The things we need

In the Italian tradition, I was named after my grandmother, Maria. Our bonds are too numerous to mention, but they include these: She was there when I was born on her half-birthday, and, on my birthday 37 years later, I was honored to be present with her as she passed away.

After that, my grandfather wore her wedding band on a chain around his neck. About ten years ago, I was scheduled to have a mastectomy. The week before my surgery, we were celebrating his birthday at his home in Pittsburgh. He was in his 90’s so none of us told him about my upcoming surgery. I lived 600 miles away and could easily go through it without him knowing and worrying.

But as we sat around the table, he looked at me, took the chain from around his neck, slid my grandmother’s ring off the end and handed it to me.

“You need this,” he said simply. Stunned, I accepted it.

A few years later, when my own wedding band became too tight on my finger, I started wearing hers. I liked knowing that she wore this ring as she kneaded dough, gardened, and washed the dishes – all things I remember. I like that it makes me feel that she is near.

I am not someone who wears big, flashy jewelry. I never wanted and I don’t have a big diamond engagement ring, or any engagement ring at all. The rocks I prefer look more like stones than gems and they decorate my tabletops and windowsills rather than my body.

But one day, routinely deleting the countless emails from vendors, a message from Tiffany’s caught my eye. It showed three rings. One had a huge, rectangular, orange-ish gem in a gold setting, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I tried to talk myself out of it: The band was gold and (other than my grandmother’s wedding band) I wear silver or platinum. I don’t like showy jewelry. I use my hands too much to take care of a fancy ring.

Weeks passed and my obsession continued. I wasn’t comfortable with being so strongly drawn to an object like this. I decided to find out the price of the ring. Surely it would be overpriced, I thought, so I could then decide it was too expensive or unreasonable, and the desire would leave me alone.

I couldn’t find the ring on the website, and I suddenly felt panicky that they may no longer carry it. I called the store. The woman gave me the price – it was surprisingly within the range of what I would consider. She gave me the sku number – I was sure that I wouldn’t buy the ring but I wrote it down anyway so that I could find it more easily on the website and look at it when I wanted to.

My obsession did not abate, so I decided to see if the local store had it. Maybe if I looked at it, it wouldn’t live up to the hype in my mind and I would no longer want it. Calling one of the two Boston locations, I learned that Tiffany had only one of these rings left, and it was in the Boston Copley Place store. But I was busy and there was no way to see it soon.

The day before Thanksgiving brought crappy weather and we were doing nothing in particular. Again, the ring occupied my thoughts. I finally decided that I would see if it was still in the store. I drove with one of my sons into Boston to find that one ring and look at it.

The ring wasn’t in the case and it took awhile for the salesperson to find it. In the meantime, she kept showing me other rings. Pretty, sure, but nothing that I would want.

When she finally found the ring, it was like angels were singing. I tried it on my right hand – it fit perfectly. I tried it on my left hand – it went well with my grandmother’s wedding band.

I texted my husband. “Get it,” he said. “Now.” (It’s possible that he, too, was just tired of my obsessing.)

We decided that he should give it to me for Christmas, and I was as excited as a little kid waiting for Santa. I couldn’t wait to wear it.

On Christmas morning at my parents’ house, I quietly opened the tiny blue Tiffany box and was wearing it as we worked in the kitchen later that day.

“Is that a citrine stone?” my sister asked.

“How did you know that?” I was surprised.

“It’s Nonna’s birthstone,” she said. “Is that why you got it?”

No, I thought. But now I know why I needed it.