I’ve had this ring since I was sixteen. When I got attacked by gypsies in Rome, I held up my hand to shield my face from a cannon of breast milk. My abiding memory is of this ring while something hot and sticky coated my palm. But I’ve gazed at this ring to draw strength and courage ever since it arrived in my life. And the story bears repeating.
It began when I realized that my perfect parents had forgotten to give me godparents. My best friend next door, Andrea Williams, had godparents who gave her any number of wonderful presents. Mama said only Catholic kids had godparents, but Andrea was Episcopalian and that wasn’t Catholic and she had godparents. It didn’t seem fair. Why shouldn’t I have some godparents too?
By the end of second grade, I was a prolific writer — even if my spelling was, as a college professor would later comment, “a thing of wonder.” For eight years, I had watched my mother compose notes at her desk, pulling sheets of embossed personal stationery from a cubbyhole and licking a stamp extracted from another tiny drawer. She would look up the address in the red book she groomed as carefully as her daily calendar. It would be simple to write a letter or two, lick some stamps, slip them into the mailbox on the front porch.
I pondered whom I should tap for this responsibility. There was no question but I had to ask the Kazanofs. My Jewish grandparents, they joked. Irving Kazanof owned the franchise of Wolfie’s where my sister spent a brief stint as a waitress (see Wolfies). His eyes twinkled and he cracked jokes around the cigar between his teeth. Sybil Kazanof had no use for god, Jewish or otherwise, but we had the kind of fierce friendship only a child and an old person can forge.
And I had to ask Jack Bevan, who was most wonderful man in the world. He was the dean of the college and as such, my father’s boss. Not that I understood their dynamic. In my mind, Jack Bevan most literally hung the moon. His wife was a tall elegant woman who had camellia skin, rich wavy hair, and a lyrical way of saying every word Pretty. I liked Mrs. Bevan just fine but I loved Jack Bevan. If anyone should be my godparent, it should be him.
To the Kazanofs and the Bevans I composed a letter to outline my case. My parents had neglected to name my godparents. I needed godparents. I wanted them to be mine. Left hanging was the tacit understanding of the presents godparents would be obligated to bestow. I addressed the envelopes and stole the stamps. My parents knew nothing about my mission until the letters were delivered and the phone began to ring.
My mother was aghast. Precocious was her embarrassed excuse, but I don’t remember a reprimand. Irving and Sybil gave me the present of their friendship. Jack Bevan took a job in Charleston and moved away with his beautiful wife and perfect family. I grew out of my adoring childhood crush. And I forgot about godparents.
Sometime in May of 1978, I was sulking in my bedroom when my mother’s strident call demanded I come downstairs right now. God knows who or what awaited. A troop of Japanese exchange students? The latest bunch of math majors? Peace Pilgrim? Walkin’ Lawton? Instead, there stood Jack Bevan, broad and brooding, stocky and serious. I hadn’t seen him in years. Sit down, my mother hissed.
The tension crackled. I had no idea what kind of trouble I was in, or why. I was actively engaged in living as much of a double life as I could manage and there were any number of things my parents might have discovered. Leave one bottle in the trunk or a roach in the ashtray and the whole thing could bust. But to call him in to talk to me, after so many years … ?
Mr. Bevan stood on the calico Cuban tile in the living room, shifted his weight and began to speak. He explained that he accepted the invitation to give a lecture at the college in St. Petersburg specifically because he wanted to see me. “You turned sixteen this year, and a godparent gives a special gift on the godchild’s sixteenth birthday,” he said gravely.
He pulled a tiny silk pouch from his pocket and walked over to where I sat. “Soon after you asked me to be your godparent, I went to Taiwan. I got this piece of jade on that trip and had it set in this ring to give you when you turned sixteen.”
I was speechless. Honored. Embarrassed.Thanks to my mother’s training, I’m sure I said the appropriate things. I know I wrote him a heartfelt thank-you note. The tension from my parents was from the reminder of my writing those letters, the lingering embarrassment of my precociousness.
Truthfully, it took me awhile to learn to love the ring. It’s big and looks supernatural. Even today, people ask me if it’s a mood ring, a question that rankles. But I love its crazy green glow and I especially love the reminder, right on my finger, that being precocious — taking a chance — can sometimes yield dividends greater than the puny mind can imagine. Even if the intention isn’t always pure.
FOOTNOTE: A jade connoisseur whose eye seemed beyond reproach assured me this is something called Peking Glass and most definitely not jade. Maybe it is a mood ring.