My mother kept an assortment of rings and necklaces tucked into a jewelry armoire beside her bed. The rings came in all shapes and colors, the necklaces in every shade of thickness. Some carried bright jewels. Others were simple bands of twisted or stippled metal.
But to a young boy, they were the source of all the great powers of the universe. I’d slip on ten or twelve rings at a time, my fingers far to seat them properly, and run around the house throwing imaginary fireballs and zapping ethereal wizards. Green Lantern’s Power Ring had nothing on me. Sauron’s One Ring was laughably weak compared to the awesome jewelry I beheld.
My father was less enthusiastic about his boy playing with rings. He never explicitly ordered them put away. Instead, he diverted his attention elsewhere. To sports and video games — anything to draw his son away from womenswear and back toward the safety zone of male-dominated interests.
But he didn’t see what I saw. There was a dragon sneaking up behind him. My mother’s class ring, a sparkling garnet embedded at its center, held the power to save his life and avert disaster! I brandished the jewelry, vanquished my foes and kept my loved ones safe.
Truly, a noble pursuit.
As I grew older, I noticed the distinction in those rings. Some were smaller, more delicate, more fragile. Some looked so thin that I thought they might break. Many never left the drawer.
I began to ask questions.
“What’s this one?” I would ask, pointing to a ring with a coat of arms painted on the side.
“That’s our family crest,” my mother explained. “When your great-great-great grandfather came over from England, he carried that coat of arms. Back in the old days, it was like a last name. People would recognize it and know who you were.”
“Oh, I said. And this one?” I held up a thin copper band with the name Hilda engraved along the side.
“They call that a mourning ring. You’re supposed to wear it in memory of”— she paused, frowned at me while he tried to find the words — “so that you don’t forget about someone. I wore it for a long time after Aunt Hilda died. Do you remember her?”
I shook my head.
“I didn’t think you would. You were very young. She helped me raise you when you were little. She was very important to me.”
“What happened to her?”
“She died in a car accident.”
“Oh.” I looked down and picked up another one. “This looks like an engagement ring.”
At that, my mother smiled. “It is.”
“Why don’t you wear it anymore?”
“I don’t wear any rings anymore.” She held up her hands as proof. “They all live in there, so that you can play with them. Now, which ones do you want to play with today? Are you fighting dragons today, or was it wizards?”
“Wizards!” I chirped.
Ten rings later and I was back at it. But as I ran off to save the day, I glanced over my shoulder one last time. My mother held up the rings I’d asked about, looking them over. She set the engagement ring back into the drawer. The other, Aunt Hilda’s mourning ring, she slipped onto her finger.
I never got to play with that ring again. It stayed on my mother’s finger until the day she died and went with her to her grave. I was old enough then to understand the true power of such a ring.
It’s why I started wearing Hilda’s ring a week after my mother went back to the earth. My wife said I should have one made in memory of my mother — but Hilda’s ring is familiar. It reminds me of the time in my youth spent slinging spells from my fingertips. It reminds me of that armoire seated beside my parent’s bed.
Mostly, though, and most of all, it reminds me of my mother.