Something Old

Today’s post is from Arin, one of (as I like to think of them) the APW Iowa Crew. I suppose it makes sense that there are a lot of Practical People in Iowa. This post is such a perfect short story that I’m going to allow it to stand on its own. It reminds me of nothing so much as my very first proper post for this site on my vintage engagement ring and why it felt right. Now Arin’s story.

I tend to accumulate things that are a little rough around the edges. Captivated, always, by the story of a scratch, the history of a dent, the layers and the days that lie within tarnish and rust. There is a warmth in the well-worn that I pull on like an old sweatshirt.

Josh and I come from the same place in the world, his just a bit North of the spot that I will always call home. Born and raised on tiny map dots, our people are farmers and small-town characters, the variety of which make black-coffee conversation ritualistic and who never fail to raise their right index finger a little off the steering wheel in greeting to anyone who should happen to meet them along the gravel road. Josh knows my people. Josh is my people. And, therefore, he knows me.

In the North, yards fill up with the Lost-and-Left-Behind; rusted out car bodies and abandoned gas grills; ceiling fan blades and spent fire extinguishers and tray-less high-chairs. Tangled and broken and tossed.

As we drive, I ask Josh why he thinks this is? Why nobody seems to care? He takes my hand and responds without having to think. It is not out of laziness or neglect that these collections have come to exist, but out of practicality. After all, “someday, somebody might NEED that.”

In 1955, Josh’s great-grandfather Lester (a man whom I have to imagine was cut from a very practical thread, indeed) married a woman named Ruby. Both had been married before and, due to a range of unexpected twists, both had ended up alone.

But Lester found Ruby (or, perhaps, she found him). I like to imagine it was in a bowling alley on League Night, Him cleaned up in a button down shirt with grease under his nails, Her with red lipstick and an up-do. I like to imagine a slow song on the jukebox and a cold beer after a hard day’s work. I like to think that their conversation lasted ’til close.

Lester was a resourceful man and times were different and so, when the time came, he took the diamond solitaire that had been given to Ruby by her first husband in the 1930s and had it reset into a simple and perfect ring, accompanied by a few diamonds of his own.

I wonder how Josh just knew. I hadn’t spoken aloud how unfamiliar and cold the glass and the lights and the rows upon rows of faceted stones felt when passing by their grand stages at the mall. Did he feel me tense up? Did I squeeze his hand a little tighter? Breathe a bit shallower? But, somehow, he knew.

At the end of July, as we headed home from our vacation, we stopped by to visit his grandma and grandpa. When the visit was over, we pulled out of their driveway and drove just down the street when my sweet Josh pulled over and asked, “Hey. Do you want to see something?” (The rest of this story will prove to you, Dear Reader, that, by marrying this man, I am accepting my fate as a woman who will never, ever, ever be surprised by her husband because this one? Well, he just can’t keep a secret. Never has, never will. But carrying on…)

“Hey. Do you want to see something?”

Of course I wanted to see something! Who wouldn’t want to SEE something?!

He reached into the glove compartment and there it was. Picked up from his grandmother a mere fifteen minutes earlier and now in my hand. The loveliest little salmon-colored box, melamine with scalloped edges, its flip-top glazed with the sort of thin muck that is produced ever-so-slowly in the depths of dark drawers.

Before I opened it, Josh so gently explained that this was not a proposal, that that would come later, and then he nodded his go-ahead.

And I opened it.

Ruby’s ring. The spaces between the prongs crusted with years of pie-dough and garden dirt and all that the world had busied her with. The band worn, still full of heart and life. Still full of some kind of spirit.

I closed the box and handed it back to him. I so wish that I could have closed up with it the way the two of us felt in the car that afternoon, how suddenly we had a piece of hope-made-tangible sitting right there on the center console. How humbling and quiet and brave those minutes felt.

Josh got around to the official proposal a few weeks later. The ring inside had been cleaned up, sized down, and shined up in preparation of something brand new. This ring came with a story and I had become the caretaker of it, and all the ones that had come before. How lucky was I to get to add my own to it.

The box has found a home on a shelf in my bathroom, tucked amongst my personal shrine to perfume bottles and silver glittered evening bags and salmon-colored compacts.

Every night, I tuck my ring into its red velvet bed and delight in the fact that its perfection lies in the fact that the box it came in matched all of the things that had already arrived. And I delight in the symbolism of that, and the comfort of that, and how familiar this thing that is brand new already feels.

Photo by: Arin, herself

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  • Claire

    Such a lovely story, so beautifully written.

  • goodheart

    “delight in the fact that its perfection lies in the fact that the box it came in matched all of the things that had already arrived” — so poetically beautiful. love this essay. i too wear my grandmother’s ring (which she gave me after the wedding, but has been on my hand each day since) and we recently got his grandmother’s ring as well. good kick to go get it resized so i can carry her memory with me as well.

  • streamnerd

    “a piece of hope-made-tangible”, what a perfect description for an engagement ring. Thanks for sharing your story.
    My engagement ring is not vintage but also showed me how well my fiance knows me.

  • Such a lovely, lovely story. Thank you so much for sharing it (I hope one day I’ll read a book of yours full of Iowa stories :)

    • Yes! I totally had this thought too, the thought of “God, I hope she writes books. I would so read her books.”

  • blimunda

    I agree that this post is like a perfect short story, like, if literature borrowed real life to show the best side of both. I, too, have a thing for old objects, and wait to wear one of my grandmothers’ jewels- I can remember them or my mum wearing some of them when I was little. Also? You have a perfect collection, and the best part is that those things came to you little by little, after making their own lives- in my home I don’t follow a pre determined style, the things I like go well together because they belong there, and that’s it.

  • PA

    “Ruby’s ring. The spaces between the prongs crusted with years of pie-dough and garden dirt and all that the world had busied her with.”

    LOVE this. A beautiful story!

  • Sara C.

    “I wonder how Josh just knew.”

    This. This paragraph is just so beautiful – it made me cry, and it made me feel lucky with my own partner. Bravo!

  • Katie

    “This ring came with a story and I had become the caretaker of it, and all the ones that had come before.”

    “Caretaker” is exactly how I feel about my ring as well. My fiance proposed with his 93-year-old grandmother’s engagement ring from the 1930’s and her words to us both were “I hope this ring brings you as much as happiness as it brought me.” I am in awe every day that she choose my fiance and me, out of all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to be the guardians of this ring.

    We are not going to have children, so I also know I am accepting the responsibility to choose the next guardian, from my fiance’s cousin, nieces, and nephews.

  • Autumn A.

    Ah… so lovely. This definitely made me tear up. My engagement ring was made using my mother-in-law to be’s wedding ring diamond and a band from another ring where she had stones for each of her three children (one of which passed as a infant). I never met my mother-in-law to be, she died two years before I met my fiance. But knowing that I am the “caretaker” of something important she wore everyday means so very much to me. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • carrie

    Just lovely. A few others have used this word in previous comments, because there’s just no other word for it. Lovely.

  • Shiri

    Oh my god, I feel like I know you from this and adore both of you guys. And this story, of course.

  • This is exactly why I love my ring (from my own Josh, even!). Mine is my mom’s, and friends have questioned why I love it so much when my parents’ marriage didn’t last, and when my dad bought it from someone whose relationship also didn’t last… but it’s all the stories and the history and “third time’s the charm!” spunk that draws me to it–not to mention the vintage charm… and the clay stuck in the prongs from when my mom was teaching art. :) I gaze down at it every single day and feel connected to my roots and hopeful for my future and so glad to have my fiance in my life.

    Amazing post! Definitely bookmarking for later. :)

  • Your story is beautiful.

  • This was so lovely– like poetry. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • RachelC

    What a beautifully, well-written story, wow. I would read your books, if you wrote them. Brava!! My ring also used to belong to my husband’s mom – who died just after we graduated high school — reset in white gold and much smaller (I have tiny fingers lol). That element of it – that my husband chose to trust me with it, that I can honor her by wearing it every day, that it’s BEEN somewhere and MEANT something already – makes it THAT MUCH more special to me every time I look at it. Thank you for writing this :)

    Now go write a book lol

    • Seconding the “I would read your books, if you wrote them”.

  • m.

    oh, just so wonderful. congratulations on all life is bringing you… and it’s great to know there are people like you and josh home in iowa (i’m transplanted across the country now) doing the finger wave and tending to all the world needs.

  • MDBethann

    I <3 this post! It is so lovely. And I think your Josh "knew" because he knows you and knows what you like. My FH and I are like that too. We don't have the family heirloom ring, but we have a similar "from the same place" kind of knowing – the part of Pennsylvania that we both come from sounds a lot like the part of Iowa you are from. Unlike you, we didn't meet in our home state, but found each other in the big mixing bowl of DC, and having someone who gets you and knows where you're coming from without you having to explain or say anything is a wonderful thing. Much happiness to you both and I look forward to more of your wonderfully written posts!

  • mimi

    I love the story and the photo of the ring in its new home :)

  • As others have said, this is why I love my engagement ring. It’s his great grandmother’s, from the 1920s, and it’s gorgeous. Not only that, it’s not brilliant-cut, so it’s not super shiny sparkly. Just sparkly enough. I still remember him proposing with it though – it was tarnished, the band was broken from where it had been resized years ago, and he anxiously told me that he knew I wanted a green gemstone and that we could reset the diamonds into something else if I really wanted. I told him that he was crazy, and that I loved that I could wear a piece of his family’s history like that. Every time I look at it and see where the detail has been worn down by its years of proximity to wedding bands, I just grin. Rings with history are where it’s at.

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    Thanks for making me cry at my desk! :) Very moving, and just perfectly lovely (because really, as Carrie said, there are no other words for it).

  • Jessica

    This is a beautiful post. My BF’s family is very much of the “someday, somebody might NEED that” type (Illinois farmers), and I am slowly coming to an understanding that it’s a good way to live. They are very supportive of our low-key wedding plans, too, which is lovely.

  • Allison

    I have my own grandmother’s engagement and wedding ring set, which look remarkably similar to the one pictured. I love it – it’s vintage, but also has family history. My sweetie had the set cleaned up and refurbed for me, so it shines like it did when it was new. I wanted something with a bit of history, and when these rings fell in our lap from my family we knew it was the right thing to do, to give them a new life. Plus, I like the vintage style and that they represent my grandparents’ long and happy marriage.

    I’m the third generation in my family to wear this ring set in some form. My grandmother wore it from the time she got it (to replace her original diamond that was lost on their farm somewhere), then my dad had the diamonds popped out and put in a man’s ring that he wore. He gave the diamonds and settings to us, and now I’m wearing them in the original format again.

    Mid-century rings ftw!

  • Tamara Williams Van Horn

    That story is gorgeous…and that is a DEAD RINGER, Arin, for my vintage ring! Jason scoured the city for non-conflict diamonds and found my circa-40s ring, perfectly sized, in an antique jewelry store here in Boulder. I often hate this place, but then I remember the ring, and my man, were both found here. We love the idea that there was a love story like Ruby and Lester’s in the ring, and that “before-love” guides us and wishes us luck now. I don’t come from a family that knows from heirlooms, so this piece is very special to me.

    Lovely post!

  • Oh, this gave me chills. Beautiful.

  • Michelle

    De-lurkifying to say that I really, really loved this piece. Beautiful story and beautiful writing.

    The center stone in my engagement ring was my great-grandmother’s, from 1919. It’s not the biggest, whitest, sparkliest diamond in the world, but I love it because it makes me feel connected to my family history. I even love that there are a few teeny-tiny chips along one of the edges – those chips are a testament to the decades of manual labor my great-grandmother put in keeping house and taking care of her family. These little flaws are infinitely more meaningful to me than a picture-perfect, three-months salary stone from a jewelry store.

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  • What a gorgeous story and a gorgeous ring! You write beautifully.

  • I ended up having everything new (boy picked the engagement ring without my knowledge, and neither of us have family jewelry like that anyway), but I really really hope that I can pass on my rings to a generation or two down from us, and that we have that happy, lasting relationship where the rings will serve as a blessing or good luck charm to them.

  • Mandaloo

    What a lovely story and so beautifully written! Cheers!

  • Chills several times throughout, wonderful way of bringing us into your world (love that line about raising the right index finger off the steering wheel in a hello) and into your car on that afternoon. Beautiful story, beautiful writing.

  • Amber

    My heart melted reading this post. My fiance proposed with his Great Grandmothers rings…. this story was very close to home. Incredibly written, truly moving.

  • Lovely. If only that ring could tell its stories! How beautiful that this special ring gets yet another love story to live.

  • “In the North, yards fill up with the Lost-and-Left-Behind; rusted out car bodies and abandoned gas grills; ceiling fan blades and spent fire extinguishers and tray-less high-chairs. Tangled and broken and tossed.”

    Arin this is so beautiful. I cried while I read it, because it’s so touching. I love the framing of where you come from and how that will always be a part of you both.

  • I just want to wrap this post up like a blanket and snuggle with it on the couch. So moving, so beautifully written, and so lovely in it’s sentiment. Thank you for writing it.

  • Jen

    This post was so wonderful to read. Arin, you write in such a compelling style. I will take a few extra seconds to think about the hidden story contained in items I come across.

  • Wow. Arin, where else do you write?

  • kellilu

    In your story, I saw the blend of practicality, deep loyalty, and unsung beauty that has always meant home to me. I was born, raised, and educated in Iowa, and I am quietly proud to see such heart and art in a fellow Iowan! My grandparents and their grandparents had the kind of marriages that you describe of Lester and Ruby: steady, full of hard work and affection. May the love they all shared blanket you and your husband-to-be, all the days of your practical lives!

  • Can’t see to type, blurry images and salty tears in the way! Oh what a Monday story. Thank you so much Meg and Arin, how could you know that this day needed that sweet, sweet story!?

    Part of the tears come in recognition and delight that my daughter chose to have my mother’s little wedding band as her own wedding band. Joy!

  • What a beautiful post! Arin, you made me shiver in anticipatory excitement at the thought of one day passing my own ring, which is set with my mother-in-law’s diamond, down to a grandchild or another family member.

  • Lynn

    That looks like my ring! <3 Mine just came back from the jewelers…having been sized up and made to sparkle and shine with new life.

    I've had my ring for forever it seems like. It was my grandmother's. I remember looking at it on her finger, playing with it, twirling it around. She'd hug me and tell me that when I got married, she'd give it to me to have. It was actually grandma's 25th anniversary set. I have her original ring as well, but her fingers were so tiny back then. She and my grandfather were married for 56 years. When she died, I fought to have them, and for years I wore them on my right hand because they were too beautiful, represented too much to put them away in a box and hope that maybe someday someone would be worthy enough to move them to my left hand.

    My wedding band will be the PA's great grandmother's ring…just a simple 3 mm band, but lovely. His wedding ring belonged to his grandfather. I love that our future is so firmly rooted in these traditions of love.

  • Kayakgirl73

    Wonderful story. My husband had the opportunity to use his grandfather’s wedding band but he chose not to. It’s a very thin rose gold band and my husband was afraid he’d damage it, so he asked for and got his own thick gold band. I kind of wish he had taken his grandfather’s band because his grandparents have one heck of a love story. They were separated by World War II and the Iron curtain for 18 years. For thirteen of those years that thought each other was likely dead. The red cross was able to find a relative in Siberia who got word to his grandmother and mother that his grandfather had survived and escaped to the United States. It took five years to get my mother-in-law and my grandmother-in law out from behind the iron curtain.

    • Kat

      wow that is a heck of a love story! hold on to that ring!

  • Jennifer

    Simply beautiful, Arin! Also, I am wicked excited to see a post from a fellow Iowan! Yay Practical Iowa Peeps!

  • Bee

    Such a lovely story. I too feel so connected and in love with my ring. My fiances mother passed when he was a teenager. He proposed with her emerald and diamond engagement ring. She was a tiny woman and I am not so we found a jeweler who was willing to split the gold in her ring into three new rings. We put one of the original stones in each of the new rings (I will wear them stacked together). I didnt want to lose any one part of her ring. It makes me feel closer to her knowing how much we both love her son and that I have this gift from her to him for me, knowing she would never meet me.

  • Arin's mom

    Oh my…..after I got the tears dried after reading this, I can just say that as Arin’s mom I am so happy for Arin and Josh….they have found true happiness!!

  • I love my family ring (his grandma’s) though at first wasn’t all that enamoured with it.

    It suits me perfectly. A little bit different, subtle, kind of oldfashioned (like my name).

  • “The spaces between the prongs crusted with years of pie-dough and garden dirt and all that the world had busied her with.”

    Tears! Lovely writing, too.

  • Veronica–Josh’s Aunt

    A little teary eyed here—-Beautiful story, Arin! Love the picture. Mom had told me last Sept that Josh was giving you the rings….I thought that was the neatest thing. Wish you could have met Grandma and Grandpa, but I am sure Alan, Pam, and Josh have told you many stories about them. Wishing you much happiness, love, and wealth as you become the caretaker of the rings. Love to you and Josh!

    PS. Grandma would have turned 100 on Good Friday….has been six yrs. since she left us :(

  • Moz

    Can Arin come on board as a regular writer please?

    Just gorgeous.

  • Vivian Ernst

    Very interesting and definitely creative- lots of talents to share, Erin! I love your appreciation of something so special and meaningful from the past… and you get to wear it as a reminder and symbol of love, both past and especially present. God bless your love and lives together. So happy for you two.