Wedding Rings

I wore my husband’s wedding ring yesterday. It’s a simple gold band. Nothing to differentiate it from any other plain gold band.

He has a hard time hanging on to this ring so he asked me to keep it someplace safe. When I feel the need to have him close emotionally, as in when I’m facing something that makes me nervous, or stressed, or just wanting to be home with him, I wear his ring.

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He used to lose the ring.

A lot.

One day he came home devastated because he’d been on a swift water rescue training and the ring was gone. He knew it was gone forever, gold returned to earth, somewhere out there in whitewater. But instead, a lovely little toddler named Malia (now a lovely young woman) was crawling around on the floor in the fire department a couple weeks later. She found the ring under the couch.

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That’s Art on the orange cat boat

During one time when the ring was missing again (this time resurrected from his tool box) I told him we’d just buy another one. After all, it’s just a plain gold band. He got a bit upset with me. His exact words were: ‘But it won’t be the ring you put on my finger!’.

My thought, which I was smart enough not to say out loud, was ‘So it will be a new ring I put on your finger; what’s the big deal?’

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Wedding in fire department bay, not too long after a call. My hair had just come out of the helmet. Not that you can tell the difference.

The wedding ring he put on my finger originally was my grandmother’s. But one day a fold-down staircase in the ceiling of the cabin came loose from its bolts and landed on me. The ring had to be cut off. It now sits in an envelope waiting for me to do something with it.

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A very old ring

 

That following Christmas, he bought me a new wedding ring. A garnet, which is my favorite stone, in a Celtic-style setting. He confessed that while he hadn’t minded my grandmother’s ring, he’d always wanted to give me one that was from him. It took me a while to get used to the ring because it’s fancy. But now it’s another reason my grandmother’s ring is still in its envelope.

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So what’s in a wedding ring anyway? They’re symbolic, of course, but of what? Ownership? Commitment? Fidelity? Love? Taking one off is symbolic, too (unless of course you just keep losing it). Then it’s symbolic of the end of a relationship, by choice or by loss.

Or maybe symbolic of what will happen if you’re the waitress in the local diner who kept leaning too low to show him cleavage, while I sat right there. That ring on his finger is there for a reason, and sharing isn’t it. Which, I suppose, is that symbol of ownership rearing its ugly head.

I like the idea that I can be out in public, with that garnet ring on that specific finger, and know that anyone seeing it will get the message that someone wanted me enough to put the ring there. Which sounds kind of pathetic, I know. But it’s then symbolic of whom I’ve become. It’s almost, honestly, a symbol of pride. Which works both ways when he wears his ring. Kind of a ‘look who I’ve got!’

But for today, his ring is on my finger. Both of his rings.

Stories From The River Review

I just finished Ursula Hegi’s book for the second time. As I posted previously, the first time I read Stories From The River, I wasn’t sure I liked it. It made me uncomfortable. So when I came across it at the thrift store, I decided to reread it.

I’m still unsettled by the book.

Trudi Montag is a zwerg, a dwarf, living in Germany in the 1940s. She doesn’t fit in, she’s considered a freak, and even as a small child, she yearns to be tall. In some ways the novel is about Trudi coming to peace with who she is, and about her ability to be the story-keeper for her town. As I read the book, I understood, but didn’t always like, Trudi.

The book doesn’t end with everything neatly tied up. Some of the subplots are answered and some are not. For example, readers will never know what happened to one of the most important characters in Trudi’s life, who disappears. After all the suffering, I wanted a happy ending, and didn’t get it. That’s not to say there wasn’t peace for Trudi at the end. I just wanted more than that.

The first half of the book moves slowly, starting with Trudi at a very young age, dealing with a mentally ill mother. Sometimes the dialog and thoughts of Trudi seem far too old for her age. But that wasn’t enough to pull me out of the story.

There’s the temptation to skim past all this narrative that moves as slowly as the river in the story. But each little thing is skillfully woven into what is to come. If you skim, you’ll miss the meanings. Like I said though, it moves slow. You must be a patient reader.

One of the things that happens in this slow narrative is the reader is shown Germany during that time. How the people were brought up to be patient, to trust parents, adults, leaders, the government. To be orderly. The things that happen are tiny little trickles that slowly erode away the dam, allowing the flood that was to become Nazi Germany.

I think most people these days like to think that if they had lived during that time, they would have stood up, would have done something. But people now don’t understand the culture from that time period, the obedience instilled in everyone, even here in America, during the 1930s and 1940s. Especially in the women. In this book you see the ones who defied what was happening, and disappeared. You see the ones who embraced what was happening. The ones who secretly did what they could.

You see the racism, the ability of people to allow cruelty to others in order to keep their children safe. You see the slow, slow, slow encroaching of evil. So slow that most don’t even realize what was happening until it was too dangerous.

But at its heart, this isn’t a book about Hitler, or Nazi Germany. That time period is only about one third of the whole book. It’s a book about a child growing into a woman, absorbing stories, trying to find her life, struggling to come to terms with her difference. A woman who finds herself through all the stories that flowed into her from the people in her town. One who finds the power of stories.

I was uncomfortable reading about that time period and what everyone had to go through.

I was uncomfortable with parallels to the racism that still exists.

I was uncomfortable with the honest self-appraisal that I don’t know what I would have done in the same situation. I like to think I would have stood up for others, been brave, smuggled people out, fed the starving. Like the woman in the book who tosses a half-loaf of bread she’s just bartered for, to feed her family, into the train of starving Jews that passes through town. The woman is then arrested and never seen again. But the reality is I don’t know what I would have done, or would do, if my son’s life was in also in the balance.

In the end, I closed the book with this conclusion. Ursula Hegi is an amazing writer. She has created a story that got under my skin, that won’t leave me alone, that looked at life honestly, that looked at humanity honestly.

So no, there are no neatly tied up happy endings.

From near the ending, after the war is over:

‘They did not understand why Trudi Montag wanted to dig in the dirt, as they called it, didn’t understand that for her it had nothing to do with dirt but with the need to bring out the truth and never forget it. Not that she liked to remember any of it, but she understood that – whatever she knew about what had happened – would be with her from now on, and that no one could escape the responsibility of having lived in this time.’

Yes. No one can escape the responsibility of having lived in this time.

Stones From the River Quote

I am re-reading Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi. It was an uncomfortable book to read when it first came out and I wondered if now, a few years later, I’d still have that reaction. So I decided to try again. Once I finish the book, I’ll talk more about that.

But for now, this paragraph captured me. Trudi is the protagonist.

‘It was like that with stories: she could see beneath their surface, know the undercurrents, the whirlpools that could take you down, the hidden clusters of rocks. Stories could blind you, rise around you in a myriad of colors. Every time Trudi took a story and let it stream through her mind from beginning to end, it grew fuller, richer, feeding on her visions of those people the story belonged to until it left its bed like the river she loved. And it was then that she’d have to tell the story to someone.’

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