The Black Sapphire Ring
Tonight’s story starts way back on Aug. 14, 1912, the day my Dad’s parents got married. That’s right – 99 years ago today. I guess that I could have waited for next year and done a 100 year thing, and maybe that will still happen – if God blesses this effort and I am still writing next year. Anyway, I didn’t know my paternal grandparents, Jacob and Lettie Toussaint nearly as well as I knew my Mom’s parents. They lived in Park Ridge, IL, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and we lived on the far south side. So we really only saw them once in a while when we went up for a visit on a week-end, or during the holidays, such as Christmas Eve.
I didn’t know that much about their early life together. Oh sure, my Dad told me stories about growing up with his two brothers, Vernon and Wayne, and what life was like in their home, but it was still pretty much of a mystery to me. Because Vernon, the eldest, was ten years older than Dad, and Wayne, the middle brother, was five years older.
Anyway, I remember the day that Grandma and Grandpa celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. We were all at Uncle Wayne’s and Aunt Fran’s home on Murphy Lake, also in Park Ridge. They had a large covered patio and were hosting a party for my grandparents. The barbecue was going and there were people everywhere – I didn’t know most of them – although I had heard most of their names for my entire life. I remember some of my Dad’s childhood friends were there to celebrate, and since Wayne and Fran also got married on an August 14 – in 1939, both couples were celebrating together.
As a gift commemorating the 50th anniversary, the three brothers, and their wives, presented Grandma and Grandpa with a pair of rings. Grandma’s was a purple amethyst and Grandpa’s was a black star sapphire set in a gold band. The gifts were a big hit, and I remember how much I admired Grandpa’s new sapphire ring. I was 9 years old.
Four years later, my grandfather died, and it was the first time I ever saw my Dad cry. The entire funeral was very hard on him; and I am sure that it was the same for his brothers. Several months after the funeral, Dad came home one evening, wearing the black sapphire ring. He told me that his brothers had discussed who should have Grandpa’s ring, and since they both already had jewelry, and Dad and Mom couldn’t really afford any, Dad’s brothers wanted him to have the keepsake. Dad was thrilled – from that day on, he rarely took it off. I remember it so vividly. In fact, when I turned eighteen, Dad and Mom saved up and got me a black sapphire ring as well. They knew somebody who ran a pawn shop and I was with Dad when he paid $80 for my ring. Of course, it wasn’t about the money, but it was very much about the ring – and that I finally had one like my Dad; who had his Dad’s. Oh, it wasn’t as nice, or as brilliant, but that didn’t matter to me. I was thrilled; just like Dad was the day he received the gift from his two brothers.
And that event started something of a tradition – because Janet and I presented Andrew with a similar ring on his twenty first birthday. And although my Dad is long gone, I still smile each time I put on that ring. And I can’t help but smile each time I see Andrew wear his. He didn’t know the history about how all this came to pass, until he reads this – but that’s how it all started. Unfortunately, Dad’s ring was later stolen, along with other sentimental mementos of generations gone by.
These events remind me of how the circle of life continues. Because now Dad, and both of his brothers, and all three of their wives, are also gone. And that means my first cousins and I are the oldest generation – and most of us are in our sixties, or approaching that benchmark. How time flies. It seems like yesterday that my cousin Lynn taught me to swim at Murphy Lake where I have so many fond memories of my childhood.
I couldn’t help but think of what the Bible has to say about these types of events. After all, the Israelites were big on remembering and celebrating events. And we are a culture that does the same thing. Interestingly, the Bible only mentions an anniversary once, and that is in the NIV version. In Deut. 16:6, Moses tells us, “There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt.” And the Jewish nation is still celebrating the Passover, thousands of years later. So what can we learn from this? That we can still remember the past, and carry on the stories from our childhood. Because the younger generations don’t know as much about their ancestry as we used to learn.
So my encouragement tonight is that your family will cherish the memories you make with them. Make time for your family and celebrate the anniversaries of important events in your history. And my prayer is that you and your family will be blessed through these celebrations; and will be drawn together as you teach our upcoming generations the past. And the circle of life continues…..