For the second post of the Heirloom Series, I am so thrilled to share this beautifully written piece by a dear friend of mine, Laura Smith. I was so excited when Laura told me she had recently inherited a very special ring from her grandmother, and wanted to share the story behind the ring, and its significance to her. This is a very touching story that truly exemplifies the power of jewellery to create strong and meaningful connections between people through time, across generations, and through physical and emotional distance. Enjoy!
Oma’s Ring Comes ‘Full Circle’ written by Laura Smith
Oma and I both love tea and cookies. When I would visit her, the tea kettle would always stand ready and she would have our special teacups set out on a tray, prepared for their journey to the living room. There would be a plate that boasted a mountain of cookies, more appropriate for twenty guests than one (so much the better); speculaas, strawberry-filled wafers, Côte D’or chocolate—what I deemed collectively “Dutch cookies.” The teacup that Oma had out for me is white, gold-trimmed china with bright orange flowers. Orange is my grandmother’s and my shared favourite colour. When we were cozy with our tea, Oma would remind me that the teacup was mine—to have when I had a home of my own. During these visits that seemed a world away, another life. Her mention of the teacup inheritance would usually lead my Oma to look down and point to the object on the ring finger of her right hand: “This is yours too, you know,” she would say with a smile. I knew.
The ring to which she pointed is an onyx: “a variety of the microcrystalline quartz, called chalcedony.”(1) The stone is a long, thin oval set in gold. I no longer remember when or how we came to the agreement that I would one day wear her ring on my finger, but it was common knowledge in the family. I do remember my attention having always been drawn to it; the absolute black matte stone, its unusual long and thin shape, the contrast and compliment of the shinning gold. To me, this ring radiated understated strength; it has the special combination of power and elegance. Its uniqueness was fascinating; I’d never seen a ring like it. The gold of the band becomes thin as it rounds the finger but the stone it holds is supported in what seems an organically-inspired frame. The frame does not detract from the stone, but gently lifts it up; allowing the sides of the stone to be showcased. I watched the ring on my Oma’s hand as it rose up to her face with her practiced gesture of sipping tea.
The ring was a gift from my Opa to my Oma in May of 1966. It marked their 12.5-year wedding anniversary: a very important milestone—halfway to 25 years—celebrated in the Netherlands. The black onyx is the gemstone for the 10th wedding anniversary, but the 12.5th is the first big milestone of wedding anniversaries in Dutch culture.(2) It is the “copper” anniversary. Opa (John) and Oma (Hendrina or ‘Henny’) were married in Eindhoven in November 1953. Shortly thereafter, like many Europeans after the Second World War, they moved to Canada; first to Nova Scotia, staying with Opa’s sister and her family, then settling in New Brunswick. They had come by boat and, like many others, their names are engraved on The Sobey Hall of Honours at Pier 21, Canada’s National Museum of Immigration in Halifax. Oma used to say that they arrived with only 60 dollars in their pockets. Many years later, while meeting my Dutch family for the first time in Eindhoven with my Oma, mom, and sister, I was reminded, as she looked beaming around the room, that she was very proud of what they had built together.
The semi-precious completely black stone is a replacement of the original multi-faceted stone my grandfather had first purchased (presumably in New Brunswick, we are not sure); which unfortunately sustained a crack. While I have not seen the original, for me, part of this stone’s appeal is precisely its flat, smooth, and opaque surface; my initial fascination for which only met its expression later in the words written by Baudelaire in his poem, L'Amour du mensonge (3):
I know that there are eyes, most melancholy ones,
In which no precious secrets lie hidden;
Lovely cases without jewels, lockets without relics,
Emptier and deeper than you are, O Heavens!
Contrasted by its intricate luminous mounting and unusual shape, the ‘simple’ black stone has a visceral visual impact—in place of depth, there is surface, in place of sparkle, it is matte. This inversion of expectations of a ring, this power of contradiction, lends it an uncanny quality. Given this, I was not surprised to read that the mythology of onyx describes the paradox of this stone, which “some cultures believe … to be unlucky,” while “others consider it to be virtuous and to protect against black magic.”(4) As a menacing stone, onyx is thought to bring bad dreams and negativity, while simultaneously, it is thought to “bring inner strength, self-confidence and mental discipline to its wearer. Additionally, onyx is said to help to release negative emotions and alleviate fear and anxiety.”(5) Either way, the stone is associated with negativity; either as a cause or as a cure. I wear the ring on my right hand, like Oma. It shifts between my index finger and my middle finger as it is slightly too large for my ring finger. I find that it shifts with my mood: when I am working more urgently, it is on my index finger, pointing me in the right direction; when I feel grounded (another attribute of onyx), it is in the middle of my hand. It is difficult, of course, to know what comes first and what follows: the ring’s position or the mood?
The tea times that Oma and I share are now few and far between. I have been living in Belgium since 2013, about 100 kilometers from where Oma and Opa met and married. Oma likes to take credit for what she considers the fated meeting of my Flemish boyfriend, Thomas. I had tried to learn Dutch as a child without much success and Oma used to tell me that the best way to learn would be to get a Dutch boyfriend. Oddly enough this happened, and it has also caused me to move away from home more permanently. When Oma tells this story, I think she is both proud of her advice and a bit sorry as well! She likes to remind him that “Belgian isn’t Dutch,” but that it’s “close enough.”
Oma now resides at an assisted living facility in New Brunswick. Many of her things, including her ring, which she decided to no longer wear, went to my parent’s home. When I visited her last summer, the story of the ring came up. I told her that I would love to have it and wear it, if she felt the time was right. We might have waited too long with the giving of the ring as Oma is displaying some signs of dementia. She agreed but I am not sure the moment of transition was as monumental to her as it was to me. I suggested that, in a way, it would be coming full circle: her ring would be worn and loved very close to the place where she and Opa met and fell in love. She seemed pleased.
Now that we have a home of our own, Oma will be present not only in my heart and on my finger, but in our kitchen too, with the presence of my special orange teacup, and also on our walls, which we are planning to paint an earthy terra cotta orange—my Oma’s and my shared favourite colour.
[https://www.jewelsforme.com/onyx-meaning]. Accessed March 26, 2018.
Charles Baudelaire, « L’Amour du mensonge, » in Les fleurs du mal (1861 Edition). Translated by William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954).
[www.gemselect.com]. Accessed March 16, 2018.
*Photos taken by Laura Smith