I have a few things from my mother: A bad temper; a sarcastic sense of humor; an erratic cycle of dark sight and brilliance — those are the big things. She taught me how to read — that was huge — and she taught me that nothing that I did would ever be good enough to redeem me in her eyes — that was huge, too.
In terms of things…I have more things from my grandmother than my mother — a platinum lattice-work ring set with three mine-cut diamonds. A couple of shot glasses. Pie Pans. A Book League of America edition of Jane Eyre bound in blue cloth, the gilt letters and furbelows that had adorned the spine flaked away long ago. A porcelain Chinese boy and girl; a figurine of a dog cast in lead; a pineapple-shaped lamp finial; another dog — maybe a Jack Russel Terrier — porcelain, his spots fading. A skeleton key.
The thing I have from my mother, though — the single physical thing object. . .is a brass ring.
Family legend has it that this ring had come off the carousel at Gwynn Oak Park (if you ever go to Washington, DC, and visit the carousel on the Mall — that’s the carousel that used to be at Gwynn Oak Park. A Herschell menagerie, built in 1947.).
Typically, brass rings were traded back into the carousel operator for a free ride. Some people, of course, kept them as souvenirs. It seems odd to me that, even as a little kid, my mother would have held onto something as frivolous as a brass ring. Maybe there wasn’t time for an extra ride that day, and she forgot to take it back the next time the family rode the streetcar out to the park for a picnic.
However that may have been, the use to which the ring had been put by the time it came to my attention was entirely in keeping with what I know of my mom.
She used it to keep the wire of her portable electric mixer coiled tidily. It served that purpose for years, and then one day — I don’t know. The mixer broke? We could finally afford a big mixer? Whatever it was, the brass ring was no longer needed to fulfill its long-time duty.
So my mother was going to throw it away.
“Can I have it?” I asked.
“What do you want it for?”
“I just do. It’s pretty.”
There was a long pause before she threw it to me.
“If you leave it laying around, it’s gone, hear me?”
So, anyhow, I still have it. Usually, it lives in a drawer in my office. Occasionally, I see it, when I’m looking for something else, and I’ll smile at it, because it’s not pretty. Because it is entirely and only what it appears to be. I think that’s it.
I saw it again today, when I got into the drawer to look for something else, and it made my smile, like it always does.