Updated: Dec 1, 2021
By Laurel Latimer
My mother was Charlene; a stroke at 85 landed her in the hospital. As I sat by her bedside, she slowly opened her eyes and whispered: “Laur, the family wedding rings are in a brown bag in the drawer by my bathroom sink."
As she began to improve, I felt compelled to inquire more about the family heirlooms. Sure enough, every wedding band and engagement ring on both my maternal and paternal sides were threaded onto a round post inside a nondescript felt bag. Never had my mother mentioned this treasure trove of love and matrimony spanning 4 generations of our family.
Upon her recovery some weeks later, we opened the bag for an inventory. I was overcome with emotion as we read the engravings inside each ring, held the sparkling stones up to the light, and compared the sizes of the bride and groom bands. I asked my mother to whom each ring belonged. One, in particular, caught my eye; it was very small, delicate, and different from all the rest.
“Ah, yes, Bunny’s ring”, she exclaimed. She was never one to tell family stories, so I was tickled to see her both animated and sentimental, which frankly was a bit out of character. Her namesake Uncle Charlie whom she'd never met, went off to WWI as a young man and never returned. He was the 6th born (of 10 children) to my great grandmother Augusta, who emigrated to Washington Island from Eyrarbakki, Iceland with her husband in 1870. Their son Charles had proposed marriage to Myrtle (nicknamed Bunny), an Islander and best friend of his younger sister Esther (my grandmother). He’d given her this graceful ring — along with a marriage proposal — before leaving for Europe.
I felt like a child sitting on the floor at a library story hour: “Tell me more, Mom!” Myrtle, upon marrying another man years later, felt obliged to return Charles’ engagement ring to the Gislason family. Augusta chose Esther to take possession of the poignant keepsake.
Three years after my mother passed away, I was sorting her belongings and the ring resurfaced. My daughter Sarah, named for one of Esther’s sisters, saw the ring and commented: “What a sweet little thing!” Shocked to hear this (as neither of my daughters wears jewelry), I asked if she’d wear it. "Of course" was her answer, if it could be enlarged a bit.
Sarah's birthday gift was this ring, and she mentioned feeling a connection through it to her Icelandic descendants. I realized subsequently that the 5 small inset pearls on Bunny’s ring could represent the generations connected by this family story … at least I like to look at it this way:
Esther/Charles (and Myrtle)