I never recall Daddy's ever wearing it, but I'm sure he did. How else could it have become so worn that one could barely make out the details of its design? I only recall seeing it in a little yellow, soft-plastic or rubber bowl inside the safe in a large filing cabinet in my parents' bedroom. (It was the same little bowl from which I had eaten baby cereal as an infant. Apparently, Mother was keeping it as a memento of my baby days.) I saw that ring every time I watched her open that safe whenever she needed to retrieve some cash (or put some in) or an important document from the safe.
When Daddy passed away, my brother, sister, and I divided among us the things that Daddy left behind. Of those things, Dale got the Remington Junior Special Model 521T .22 rifle with a peep sight. Gina got the diamond ring that Daddy had bought Mother for their twenty-fifth anniversary. I got Daddy's high school class ring.
It was a small ring, really. Of course, it was quite loose on my young fingers at the time, never fitting me until after I'd put on several late middle-aged pounds and developed fingers the size that Daddy's had been when he was in high school. Today it fits me and, in fact, I have a little trouble getting it off at times, especially when it's hot and my fingers have swollen.
Front to back, the head of the ring measures 5/16 of an inch, and side to side it is 7/16 of an inch. From the shank to the top of the head is 1 inch. It's about the same size as my own high school class ring, which I lost on a dating outing during my senior year of college. And it's certainly diminutive in contrast to the college ring I bought later that same year. (I eventually lost that ring, too, while making a desperate throw from right field during a church softball league game. I suppose it's lying in the grass of a softball field in a park along the bank of the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tennessee, unless someone found it. If they did, I wish they'd return it!)
As you might have surmised, I have had trouble holding onto rings. The first month my wife and I were married, we were shopping in a Winn-Dixie grocery store on a cold day. We made out way back to the meat counter, where it was almost as cold as it was outside the store. I lifted my hand from the cart handle and reached for a package of meat, and my wedding ring fell off, bouncing under the meat counter. With the help of the meat manager, I managed to retrieve the ring, covered though it was with dust bunnies and who knows what else that was living under that counter. My wife made me go to a jeweler the very next day and get the wedding band cut down. It's so tight on my finger now that if emergency crews ever needed to get it off, they'd have to cut either it or my finger.
But back to Daddy's ring.
The center stone is an elliptical black onyx with the gold school crest in the center. In the middle of the crest, set in a black stone background, is a capital H. Above the H is a crown; below the H is a ribbon too worn to read what was inscribed on it, but my guess is that it reads "Halls," the name of the school and the community. Beneath the ribbon is the number 46, representing the year of Daddy's graduation--1946.
On the left side, beneath a small, black, pyramidal side stone, is a shield on which is portrayed a beaver facing left and standing on its hind legs between the stumps of two trees. The beaver has its front feet reaching out, grasping the stump of the tree in front of it. Behind this scene one can see in the distance the tops of hills and ridges.
On the right side of the ring, also beneath a matching black pyramidal side stone, is a shield similar to that on the left side. Inside this shield, however, are the symbol and motto of the State of Tennessee. In the top half of the shield is a depiction of a field with (left to right) a barn, a plow, a sheaf of wheat, and stalks of cotton. Above the sheaf of wheat is the Roman numeral XVI, signifying that Tennessee was the sixteenth state admitted to the Union. Under that scene is the word "Agriculture," and on the bottom half of the shield is depicted a riverboat on water over the word "Commerce."
On the gallery fore and aft of the head are small, black pyramidal stones matching those described as being on the sides of the head.
Inside the upper shank is engraved "10KJOSTEN," indicating the gold composition of the ring and its maker. The Josten's firm was founded by Otto Josten, a watch repairman in Owatonna, Minnesota, in 1897. (The apostrophe later was dropped.) In 1906, the company began making emblems and awards, including rings, for schools. They added yearbooks in 1950.
Today, I wear Daddy's ring as not only a replacement for the college ring I lost but also a constant reminder of Daddy, my memories of him, and the character traits he taught me, more by his example (and his discipline!) than by overt, formal instruction.
I have several other things that belonged to Daddy and that remind me of him. I have the pin he received for his years in the Halls High chapter of Future Farmers of America. I have one of his many brick axes, one of his many trowels, one each of his four-foot and three-foot levels, several line blocks and line twigs, his chalk line, his folding brick mason's rule, and other assorted tools of his trade. But I can't conveniently carry any of those objects around with me as a ready reminder of Daddy. Nothing I have can do that better than his ring.
I wonder if my own children will want anything of mine as a reminder after I'm gone? My old, short-spiked track shoes? My published books, or maybe my unpublished manuscripts? My portfolio of published articles? Would any of those things hold for them the same types of memories and lessons that Daddy's ring holds for me?
Maybe one of my children will want Daddy's ring. (They would call it Grampa Pete's ring, for that's what they called him when they were growing up.) But it would not hold for them the same memories it holds for me. They have their own set of memories, and that ring could mean as much for them as it does for me, only in a different way.
What objects hold special memories for you?