When I was growing up, my mother had a ring she never took off. It was the only ring I ever saw her wear during my childhood. It was made of a shiny silvery metal with an oblong penny-brown metallic piece upon which two hearts were attached in the center. She wore it when she swept, when she mopped, when she made her large mound of golden flour tortillas, when she sewed on her treadle Singer sewing machine and when she washed clothes on the rubboard. She didn’t really have any other jewelry, and, in fact, I remember my father saying that he didn’t even buy her a ring when they were married. He hadn’t thought about it, and during the ceremony, they had borrowed her brother Charlie’s ring.
The years passed. My father, who had come from Mexico in the 1920s to try to earn a living, worked long, long hours at the service station he operated. And my mother, who was also from Mexico, toiled at home, keeping house for her husband and eight youngsters. With his hard work and her thriftiness, they sent their first son off to college, then another child and then another. The older children helped with the expenses of the younger ones. Just as the last two children were graduating from college, my father died suddenly of a heart attack, but my mother lived on for another twenty-three years. Their children had become lawyers, businessmen and teachers. In the last years of her life, my mother was finally able to enjoy the luxuries that had always been denied her. She was even able to buy some jewelry, which, I was surprised to learn, she really loved.
A few years before she died, she told me that she wanted her jewelry to go to her granddaughters. And when she died, it was done. A diamond ring to this one, a pearl ring to that one, an opal ring to another, and so it went. Then I discovered it: her first ring. Now I could identify the metal. The ring was a thin, fragile thing by now, a small strip of stainless steel attached to two small hearts on either side of an oblong-shaped piece of copper. It had been worn so long that the copper had become unattached to the circle. Its value was naught. I took the ring, polished it with a cloth and carried it to the bank to place in a safety-deposit box. To me, it was a gem that symbolized the sacrifices my mother had made for us and the values that she lived. How many years had she worn it? How many times had she denied herself so that we might succeed? Why did she save this ring when it seemed worthless? Was it a symbol to her, too? The rest of my family doesn’t quite understand this, but when I look at that ring, I see the priceless jewel of my mother’s strength and the brilliance of the love that she showed us every day of her life.