A New Wedding Ring for Valentine’s Day

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m re-posting this essay that appeared last year on my former blog, Five Dollars and Some Common Sense. I had a fabulous book launch party this weekend and planned to post some photos and other thoughts about it today, but am having some technical difficulties with the photos. Stay tuned!

My Valentine’s Day gift [in 2011] was a new wedding ring. My husband actually had nothing to do with this. I came up with the idea, found a jewelry designer, raised cash by selling off some gold (including my original engagement and wedding rings), and went to pick up the finished product all by myself.

My original engagement ring had a good story behind it. My husband was engaged once before…to a woman I shared an apartment with in D.C. (That is another story indeed, but not for today.) When Daniel decided to propose to me, he took his former fiancee’s ring back to the store where he had bought it, Mervis Diamond Importers. In 1990s Washington, D.C., Mervis radio ads were ubiquitous, immediately recognizable due to owner Ronnie Mervis’ thick South African accent describing adventurous forays into deep, dark diamond mines. The day Daniel arrived to swap the old ring for a new, it so happens that Ronnie himself was manning the store. Once Daniel chose a new ring—bigger, better, more expensive—Ronnie exclaimed, with his distinctive drama and clipped accent, “Ah! A man of decision!”

Daniel presented the ring along with a marriage proposal on the South Transept steps of the Washington National Cathedral, where I had my first job in D.C. after college. Obviously, I said yes. I was so taken with that ring—a large solitaire with five smaller diamonds on either side of it, purchased from the one-and-only Ronnie himself! Daniel had blown his budget on it, though, so we bought my wedding ring—a plain, thin band—from a mall jewelry store in suburban Maryland. I think it cost $99, and we each paid for half. (My grandmother gave me my late grandfather’s wedding band for Daniel, a nice heavy ring that Daniel once lost and then recovered from the bottom of a murky lake populated by splashing children on a hot summer day a few years ago. Sort of Bilbo-esque, don’t you think? The ring will always find its rightful owner.)

We got married at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in the shadow of the Cathedral, just a few hundred yards from where Daniel had proposed. We got jobs and we left them, we moved to Connecticut, we bought and sold houses, we had three babies. When the kids were small and prone to grabbing shiny objects, my rings and watch were the only jewelry I ever wore. I would forget I even had the rings on. I would look down now and then and see my engagement ring, the gold and diamonds dulled by age and grime, but still a reminder of the promises we made when we were living a whole different kind of life—of last-minute dinner plans, subway rides to downtown jobs, and long, uncharted weekend drives south to the Shenandoah or north to Gettysburg.

Then one summer day a couple of years ago, I looked down and realized with a sickening lurch that the diamond solitaire was gone. The kids and I were heading north to visit my sister and her kids in Massachusetts. I figured the diamond had fallen out while I was rushing around packing. Daniel searched the house, driveway, and car with a flashlight. He went painstakingly through the vacuum cleaner dust bag. When we arrived back home, I told the kids I would (really!) give anyone who found my diamond $100. No one ever found it.

For two years, I wore my wedding band alone, figuring that one day I’d replace the diamond solitaire. On its own, the band was so insubstantial, such a poor symbol for a decade-plus marriage encompassing two states, three jobs, one book contract, three children, five homes, 10 broken bones, half a dozen surgeries, and countless baths and bedtimes; dinners out we couldn’t quite afford and On Demand movies we could; family birthdays, weddings, and retirement parties; stomach bugs, colds, ulcers, gall-bladder attacks, and cancers; and trips north, south, east, and west.

A wedding band is just a thing, of course. It’s the marriage that matters, not the wedding or its many culturally mandated accoutrements. But when I looked down at my lonely little band, I longed for something bigger and weightier, not as a status symbol, but as a tangible reminder of our marriage’s longevity and vitality. And I realized that even if, some day, we had a couple thousand dollars to drop on a new diamond, I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. The brilliant, sparkling solitaire that had so captivated me as a young bride no longer seemed right for two people grappling with the myriad daily struggles, fleeting joys, and occasional crises of middle-aged parenthood.

So I sold off some old jewelry, including the solitaire-less engagement ring and the paltry mall-store wedding band, and had a goldsmith make me a new wedding ring. He took the 10 small diamonds from my engagement ring and incorporated them into a simple new design. Purely by happenstance, I picked up my new ring on Valentine’s Day, with my five-year-old in tow and while Daniel was at work. Which seemed completely appropriate for a marriage characterized less by romantic encounters and more by divide-and-conquer strategic planning.

I love my new wedding ring. It makes me happy every time I look down and see it. The ring is not particularly fancy. It wasn’t very expensive. But it seems a much better representation of the life we have built together. One day when our kids are grown, if we’re lucky, we’ll once again make last-minute dinner plans and take long, uncharted drives into the countryside. Maybe then, I’ll ask Daniel for another sparkly bauble to wear—a diamond necklace, perhaps. But right now, I don’t need it. I don’t even want it.

My favorite part of my new wedding ring is how it feels, heavy and thick. The weight is not confining, but comforting, like a down comforter on a frigid night. It is affirming, like a sleepy child leaning into my chest—a concrete reminder that in this mundane, often limiting family life, I have found my calling and my place, and am lucky enough to share it with my true companion.

Why I Believe Native American Mascots Should Go
Believing with Our Bodies
Why I Believe Native American Mascots Should Go
Surviving January with Help from the Danes, the Japanese, and Jesus
About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Kate B.

    Loved this last year and love it again this year. It’s a lovely, thoughtful story.

    My own engagement ring, which was lovely, was stolen about six months after we were married. I was waitressing in a Big Boy and didn’t want it to get all grimy so it was home in our apartment when thieves broke in and stole our TV/VCR combination unit and my ring, right around Christmas. I figure that they were “shopping” since our housemates’ brand-new Sony stereo components–still in boxes–were completely ignored. Somebody’s kid or mother got the TV and somebody’s girlfriend got the ring.

    The “engagement” ring I wear is actually from my family, my great-great aunt’s fiftieth wedding anniversary present from her husband. He also gave her a diamond broach. They had no children, and eventually the jewelry was left to her nieces, my grandmother and great-aunt. The ring has passed through the older sisters and the broach through the younger sisters so far.

    Our wedding bands were custom-made by a silver smith, mine for about $50, it’s a simple sterling silver band with a small cross-shaped cut-out. A few years later his matching one was lost, and I bought him a simple band as a replacement. I mentioned this to our Rector and he asked to see it and took it and blessed it. It was good to have such care taken of us.

    PS–Did you know your blog has a diamond ring ad on it today?

  • Peter Vreeland

    I love your story. Your marriage does indeed encompass a great deal, and is much more than the sum of all its parts. I’m so glad you now have a wedding ring with the substance commensurate with all it represents.

    Thirty years ago, for my parents 20th wedding anniversary, my dad, brother, sister, and I clubbed together fo modify my mother’s wedding band. My dad’s wedding ring is a plain gold band of his own choosing. My mom’s is wider with diamond shapes hammered into the gold. Some while after my grandfather died, my grandmother (mom’s mother) gave her the silver basket engagement ring with which Grandpa had proposed. Mom wore the ring on her right hand for years, but the silver band grew thin and finally broke. So for this 20th anniversary dad somehow got mom’s wedding ring away from her, as well as Grandma’s enggement ring, and we took it to a jeweler’s to have Grandma’s diamond set into mom’s ring. It’ gorgeous, even all these years later. Your story reminded me of this.

    I know a wedding ring is just a thing…”a hunk of metal” as a friend of mine once said. But when I feel my ring on my finger it brings to my mind and heart everything, good, bad, ordinary, and absolutely wonderful that Richard and I have been through in 23 years, and fills my soul with renewed love and gratitude.

    God bless you and Daniel with many more years of marriage, and your family with much love and happiness.

  • http://www.cheoyleeriviera.com Cheoy Lee

    A lovely story, and the new band represents both your happy union with someone you love, *and* your initiative, confidence and independence as well.

  • http://www.mervisdiamond.com Jonathan Mervis

    Beautiful story! Glad you got a chance to meet Ronnie!

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Ronnie was a big part of our engagement story! A friend even got up at our wedding to imitate his “Man of decision!” exclamation.