a LOT of diapers. A second baby came along 18 months after the first, and the hard work of mothering two small children filled every aspect of my life. I wore no jewelry at all. Most days I was happy to wear clean clothes for a few hours before the inevitable baby mess occurred.
Only recently did I start to think about the ring again. The little round diamond in a square setting on a narrow platinum band. The same one worn by my grandmother in her 1936 wedding picture, surely purchased at tremendous expense by my grandfather in the midst of the Great Depression. I missed it. I needed it. I had inherited the legacy of Jewish womanhood, marriage and the privilege of motherhood, but it was harder than I had imagined it would be. I needed to be able to feel the connection to my grandmother again, to once more look at this life from the outside in, to see beyond the diapers to the beauty and meaning of the legacy she had left me.
I asked my parents if they would retrieve the ring for me one more time. They did. Only this time they also brought back for me the box my grandmother had kept it in: a small white box with brass hinges, unadorned except for a message penned in blue ink across the top. In a wobbly cursive handwriting, drawn with what must have been painstaking effort by an older, trembling hand, the message reads: “Go to Lauren. Kitty things.”
My grandmother’s name was Celia, but everyone called her by her nickname, Kitty. She called me Lauren. I knew that she had wanted me to have some of her things, and at some point I even may have known that she wanted me to have her wedding jewelry. But until this moment, I hadn’t seen the box. Or hadn’t seen it the way I saw it now – inscribed with the express wish that its contents be given over to me.
It is one thing to glean from history. It is another to have history place a gift into your hand, your name written on the box, intended especially for you.
I have been deeply touched to receive again not only the ring that belonged to my grandmother, but also the box she kept it in. The box feels just as special as the ring, and evokes even deeper emotions. I still don’t fully understand it. But tonight, after giving baths, making bottles, and putting two tired children into clean diapers, pajamas, and cribs, I find myself looking down at my hands. And I wonder whether my grandmother’s engagement ring also didn’t fit her after she had her three children. Whether she decided that maybe it would just get in the way of changing diapers anyway. Whether maybe she should just keep it for another day in a little white box.
Aviva Lauren Lockshin is mother to a one-year-old and a two-year-old, and is a PhD Candidate in Jewish History at Yale University.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.