I was a little too young to own “real” jewelry, but I wasn’t too young to be fascinated by the pretty, shiny things in the brightly lit glass case. Gold link bracelets, watches, and gemstone rings glinted magnificently, their location directly in front of the department store’s double entrance doors so strategic, so compelling that one simply had to look before doing any other shopping.
It was there by that case that I first fell in love. The object of my affection was a small, gold ring. A filigree mounting held a marquis cut natural opal. The stone’s milky translucence sparkled with blues and oranges. Each time my mother and I visited the store, I had first to stop and visit my love. Mostly I just peered through the glass case. I was just tall enough to look down upon the ring, shifting slightly from side to side so that the opal’s colors changed.
But the affair grew more complicated. My mother went so far as to allow me to try on the ring, which, of course, fit perfectly. However, my coveting—“Gollum-esque,” though it was—was tempered by my already well-developed sense of practicality. I didn’t need the ring. Although not extravagant, the ring cost as much as my Nintendo Entertainment System that I had saved a year’s worth of gift and allowance money to buy. My worry was that the ring would be gone, scooped up and carried off by some other woman who would fail to fully appreciate its beauty, before I could save up that kind of money again.
And one day, weeks after I had first seen the ring, I went to visit it in its case to find that I was right—it was gone. I was crushed. I searched the lines of tiny ring boxes to see if perhaps the ring had simply been misplaced. No. It simply wasn’t there. My hands were propped on the edge of the glass case, and my shoulders slumped. A forlorn expression mixed with consternation marred my face. There was little I could say to my mother other than simply, “It’s gone.”
Though an only child, I never was prone to tantrums or otherwise manipulating my parents as to get my way. Our relationship was based on rational discussion—an explanation as to why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something generally was enough to curb any of my bad behavior. I had never really expected to have the ring. It wasn’t practical. But that meant that it wasn’t practical for anyone else to have the ring either, so it should stay in the department store’s glass case and allow me to visit it forever and ever and ever.
My mother, standing quietly beside me, slowly reached into her purse and removed her wallet. Her fingers sorted through a few small slips of paper before selecting one and wordlessly offering it to me to inspect, a smile upon her face. I looked at what obviously was a receipt for what I recognized to be the amount of the ring, but nothing about the receipt made sense to me. Why would my mother have someone else’s receipt?
I blinked. I cocked my head. I furrowed my brow. I looked at my mother. “You have to promise to act surprised,” she said.
Incredulous, I clutched the receipt and hop-skipped in the direction of a rack of men’s clothing, spun back around, and beamed at my mother. “Really?” I asked. “Really really?” She smiled mischievously. “Really,” she said.
More than 20 years later, I still have the ring. The opal—a notoriously fragile stone—is slightly chipped on one of its marquis points, and my fingers are no longer as tiny as they once were, but the ring nonetheless is still special to me.
This issue of Smoky Mountain Living is dedicated to adornment. Our stories share the lives of musicians and artists from various walks of life, each bringing his or her creativity to the world. As the ancient Greek philosopher Epicetus once said, “Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.” Perhaps after reading this edition, you too will find the adornment that speaks to your soul.
— Sarah E. Kucharski, managing editor