“After lunch, I was hoping you could help me with a project I’ve been putting off,” Julia’s mother stated.
“But I brought over Rear Window,” she appealed to her father, “the one with Jimmy Stewart. I was really looking forward to watching it.”
“Your movie can wait until next week. It won’t kill the two of you to do something I want to do for a change.”
Julia glanced over at her father, who was rhythmically eating his turkey on rye sandwich. He looked up briefly, caught her eye and shrugged. Obviously the battle was lost.
“What did you have in mind?” Julia asked.
“Your grandmother’s been dead for almost two years. It’s time that we go through her stuff. Every month, we pay for that storage unit to keep a bunch of junk that’s rotting away as we speak. The least we can do is give it away, and it shouldn’t be my job to go through it all by myself. Besides,” she added, “I figured there might be something in there you might want – you know, a memento or something.”
“I don’t know,” Julia said. “I don’t need anything and it’s not like Nana and I were ever that close.”
“Your grandmother loved you.”
“Yes, Mom, I know. But it wasn’t like she was the type of grandmother who liked to bake cookies and give hugs.” Eccentric and as comforting as a bed of nails was a more appropriate description.
“She did the best she could, and you should appreciate what she did for you instead of complaining about what she didn’t.”
Julia sighed and nodded. Her mother kept talking.
“Anyway, even if you don’t take anything, you can still help me organize and decide what should be given away and what can be tossed. So, finish up your lunch and we can get going.” Clearly, this was a command, not a request.
Julia’s mom opened nondescript storage unit number 42B which revealed piles of large totes on one side and an assortment of odd furniture, most of it circa 1985, on the other. What a bunch of junk, Julia thought.
“Hmm . . . I had forgotten how much furniture was in here,” Julia’s mom said. “I suppose I’ll have to get a truck to bring all that to the thrift shop. I had told your uncle that we should have just had an estate sale when we were selling the house, but did he listen to me? No, of course not. He was in such a rush to get it cleaned out, he just dumped it all in here and told me to take care of it. What was he thinking? I tell you, life would be so much better if people would simply listen to me.” She didn’t wait for Julia to agree with her.
“Here, grab one of these trash bags and dig into those boxes over there,” her mother said as she handed her the box of bags.
Julia lifted the first box and did as she was told. To her great chagrin, it contained several pairs of slightly yellowed rather large underwear, along with one red negligee. She had no desire to even think about what her grandmother had been doing with that particular article of clothing. She shuddered as she stuffed it with remarkable haste into the trash bag.
Thankfully, the next box was considerably less interesting, consisting primarily of kitchen items – old dishes, cups with chips in them, a mixer that had definitely seen better days. She salvaged what she could and tossed what she couldn’t, making her way through the boxes as quickly as she could. She certainly didn’t want to spend another Sunday doing this. It wasn’t as if she had anything else pressing on her calendar, but she enjoyed her usual routine with her father. She glanced over at him. Her mother was looking over his shoulder, second-guessing every decision he made.
“What are you thinking – putting that in the trash? It still has years of life in it – put it in the donate pile.” Her father sighed with resignation. Poor man, he wasn’t enjoying this any more than she was. It was one more reason to get through the suffering as quickly as possible.
She was on box number eight when she came across a heavy, bulging large shoebox held together with rubber bands. The bottom was moldy and it looked as if it hadn’t been touched in at least twenty years. Yuck, what on earth is this? Her curiosity and disgust waged a short battle. Her disgust urged her to place it immediately in the trash bag lest some rodent escape from it, while her curiosity pleaded with her to discover the contents. Her curiosity won out.
The rubber bands broke as soon as she attempted to remove them, and the cover disintegrated as she lifted it off. Inside, she found one old canvas sneaker, a glass soda bottle, two pairs of tweezers, a pair of wire-framed eyeglasses with one of the lenses missing, a water-logged copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a dirt-encrusted ring.
“Ma,” she said as she walked over to the mother who was sorting through a pile of bed lines. “I know Grandma was a little odd, but do you have any idea what she was doing with this junk?”
Her mother peered into the box. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” she said. “These must be things she picked up while swimming in the lake. She used to talk about how she sometimes found odd things while she was out there. She said that she liked to imagine the stories connected to the items. You know, who did they belong to and how did they end up in the bottom of the lake – that sort of thing. Your grandmother always did have a vivid imagination.”
Her mother picked up the sneaker with one finger and held it at arm’s length before dropping it disdainfully back into the box. “I never knew she kept the stuff.” She shook her head. “Just throw it away. No one in their right mind would want those things.”
“Look, there’s a ring in here.” Julia held it up. “Nana never bothered to even clean it off.”
“She probably just threw it into the box and then forgot about it. You don’t think it’s worth anything, do you?”
“No,” Julia said as she unsuccessfully tried to rub some of the dirt off. “I just think it’s interesting. Do you mind if I keep it?”
“Nah, go ahead. I said you could have a memento. If you want a dirty old ring to remind you of your grandmother, who am I to argue?”
“Great, thanks.” Julia shoved the ring into her pocket before depositing the rest of the box in the trash.
When she got home, she pulled out the ring and rinsed it off before putting it in jewelry cleaner. When she removed it, she was struck by its beauty. It was a gold band with a golden rose. In the very center of the rose was what appeared to be a small diamond. She looked inside – there was no inscription. She slipped it on the ring finger of her left hand. It fit perfectly. The stone glistened, creating rainbows in the light. Probably the closest I’ll ever come to wearing a diamond on that hand again. Still, she couldn’t very well go out in public like that. She switched the ring over to her right hand. It was a bit tighter, but still fit.
Ah well, Julia sighed. It’s still pretty. Someone might as well get some use out of the poor neglected thing. Who knew how long it had been sitting in her grandmother’s shoebox or what it had been doing in the lake in the first place?
From The Rose Ring