Dad

As children, we rarely think about our parents’ lives. In fact, my adolescent self would have said with some certainty my own parents didn’t really exist until my siblings and I came along. (The “obviously,” if not spoken, would certainly have been implied.)

Now that I’m older I realize how lucky I am to have a mother who is still lively enough at ninety to answer some of the questions I’m sure I would regret not asking. (We use Bob Greene and D.G. Fulford’s “To Our Children’s Children” as a guide.)

However, my dad died in 2002, having been afflicted with Alzheimer’s several years earlier. This cut short any possibility of hearing much about the life he led before I knew him.

Oh, there were inklings of the past:

  • The foreign money and Japanese teapot he brought back from World War II.
  • Mom’s mention that he’d been in high school at age twelve.
  • Him once saying there had been a fire sometime in his childhood, his family escaping with only their blankets.
  • Also, he had a college education — a rarity in our neighborhood — a BS from Glenville State (in West Virginia) financed through the GI Bill.
  • There, he finished his coursework in three years, planning to become a teacher … at least until the experience of student teaching convinced him otherwise.
  • He was in a fraternity, and for a long time our spankings were administered with a paddle he’d received on joining. I realize now it was probably part of a hazing ritual. (A paddling by your future frat brothers seems positively innocent in these days of students dying by alcohol poisoning in similar rituals, although from the Wikipedia page, it’s clear needless deaths by fraternity hazing has a long and tragic history.)
  • Somewhere there exists a picture of Dad at a bar in his Navy uniform, and I also remember Mom saying my grandpa told him he’d never amount to anything(!) because he evidently liked to drink.
  • That may have something to do with another story he told me, about how while he was in college, he’d once bought and drank a six-pack. Since alcohol was forbidden on campus, he threw the bottles outside someone else’s window. That “someone else” turned out to be a football player who was either kicked off the team or banned for some games as a result.
    “Did you ever tell him?” I asked.
    Dad responded, “Are you kidding? He would have beaten the sh– out of me!”
  • As kids, we each had a turn wearing his US Navy uniform for Halloween. It fit because he was just a skinny kid when he joined.
  • Someone (maybe Dad himself) told me me he got two leaves while in the service. On one, he got the mumps. On the other, it was the measles.
  • He also got miserably seasick when he first went to sea.

Sometime after his death, in one of my genealogical research frenzies, I even sent away for Dad’s service records. And when my stepmother went into a nursing home, my stepsister kindly made sure I got most of his papers, some of which I’ve scanned and put into archival boxes.

Still, I never really pieced the information into a cohesive whole (and haven’t yet).

What I have done, just recently, is put together a timeline of his military service, and it’s that I’m sharing now. It’s not the story of a dashing hero, but a teenager from West Virginia who found himself thousands of miles from the mountains in a place very different from home.

In June 1943, Dad was considered available for work in an essential activity at his area of residence, which was Massillon, Ohio. Until I saw this form, I didn’t realize he had moved to Ohio with his parents before the war. They were in WV for the 1940 census, so this would have been a recent move. He was sixteen when he received the document, and it was good only until September of the same year.

From his separation papers, I learned he was employed by Republic Steel in Massillon as a “helper on open hearth furnace” from May 1943 to November 1944. My grandfather’s obituary said Grandpa he retired in 1964 with 21 years at Republic, so he probably got Dad the job.

I found an article from Indeonline.com that quoted a former Republic employee, “The area was ripe with manufacturing jobs. [Al] Longbrake remembers people joking that if they didn’t like their job they could walk down the street and find another one because someone was always hiring. The other joke of the time, he said, came from the West Virginians who came to the city for work. ‘They used to say that in West Virginia you studied the three Rs: reading, writing and Route 21.'” 

So, my family wasn’t the only one who made the northern trek to Massillon for work. The 1940 census also says Grandpa had been doing roadwork on “Public Emergency Work (WPA, NYA, CCC, etc.).” According to Mom, he dug ditches, and a well-paying job in a steel mill must have been appealing, even if it meant moving hundreds of miles.

But working in an essential industry didn’t keep my dad out of the war for long. From the same separation papers, I found the date of his enlistment, 4 October 1944. He always said he enlisted to avoid being drafted into the Army.

However, his “report for service card” instructs him to show up on 3 October of the same year.

From there, he was sent to the U.S. Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, IL, which naval archives tell us was (and is) on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. The change of address card above was sent to my grandmother on
15 November 1944.
Grandma got a similar card in February 1945 telling her Dad was going to Shoemaker, CA (in Alameda County).

Troops were sent to California by train, which I remember Dad once mentioning to The Engineer. That memory is fuzzy, but I confirmed by a Library of Congress audio recording of Raymond Harris’s oral history of his war. (I also remember Dad saying something about stopping in Kansas, but Raymond doesn’t mention that.)

This recording confirmed a lot of things I remembered hearing from my dad, and if you have any interest in hearing about US military veterans’ history, I highly recommend checking out that part of the LOC website.

Just two crazy sailors: Dad is on the right. His friend, Leonard Bujak is on the right.

Dad and Raymond (from the LOC recording) were both assigned to the USS Mount Olympus, although Raymond was discharged before my father. Mount Olympus was an AGC (Amphibious Group Command), launched in August 1943, sailing for the Philippines where she served as a floating headquarters.

From the naval military history website:

“… she called at Ulithi to allow Commander, 3d Amphibious Force, to disembark to travel by plane to Hawaii, while she herself sailed for overhaul at San Francisco, arriving 11 February[Kym’s note:1945] and leaving 22 April for Hawaii and Guam.

Arriving Guam 6 July, Mount Olympus sailed on for Manila, colliding en route with oiler Millicoma. The flagship was escorted to San Pedro Bay, Leyte, for repairs by Ajax, then continued to Manila, arriving 3 August. After the close of hostilities, Mount Olympus arrived Tokyo Bay 2 September with the 1st Cavalry Division on board for Yokohama. After 8 months moving occupation troops from the Philippines and other bases to ports in Japan and China, she left Shanghai 28 May 1946 for San Diego, the Panama Canal, and New York, arriving 7 July.”

This, in a nutshell, was my father’s war.

According to Raymond, the ship stopped at San Diego, Pearl Harbor, Guam, and the Philippines, where they were rammed. Another ship was torpedoed around that time and place. While the Olympus was in dry dock being repaired, those on board got the news that the atomic bomb had been dropped.

The Olympus led the convoy into Tokyo Bay, which Raymond described as being full of ships and “thick with airplanes, B29s.” Raymond compared the ship to the Pentagon because it carried the commanders. Dad had referred to it as a troop carrier.

When asked what there was to do on the ship, Raymond said not much, although there was a band and sailors got shore leave about once every four days while in port. He said the Navy was really confining, “not like the Army,” which “let you stay out all night.” Apparently, the Navy let you off around one o’clock, and you had to be back aboard by five.

I listened to a few tapes of men who had been on the ship, and one of them (possibly Raymond) described going on shore leave as being surrounded by sailors, that all he could see was the white hats of their uniforms.

According to both Raymond and my Dad, at one point Admiral Byrd was on the ship (interesting because it’s possible there is an extremely distant relationship between the two Byrds — my father and the admiral).

And Raymond also mentions them going back and forth between Japan and China.

I know Dad was in Tokyo for the official Japanese surrender because I have this.

I had wondered why Dad had saved an envelope and learned through my research that this is a piece of history. According to the Universal Ship Cancellation Society (who knew such an organization existed?), this is an example of a “fancy cancel” in honor of the surrender. When I looked more closely, I noticed the date (the day of the surrender) and the logo on the left side of the envelope which includes the letters “V” and “J” for VJ (Victory in Japan) Day.

On the Fold3 database, I found three muster rolls for Dad on the Mount Olympus, one for the quarter ending October 1945, one for January 1946, and one as he was being discharged in July of 1946. In October 1945, he was an S2c (Seaman 2nd class), but by January 1946, he’d worked up to being an S1 (Seaman), and his discharge paper lists him as having been AS (Able Seaman), S2/c,1/c. I couldn’t find out what the c,1/c means, but I believe Able Seaman and Seaman 1st Class may be interchangeable.

On 23 April 1946, they were in port in Shanghai when a tragedy unfolded on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) that was also stationed there. A nineteen-year-old sailor just two months out of the US and fresh off standing a two-hour midnight watch “went suddenly berserk” and shot to death nine shipmates before stabbing himself. The quote is direct from several Newspaper.com clippings, leading me to believe the papers copied it word for word from a naval press release. The young sailor also injured a tenth shipmate before being knocked to the ground with a bench by another sailor.

Dad kept a clipping about the funeral services, and I can’t help wondering what he thought when he heard about the event.

Three months later, at age nineteen, Dad was discharged and given a travel allowance to find his way home from New York.

This paper provides a wealth of information — everything from how much money Dad got on being discharged, what medals he was eligible for, where he had worked right before the war, and what kind of additional training he was hoping to receive.

A further review of the document says he had three years of high school when he enlisted at seventeen. We know he was working at the steel mill by age sixteen, which means he had to have completed those years before going to work.

Ergo, he was in high school by at least age thirteen.

A deeper look at the 1940 census tends to uphold my mom’s version of events — that he skipped two grades and was in high school at twelve. From the census (taken in April), Dad is listed as having completed eight years of school at age thirteen. From this, we can surmise, he was in his first year of high school, having turned thirteen in November the previous year. Meanwhile, his younger sister, age ten, has completed three years of schooling.

If I had to guess, I’d say it’s likely the family moved to Massillon sometime after Dad’s third year of high school, and he didn’t re-enroll until after the war. If my grandfather’s obituary is accurate (and it may not be), Grandpa started at the steel mill in 1943. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if he started work immediately at Republic or if the obituary is accurate.

Moving forward from Dad’s discharge from the Navy, I found him mentioned in the 22 May 1947 issue of the Evening Independent (Massillon). This article says fifty-two of Massillon Washington High School’s 452 graduates (the largest class in history at that time) were veterans of World War II who completed their studies by correspondence. My father is listed among them.

Referring again to the separation document, I noticed under “Preference for additional training,” Dad asked for apprentice training (the handwritten copy spells out what “App. Tng.” stands for).

I wondered what happened to change his mind. But, then I remembered Grandma.

My Grandma Byrd was that unusual creature (especially in West Virginia), an educated woman. I wrote about her family in an earlier post focusing on the fact that at least three children of six in her family had some college education or vocational training.

Her husband, my grandfather, like many in that time and place, completed eighth grade. But Grandma finished the year of college necessary for her to teach school in a one-room schoolhouse.

One of her brothers attended Glenville State for two years, and a sister was in nurse’s training when she died of TB.

I know Glenville was a teacher training college, which makes me wonder if that’s also where Grandma went.

At any rate, I’m sure it was she who changed my dad’s mind and set him on a path to higher education.

Like so many others of his time, my dad’s life was changed by war when he was still in his teens. Although he never fought in any battles, I’m sure he saw the aftermath of those waged in the South Pacific.

I think about myself at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and can only wonder how he must have felt.

Dad served one year, nine months, and fourteen days and is buried with many of his fellow veterans in the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.

Marasmus

Until today, I’d never heard or read the term “marasmus.”

But this morning I had some free time before going to work so I was searching Findagrave.com and the birth and death records on the West Virginia Archives.

I do this sometimes, putting in a family surname and narrowing the search by county and date. Yes, this is a random way to approach genealogy, but I occasionally use the tactic anyway because it can yield interesting, albeit sometimes tragic, results.

Today was one of those times.

Findagrave.com popped up with a memorial for thirteen-day-old baby. When I placed her on my family tree, she turned out to have been my father’s cousin (my grandfather’s brother’s daughter).

Melba Jarushire Bird (as FIndagrave lists her) was born at the very end of December 1929 and died on January 9, 1930.

She was either twelve, thirteen, or fourteen days old (depending if you believe the death certificate, Findagrave, or the death register). Her name wasn’t actually Melba Jarushire either, at least not according to the legal documents. It was Melva Jearline.

Cause of death was listed as marasmus, which Healthline defines as: “… a form of severe malnutrition. It can occur in anyone who has severe malnutrition, but it usually occurs in children. It typically occurs in developing countries. Marasmus can be life-threatening, but you can get treatment for it.

Well. That gave me pause.

To think Dad’s cousin, born three years after him in nearly the same place, died of what sounds like starvation … I can hardly wrap my brain around it.

Although Melva’s death technically happened during the Great Depression, I’m not sure that was the root cause. The Depression started in the US with the stock market crash in October 1929. Would two months of inadequate nutrition at the end of a pregnancy be enough to cause malnutrition severe enough that the child would die?

I don’t know.

I do know Melva’s parents had a son born in 1932, before losing another child in 1939, a daughter who lived only a day.

It’s impossible to imagine the grief they must have felt both with Melva and their second daughter, which makes the fact that their son lived until the age of 73 seem almost a miracle.

My grandparents raised my father and his sister during these years. In the 1930 census, the two families are on the same page, making them neighbors as well as relations. Melva’s father was a laborer, as was my grandfather.

It seems incredible that only now am I beginning to see the struggle these young families went through trying to survive.

Grandma was always extremely strict about not wasting anything. As a child, I didn’t understand. Later, as an adult, I barely thought about it.

Now, however, I think I begin to understand.

To have lived through such times, where these couple’s (and I’m sure many others’) very survival — and worse, the survival of their children — may have been in doubt, would leave a person forever determined to never live that way again.

Also, and this may seem a bit of a stretch to some, reading about this happening in my own family gives me empathy for parents around the world who take what seems to us to be ridiculous chances to migrate somewhere that seems to promise a better future. And I can tell you this, if I’d seen one of my children die of malnutrition, I think I would be quite likely to take any risk necessary to help make sure I didn’t lose another the same way.

Addendum: Since writing this, several friends have pointed out malnutrition could have been caused by issues other than lack of food — cleft palate inability to digest milk, or any number of physical maladies. I was viewing my father’s cousin’s death through the lens of a person raised much later, when such issues would have been problematic, but not life-threatening. Still, however it happened, it’s clear this family suffered their share of tragedy.

I Need a Little Christmas Now

When I was a freshman in high school, I had an amazing teacher for ninth-grade  English.

Miss Hamilton was the sort of person you remember — one who made an effort to help her students learn and appreciate the English language, to see it as more than words on a page.

For a kid like me, this probably wasn’t difficult because, at that age, I lived mostly through books.

But, Miss Hamilton did something I’ll always remember, something truly above and beyond.

She arranged a field trip for a group of her students to see a musical at the Goodyear Theater in Akron.

Just consider that for a moment. She voluntarily took a mixed group of 14-year-old adolescents out in public to see a musical.

Not a special, day production meant for school children, you understand, but for an evening performance,  as if we were regular people who just happened to be a little younger than the rest of the audience.

Like I said, she was amazing!

If I recall correctly (and I hope I do), her confidence in us was not misplaced. We all showed up, dressed in our finest, and enjoyed the play.

That show was “Mame.”

Now, I don’t remember a whole lot about the play (it was forty-five years ago, after all) except for a fox hunt where Auntie Mame somehow managed to capture and keep the fox alive, and this song.

It’s “We Need a Little Christmas,” sung by Lucille Ball. I actually prefer Angela Lansbury’s version, but the YouTube video of her singing is just an audio clip.

The lyrics include the following:

“Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before
My spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking.

I may be rushing things
But deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas,

Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.

It hasn’t snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry.
So climb down the chimney.
Put up the brightest string
Of lights I’ve ever seen.

Slice up the fruitcake.
It’s time we hung some tinsel
On that evergreen bough,
For I’ve grown a little leaner,

Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,

And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now.”

That night in the theater has lived in my memory for more than forty years, not only because of Miss Hamilton and all she did for her students, but also because of that song.

You see, Christmas, and the weeks leading up to it, have always been magical for me.

There have been many Christmas seasons that were special without much effort on my part: as a child; that first Christmas morning with The Engineer; and when Darling Daughter was at the delightful age when she was old enough to feel the joy and still young enough to believe in Santa.

But, there have also been many that were a bit — how shall I put this? — challenging.

The years in college when my parents were in the throes of a divorce, and it felt like my family was falling apart.

The one when I discovered — on December 23 — my first so-called husband was a pathological liar and probably a bit of a sociopath.

The year I realized The Engineer didn’t feel quite  the same way about holidays.

After Darling Daughter moved out, into her own adult life, and I once again had to decorate the tree alone.

Last year, as I tried to make the season all come together while coping with Mom’s crushed elbow and subsequent dependence, as well as my own six-week bout of bronchitis.

And this year, with Mom once more in the hospital with pneumonia and congestive heart failure, bruised and battered from another fall.

I’m not looking for pity here. We’ve all gone through times like this.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel merry. And that’s when you need a little Christmas the most.

So, here’s the thing: After discovering The Engineer wasn’t as crazy about the holiday as I am — and to be fair, not many people are — I sat down and thought about what made  Christmas special to me.

Because it’s not fair to expect other people to make you happy.

To my surprise (and great satisfaction because it proved I wasn’t as shallow as I’d begun to think I was), I realized it wasn’t getting the perfect gift. Instead, it was the joy of giving them, the pleasure in baking and surprising others with goodies, sending out cards, holiday music, and enjoying the holiday lights on houses and our own little tree.

Even if I have to decorate it alone.IMG_2402Sometimes you have to make Christmas yourself.

Last year, that meant no Christmas cards because, well, I discovered I had more important things to do — like take care of Mom. And myself.

This year, I’m not sure how it will turn out, but I do know it will still be Christmas.

So, when I came home from the hospital today, after I worked on the paperwork involved in being the one responsible for an elderly relative, I forced myself to have a little Christmas.

Though I really only felt like sitting on the couch and watching Premier League football, I opened the seventeenth door on my chocolate truffle Advent calendar. And my cheese Advent calendar. And my wine Advent calendar.

We Christmas nuts are big on Advent calendars.

Then, I put on a Johnny Cash Christmas CD. It was an old one, full of hymns sung in his curiously pleasing, yet not actually melodic, way.

Since I was brought up in a churchgoing, country-music-listening household, this made me feel quite sentimental.

It was perfect.

I baked mince pies — straight from the Walkers Mince Pie box and made fudge — two kinds — to add to the 7-Layer Bars I’d already made.

With all that’s going on, I’m concentrating on the easy recipes. Maybe I’ll make the more challenging ones another time.

I packed up some goodie plates for my friends at the library and the post office, and for the nurses at the hospital who have been so kind to Mom.

Finally, I looked at my meal plans for the days around Christmas, trying to streamline them enough to make cooking a bit simpler, and yet still have meals that have most of what The Engineer, Darling Daughter, and I consider necessary Christmas traditions.

Sure, I’d love to do it all — every cookie, every meal course, every enjoyable event — but sometimes life intervenes.

One thing I’ve learned from my mom is to remember — no matter how much we (I) would like to believe otherwise — we aren’t in control, and sometimes we have to roll with the punches.

She’s in the hospital, with two black eyes and a swollen nose, struggling to breathe, with all dignity gone, confused about what’s happening to her, and still, she manages a smile for anyone who enters her room.

If she can do that, certainly I can somehow create a Christmas.

Because it’s times like this you really need one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Golden Ring: A Tale of Christmas Magic

This is the story of a ring — not like the Lord of the Rings, “My Precious,” and all that — but  sort of an heirloom my Aunt Celle always wore.

Because this is the story of her ring, I think you should know a little about this woman, who made her own way in the world, eventually marrying for the first time at age sixty-six.

Aunt Celle was my grandmother’s younger sister, which meant she was actually my great-aunt, and her real name was Lacelle.

Grantsville, West Virginia, where Celle was born is not a large place. Despite being the seat of Calhoun County, the population was just 561 in 2010, 99% of them white.The 2000 census figures show a fairly high percentage were poor (20%), and according to Google Maps, there’s a Dollar General, a chain frequently seen in poorer, rural areas. However, a 1942 history of the town indicates it was once a busier place, boasting five barbers and three doctors!

By that time, however, the Lang family was long gone, having moved to a farm on Road Run in Troy, Gilmer County. Aunt Celle’s father, Thomas Jefferson Lang, not only farmed, he also was a RFD (Rural Free Delivery) mail carrier, first as a contractor and later as a government employee. (As an interesting side-note, RFD actually began in West Virginia in 1896, though not in Calhoun County.)

For a long time, I assumed Great Grandpa delivered the mail by horse, but my brother Sam corrected that misperception, telling me Grandma once said her dad did the route by mule because the terrain was too steep for horses.

According to Sam, Grandma said sometimes the mail was early, and sometimes it was late. It all depended on how the mule was feeling that day.

Lacelle was one of six children, preceded by Leone Catherine (my grandmother), Harold Clare, and Fay Dorrette, and followed by Thomas Jefferson (always called Jeff), George W — likely George Washington Lang after his Uncle and, of course, the first president — and Darlette Kay.

From these names, you may think the Langs had a propensity for interesting names, and you would be right. Grandma named her children Merlin and Mescal Jean (always called Jean, and no wonder!).

The 1930s visited tragedy on the family when Fay, who was a nurse, died of tuberculosis at age twenty-four in 1933. The thought of one so young dying so shockingly young brings tears to my eyes.

Meanwhile, Celle continued to live with her family until she was at least thirty, working as a maid in a private house in 1940. This fact, which I only just discovered, makes me wonder. Whose house? Who was rich enough in West Virginia in 1940 to employ a maid? And what, exactly, would that maid be expected to do? Aunt Celle worked nearly 60 hours in the week before the census, so they obviously expected a lot of effort for her pay!

Leone married my grandfather, Everett Byrd, in 1925; Harold married Everett’s sister Alma Bird in 1930 (the Byrds/Birds seemed to spell the name however they felt like it, even in the same family); and in 1941, George married his wife Alah in Summit County, Ohio.

Grandma once told me Aunt Celle told her she never married because she never met a man as good as my grandpa.

I’m not sure whether to be intrigued by this tidbit or not. Is there some hidden story? Or was it just a sweet compliment? We’ll never know, but it should be noted this was well before Aunt Celle met and married Teddy Peters.

But, let’s get back to the plot of this tale.

As you can probably imagine, there was little work available during the Depression, and West Virginia was hit particularly hard.

My mom told me my grandfather worked digging ditches to support his family during the depression, and the 1940 census confirms this saying he was “assigned to public emergency work” as a “laborer, road work.”

It’s not surprising my relatives’ efforts to find better jobs left them scattered.

According to family lore (which I have not yet confirmed), Uncle Jeff rode the rails as a hobo during this time, eventually marrying at least once, maybe twice, and finally ending up in Florida.

Harold and Alma went to California sometime after 1940

And I’m not sure who followed whom, but Celle, my grandparents, father and Aunt Jean ended up in northeastern Ohio, not far from George.

Another family tragedy occurred in 1954 when Darle died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. My mom said she went out to her dad’s barn and shot herself there with his shotgun. For some reason, I think she was my father’s favorite aunt, and I remember him saying something about her being told she had some kind of illness that couldn’t be cured. So she shot herself.

These are the memories of someone who was very young, so I may be completely wrong.

Whatever the reason, she was far too young to feel so desperate — only 36.

Back in Ohio, Aunt Celle remained single, finding work in Massillon at Eaton. My memories are scattered, but I know she lived in a converted garage, where my siblings and I would visit.

On the slender side, she frequently wore floaty nylon scarves around her neck, which sounds rather more fashionable than it appeared to me.

Of course, I was a child, so what did I know?

We liked visiting because Aunt Celle would take us out to dinner at exotic restaurants — like Burger Chef and the PDQ (“Pretty Darned Quick”). When my younger brother picked, it was always PDQ because they had hot dogs, but I preferred the milkshakes at the burger places.

My aunt spoiled us in her own way, but like many single people, she had definite ideas on how children should behave. I distinctly remember her scolding us for slurping those milkshakes.

Eventually Celle bought a house, where I believe my cousin (her grand-nephew) still lives. For a single woman who came of age during the Depression, this was quite an accomplishment!

I remember my Uncle Mac telling us how Massillon prohibited burning trash, but not having weiner roasts. He went on to explain that when Aunt Celle wanted to burn paper goods, she would stand outside and roast a hot dog over the flames.

I can so easily picture this, and the thought always makes me smile.

When I was sixteen when Aunt Celle married, and that same uncle kept teasing that he was going to call her and her new husband up on their wedding night, just to see how things were going.

Like me, Aunt Celle was born in February, and she had an amethyst ring with a deep purple stone that she always wore. She once told me someone asked if it was a particular kind of old-fashioned stone, and from her answer to him (which, of course, I can’t remember), I got the impression she’d purchased it for herself. She said she would leave it to me, and that promise felt like a special link between us, the two family members who shared a birth month.

However, after she married, Aunt Celle and her new husband (who I remember as being very nice) moved back to West Virginia, and I rarely saw them.

She returned to Ohio sometime before her death in 1994, but by that time I was always working at least two jobs and experiencing drama in my own life. Then I married and became pregnant with Darling Daughter.

These are poor excuses for not visiting someone who was so kind to me as a child, I know.

Lacelle Lang Peters Obituary

After Aunt Celle’s death, I certainly didn’t pine for the ring (“My Precious!”), but from time to time, I wondered what had happened to it, eventually concluding that it had probably gone to one of her other, more deserving, nieces who actually visited her.

Now, here’s the Christmas magic.

Last night, I met some friends for dinner, including one I’ve known since high school. She eventually became a stepsister when my dad married her mom, so we have a long and storied relationship.

While we were eating, I saw she was wearing a ring similar to my aunt’s. I mentioned the one Aunt Celle used to wear that she’d promised me, and kind of joked about how you should be careful what you say to kids because they never forget anything.

Reader, I had not seen Aunt Celle’s ring in a very long time and had no idea it was the same piece of jewelry. My stepsis was also born in February, and I thought someone had bought her a birthstone ring for her.

After we ate, she took off the ring and handed it to me.

I was speechless — which never happens.

In fact, our other two friends joked that they needed to take a picture because something finally shut Kym up.

“I’m pretty sure this is your Aunt Celle’s ring,” Stepsis said. “I found it in the bottom of one of Mom’s boxes when we moved her.”

When she showed her mother, my stepmom had no idea where it had come from.

Ponder on the generosity of this gesture for a moment. Stepsis could have easily kept the ring for herself. I would never have known, never questioned where it came from.

She didn’t. She gave it to me because she knew I would treasure it and remember Aunt Celle every time I look at it.

Now, I will also think of Stepsis, her honesty, and her unselfish gesture.

img_0735

Aunt Celle’s ring,
with my father’s class ring on the right.

Later, I tried to calculate how long ago Aunt Celle made that promise, and my best guess is forty to fifty years ago.

Was the ring in that box of my stepmother’s for twenty-five years?
Probably not, since she had no memory of it. Certainly my dad was the conduit, but he’s been gone for sixteen years, and we can’t ask him.

So, here ends a story of an heirloom, Christmas magic, and a stepsister/friend’s generosity.