By Louise Ure
We all have things we keep – holding them close to our heart. Other things we sell or give away, their meaning no longer important to us. But then there are the things we’ve lost. Things that define us even though we don’t have them anymore. And those are the ones that hurt the most.
It was a humid August afternoon in Austin, Texas, and I’d just finished lunch with the account team at GSD&M Advertising. It is only coincidence that I usually associate those initials with Greed, Sex, Drugs & Money – the four best reasons to commit a crime.
I was working on something that would make no difference in anyone’s life … a new feature on a cell phone, a new long distance pricing plan. Whatever it was, I cared deeply about it at the time, and the conversation was heated. Tempers flared and hands flew.
I knocked over my coffee, spilling it on my hands and lap and strewing those little packets of mysterious whitener like starter kits of cocaine across the table.
It wasn’t until I was back in the hotel room several hours later that I realized the loss.
There was an airy space where my wedding ring should have been.
In a moment of pure photographic recall, I remembered taking off my ring, wiping the coffee from my hands, cleaning the ring, bundling everything up in paper napkins and throwing it all away.
My arm ached with the sense memory of trying to call back that toss.
I drove back to the agency, where a stooped, sixty-five year old Mexican man met me at the door with a bucket in his hand.
“Ayúdame … por favor.”
The night cleaning crew took pity on me. We pawed through the trashcans in the conference room. We got down on our hands and knees and searched the floor. We emptied the vacuum cleaner bags. We stood shoulder to shoulder in the dumpster out back and went through every plastic bag with flashlights.
It was gone.
I wasn’t dreading telling my husband. Hell, he’d left his wedding ring in three different hotel rooms around the world and had to have it mailed back to him.
No, the diamond belonged to Mimi.
Mimi was my grandmother, Leonora Bianca Cosamini, born in the mountain town of Lucca per Barga in Tuscany in 1896 and carried to America as a baby. Unlike many Italian immigrants, they came west. West to a land still punctuated with gunfire and cattle rustling and barefoot Papago Indians making daily treks to market down the middle of a dirt road grandly named Broadway.
She was as intrepid and independent as her new land, running away at thirteen from the convent where she’d been in training, and eloping with a thirty-three year-old man with bright blue eyes. Her parents had him arrested for kidnapping and sent her back to Italy.
Fat lot of good that did. Jimmy Counter found her in Lucca and kidnapped her all over again.
Thus began their short, hot life together. Only three years later, Jimmy died in a plane crash while trying to strew rose petals over the house in apology for a spat the night before.
He left her with two children … and that diamond ring.
It was an Old Miner’s Cut stone, more cushion-shaped than today’s brilliant cuts, with a smaller table on the top and greater depth than diamonds carved today. A cut like that doesn’t reflect much light; it holds it close and keeps the joy inside.
Mimi died in 1971. The ring is what I had of her.
I need to know what happened to it.
In my mind’s eye, it was found the next day in the city dump by a young Latina named Genoveva, whose pregnancy demanded a marriage ceremony, but whose young lover could not afford a ring.
They consider it a miracle, just like the child growing inside her.
They thank the Virgin Mary every night in their prayers and the guardian angels who left heaven to drop the ring at their feet.
They lived happily ever after.
Well, that’s the way it should have been anyway.
I hold the memory of that ring inside me. And the love behind it.
What, my friends, defines you, even in its absence? What have you ever lost that you would give your heart to get back?
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Oh Louise, what an incredible story. And the rose petals . . . Sniff.
That really is an incredible story. Yes, the rose petals… mythic.
It’s a good question, Louise, and it makes me realize that for all the %^&*! stuff I have, I must not be all that materialistic after all, because I can only think of two things that I’ve lost that I would want back. One is a tiny doll, about the size of the first joint of a finger, that I lost in a crack in my parents’ fireplace when I was six or seven. It was the first thing I thought of when you started talking about lost things.
And the other is a forest green sweater that I lived in for about two years right after college until some vicious, consciousless person stole it from the dryer at the laundromat.
So I guess either I don’t lose things very often or I don’t care so very much about the things I do have.
What a story! Louise, you should write a book…
I have my grandmother’s engagement ring, a tiny diamond, the only one my grandfather could afford. Both were immigrants from Sweden, meeting in Chicago in the 1920s. My grandmother gave it to me on her deathbed after 63 years of marriage, it’s worn down but she made me promise to wear it. I try not to take it off, and when I do, I’m pretty careful. But if something ever happened to it, I would feel like a limb was gone.
My grandmother’s cut crystal vase which was broken over 15 years ago…
I had placed it atop a china closet, back against the wall, so if the cats happened to jump up they wouldn’t knock it over. It had silk peonies in it — Nana’s (who also died in 1971) favorite flower.
One afternoon I heard a crash and ‘knew’ immediately what had happened. I didn’t really want to look, but found flowers and hundreds of pieces of shattered glass scattered about the floor — all fanning out from the china closet. I sat down, just outside the wasted crystal, and cried.
When I’d visit Nana’s home, it’s what I remember looking at. I also have her china and flatware, but that vase is what defined her to me. (The bottom third survived and is tucked away.)
Thanks, Sharon. One cousin of mine still lives in the rose petal house. I picture those blossoms every time I visit him.
And Alex, I think there’s something mythic in the story of the finger-long doll as well. She’s become a house god, you know. They always protect from the fireplace.
Karen, I remember that beautiful ring of yours! And the diamond industry would be in big trouble if left to us. We seem to prefer handed-down diamonds with meaning to buying new ones in the hopes of creating meaning.
Oh Beeg, I can imagine your despair!I’m sitting here wondering what you can do with th broken bottom third of that vase that will still allow you to use it and see it daily. Your Nana also had impeccable good taste in flowers. Is there any flower more decadent than a peony?
Mimi smiles down on you, you lost her ring, but you gave her a “grand daughter.” Long live Genovea.
Jacky, Mimi’s probably found her seventh husband by now, in that ether. She outlived five of them here on earth. And yeah, she’s probably smiling.
My relatives were all too poor to leave me anything as valuable as diamonds, but when I was an early teen somebody stole my wallet out of a locker at the roller skating rink. There wasn’t much money in there, but there were some pictures a friend and I had taken at one of those picture booths at the bus station. I was devasted, because I had to face the reality that people were dishonest.
Gorgeous post, Louise.
You know, it’s strange. I was thinking of things lost that have meant the world to me and . . .
I’ve lost so many people in my life, that when it comes down to it, things mean little to me. There was one dress that I loved as a child and felt betrayed when mother gave it to another little girl when it no longer fit me.
But things, valuables or mementos, just don’t stand out in my memory — though I’ve lose too many.
I live each day surrounded by my past and the gifts of family and friends long gone. Perhaps it’s the quantity that makes me less attached to a singular one?
Patty, I can recognize that kind of epiphany — a loss of innocence more than a loss of wallet.
Louise your post was so appropriate today. Magdalen Nabb, the British writer who lived in Florence and was my friend just died. We were reading her book The Innocent in our book group last night and it made it all the more poignant. She’d written an incredible letter for the group just a week ago with the background of how she wrote the book. Witty and insightful, as she always is…was.She’d been riding her horse outside Florence on Thursday and suffered a stroke…at least she was doing what she loved.
William Heinemann and Diogenes Verlag AG report that Magdalen Nabb sadly died suddenly at the weekend. Her funeral was held on Monday in Florence.
Oh Louise. How sad. Not quite comparable, but I do remember my major lost item. I had a hand painted pin (picture of a person on it) that had belonged to my grandmother. She’d gotten it on one of her trips to California to visit her parents. I made the mistake of letting my crawling child play with the box it was in. She loved the rattling sound. Well, the pin disappeared. How could it? It was too big to swallow or disappear down the heating vents. We lived in a small trailer house at the time so there really wasn’t THAT much room to lose it in. We never did find it. I had a slight hope when we moved into our house that it would show up during the move – no such luck.
Oh Cara, I’m so sorry to hear of Magdalen’s death. You’re right to take solace in the fact that she loved what she was doing at that final moment.
I have the memory of that diamond to remind me of Mimi. You have Magdalen’s words — both in the books and the letter — to remember her. And that’s quite a legacy.
I wonder whose picture was on that pin. Maybe it was a profile of your grandmother sketched by an artist on that California trip? Or maybe something more like a cameo?
Remember the joy she took in wearing it.
And I’m firmly convinced that it rolled under the refrigerator. When mine is finally moved, they’ll find the seven wonders of the world there.
Thanks, Louise. And I have her books she sent my son, she wrote children’s books too. She loved champagne and I remember holing up in a hotel room with her at a Bouchercon and popping a cork…wish I still had it.
I don’t think I have too much I miss. The only thing that crushed me as a child was when my dad got a soccer ball signed the whole QPR squad when I was sick. I thought the ball was great and when I was well I took it out an played with it…in the rain. My heroes names lasted about 30 seconds. It wasn’t the ball I mourned as much as autographs.
Simon, that’s got to be a scene in a book sometime. Heartbreakingly visual. And what a comment about the fleeting essence of fame.
Louise,your terrific post sparked so many feelings in me. Like Pari, I don’t, I think, put much stock in things, but a great deal of stock in memories of people who mattered to me. It’s intriguing (and odd, I think) how much we ascribe to things that were touched or worn by people we love. But they are/were only things. A ring is just a ring. It’s Mimi you cherished and loved, and if ever anything showed that you still have her, vividly, alive and in your heart–this column did. And now, thanks to you, I’ve got her as well and her “kidnapper” dying as he blanketed the house with rose petals…thank you so much.
“It’s intriguing (and odd, I think) how much we ascribe to things that were touched or worn by people we love.”
That thing becomes our talisman, non? With more power than it ever had before.
Glad you liked the post, Gillian/Jude.
The only other thing I lost but I only mourned it at the time was at a county cricket game when I was 6–yes, more sports. One of the players hit a boundary and the rolled up to me. My dad told me to get the ball. I scooped it up. The fielder came over for the ball and I told him it was mine. He told me it wasn’t. Something a chase broke out involving my dad, the fielder and my dad’s friend as I ran with the ball clutched tightly in my hands. They caught me, got the ball and game continued.
I never attended another county game…
Let me get this straight, Simon. You thought it was a game of Finders Keepers? Ah, to be disillusioned at such a young age!
My dad said, “It’s yours. Go get it!”
I think he meant it figuratively, not literally, but how was I supposed to know that.
Ah, Louise, another fascinating trip into your world. I am in love with this story.
I do have one “thing” I lost that crushed me.
When I was fifteen, I went and got my left ear double pierced. My father absolutely hit the roof. He was so incredibly livid with me… I remember being completely freaked because he never lost his temper.
For my sixteenth birthday, he gave me a single diamond solitaire stud to wear in that hole. He never said a word, just raised an eyebrow and smiled. I knew he’d accepted that for better or worse, I was growing up. I never, ever took it out.
Fast forward three years, to freshman year of college. Was leaving a fraternity party with a boyfriend who’d decided to pierce his ear. He had a safety pin in it, and I was worried (and in puppy love) so I took out my diamond to put in the pin’s place. Dropped it. In a parking lot. We searched for hours and never found it.
I still feel so stupid for losing such a treasured acknowledgment of my ability to make my own decisions for a boy whose name I can’t remember.
“I live each day surrounded by my past.”
Pari, I’ve been thinking about this line of yours all day.Is this what leads us to write? Those snippets … those memories … we don’t want to lose?
And JT, that’s the saddest story. Damn. If you’d at least lost your virginity to him, he might have deserved the diamond. But to have it lost to the shards of broken headlights in the asphalt. That’s just too damn sad.
Late to the party-thanks to more computer woes -but even though I already knew this touching tale of Mimi -how lovely to jump back in with it.
And yea – this is a book, Louise. Mimi would love it – and so would we.
What a lovely post, Louise.
It’s not so much material losses that I regret, but lost opportunities. I’m pretty darned happy with where I am in life, but I do sometimes wonder about those roads not taken……
Louise, about ten years ago I took the remains of the vase to a local artist who seemed to be the best at painting flowers. I asked that she put peonies in the vase and have them drooping over the sides to cover the missing upper two thirds. It didn’t come out quite the way I envisioned — it lacked the height necessary to have been the original. I think I’ll wait another ten years and have another artist take a shot at my vision.
I’ve lost a few things over the years, but nothing that stands out as much as my engagement ring. It was really special and unique – I told my boyfriend that I’d always wanted emeralds on either side of a diamond, not realizing he’d already bought the ring! So – he went back to the store and had them solder on a “wrap” that had emeralds in it.
I don’t even know how I lost it. I was rather cavalier with my jewelry before children; I’d take it off at night while watching TV or doing the dishes, then put it away “later.” One day we realized we couldn’t find that ring anywhere. I felt horrible. We did the same thing as you, Louise – tore our trash apart (some of it quite nasty and moldy), upended cushions, took the covers off our radiators. No dice.
He bought me a solitaire to replace it, but it just doesn’t have the same character. I hope for our anniversary some year I can get a wrap for it, with emeralds….
Hi Elaine. Hope your computer woes are diminishing. You, with your Italian heritage, would have loved Mimi. Thanks for checking in.
And Rae … you must have ESP today. I just wrote a scene for Book Three where the character describes herself as “the patron saint of I Wish I Had.” Ah, those roads not taken.
B.G., your idea for the vase sounds like a better one than anything I’ve come up with today. Maybe you could grind down the top so that it’s a shallow dish, and then float a peony in it?
Christa, your story is one of love, not forgetfulness. I adore the fact that your boyfriend went back to make it the ring you wanted. There’s something very O. Henry about that kind of gift giving. Hope you can recreate it for a special anniversary.
The boy I fell in love with when we were sixteen.
David played guitar and had the voice of a folk angel. He had red-blonde hair and his eyes were the color of a glacier.
Every time I hear Crosby, Stills and Nash sing “Our House”, I see him singing, moonlight making that hair glow like antique gilt and me, giddy and fragile with first love. I will always regret that I remained the last of the great Catholic virgins and I never fully explored the innocent sexuality that sparked between us.
David remained one of my dearest friends, until he died of cancer. Now there is no-one who can make me feel like Debbie-at-Sixteen and I’ll never get the chance to know the wonder of a night with him. I miss that yearning, I miss the young girl I once was, but most of all,I miss him.
Louise,I have my grandmother’s — and my mother’s — engagment stones, and I can’t imagine what losing them would do. I’m so sorry.
For me, the happy(er) news is that my now ex-husband went against my wishes and didn’t use them for our engagement — pissed me off then; makes me happy that they are “untainted” by the karma now, in the event that we came apart so something else could happen.About a month after I left him I went to my best friend from high school’s wedding in Hawai’i — I had no business doing this, as a recently separated homeless social worker employed by the Dept. of Justice and thus damn near starving — but I bought myself a Hawai’ian charm necklace while I was there, a talisman of the first wedding after the leaving. Or perhaps just of the leaving. My ex-husband is a very nice man who would have killed me by inches if I’d stayed — a realization that took me a year to act on.Three months after that wedding in Hawai’i I moved into an apartment I loved, and a month after that the charm disappeared. I told myself it was somewhere behind the furniture in my bedroom, and tried not to think about it every time I shuffled things around to make room for more bookshelves.
I moved out of that apartment just this July — after nearly 8 years, the longest I lived anywhere — and had to face the fact that the charm was gone.I’m only just starting to understand that the talisman doesn’t equal the achievement.But one day, I swear, I’ll return to Kaua’i and replace it.Maybe when I find the right person to go with. As celebration this time.
Ah Louise, let me add my voice to everyone else’s. You paint the most amazing pictures with words!
I was the one who ended my marriage. He’s a very nice, absolutely sweet man, and I’d decided to be honest about my sexual orientation, so the parting was as amicable as it could be. But I never got all the Christmas ornaments back that had been mine since I was a child.
I am sad, but honestly I have no regrets. Something that big, that painful should have a hefty price. I am at peace with it.
My sweet Lillian gave me her mother’s engagement ring as proof of her sincerity, and the other day I noticed that the band had separated from the diamond, which is a pretty spectacular marquis-cut beauty. I almost passed out. Had I lost THAT, I can’t even begin to imagine what I’d do. Lillian’s mother died of cancer the year Lillian’s son was born. Eventually the ring will go to him when he finds his true love. Losing it would be beyond dark and miserable. I’m so glad I noticed it. It’s in to be repaired now, but I’ll be much more cautious with it in the future!
Lovely memories, Louise ~ thanks for sharing them.
I’d give my heart to have my father backwho only ever wanted for me what would make me happiest even though it didn’t always mesh with what he thought was best for me…I’d love to have one more chance to thank him for what that meant to me, and continues to mean to me every day.
First, let me thank everyone who wrote in comments yesterday and today. I’m stunned by the sadness and loss they demonstrate, and yet awed by the simplicity and beauty of the way you describe them.
Lisa wrote: “the talisman doesn’t equal the achievement.”
Fran wrote: “something that big should have a price.”
D.A. wrote: “Now there is no one who can make me feel like Debbie-at-Sixteen.”
To Janine and Debbie who thought about a person as the lost thing, I salute you. To Lisa and Fran and all the commenters who remembered that special (or wish to be forgotten) moment and person with the lost thing, let’s raise a glass.
Santa Tom, if there’s ever a shared endeavor between me and Ken Bruen, I guarantee you it would have to include these beautiful comments from the Murderati readers as well.