ColumnsWhat A World

Precious Metal, Buried Treasure

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Ringing in the New Year with a blaze
by Nancy Ford

The last time I remembered having it on was at the Southern Park Mall.

Last I saw it, Diane, Laurie, Jenny, and I were sitting in a booth at the Roy Rogers Restaurant in the food court. Think Happy Days, but with no Fonzie.

They were all seniors, and had already been wearing their class rings for at least a year. Mine was pretty much fresh out of the box, me being a mere junior. It still felt foreignly weighty on my finger. Maybe that’s why I had picked up the habit of slipping it off and spinning it like a top on the desk or table or Roy Rogers Restaurant counter where we’d been seated.

I had chosen the yellow gold setting, with a topaz gem—the only one of its kind among my fellow classmates. South Range High School. Raiders. Class of 1972.

A loopy teenager with so many important, pressing things on her young mind, I didn’t notice my ring wasn’t on my finger until the next day when my mother asked why I wasn’t wearing it. Had I already tired of the bauble I had incessantly cajoled my parents to set aside that astronomical sum of $35 for?

I turned my pockets, my locker, and my car inside out. Diane, Laurie, and Jenny helped me retrace my steps through the Southern Park Mall. I called Roy Rogers (the restaurant, not the cowboy). No luck. It was gone, and my junior ring finger would remain naked throughout my senior year of high school.

I still remember the disappointment of not being able to wear my ring at commencement, missing ceremoniously turning it around to face outward on my finger, symbolizing a proud graduate’s entré into the “real world.”

But I got over it. Somehow, year after year, life went on.

This is the part in the story where you readers visualize the pages of a calendar, the months and years fluttering by, symbolizing the passage of time—in this case, almost 40 years’ worth of time. Work with me.

Christmas was a joyful gathering with my family, as it always is. Too much food, too much intensity, not enough time. The nieces—weren’t they in kindergarten just a year or so ago?—are all taller than I am now, and are talking about getting their learner’s permits to drive. The parents are shorter.

On Christmas morning, I gratefully unwrapped some basic, utilitarian items I’d specifically requested: a new iron, some socks. After we all finished opening our too many gifts, my mother handed one more present to me—a small box adorned with a bow that was bigger than the box itself.

You guessed it. South Range High School. Raiders. Class of 1972. Topaz set in gold. Turns out, I hadn’t lost my ring that day in the Southern Park Mall at Roy Rogers with Diana, Laurie, and Jenny after all.

First thing, after almost 40 years, I slipped it back over my knuckle. Remarkably, it fit! Next thing, I took it off to spin it on the table like a top. Old habits die hard.

We traced the possibilities of how the ring might have vanished, finally isolating the mystery to an overstuffed rocking chair, my favorite childhood-into-adolescence, plunk-down-in-front-of-the-TV sitting spot in our living room. After its stuffing had shifted after years of use and abuse, well before the dawn of the 1980s, Dad had hauled the chair out to his burning field.

It’s a ritual he’s observed as long as I can remember: when the weeds grow too high in the vacant lot adjacent to my family’s rural Ohio homestead, Dad simply sets fire to them—a practice that seems inconceivable in the drought-emaciated tinderbox that is Texas. Prudently monitoring the blaze as it consumed the two or three acres, Dad would then comb the area with a rake to make sure that no “hotspots” could reignite to cause problems.

Seems that over this previous summer, he had once again burned off the field. As he stirred the ashes, he noticed something glistening in the sunlight amid the charred, now-scattered remains of the chair.

All those years after being lodged in that chair, and then incinerated, my ring had been resting out in the elements, about 100 feet from our back door. Like me, year in and year out, it witnessed the passing seasons, each Fourth of July picnic, each mounting snowfall and thaw, the births, the deaths, the cycles of weather and life. The graduations. Like me, just not with me.

Some may think it strange that I now wear my class ring as part of my daily regime. But it’s become much more than a fashion accessory, or even a nod to those Happy Days spent in high school. Today my ring serves as an enduring reminder that, hidden by weeds and snow and ashes and sometimes just plain ol’ garbage, just below the surface, just beyond our focus, lay untold treasures. Sometimes it takes a raging blaze to burn off the impurities, leaving nothing but jewels tested by fire. A little raking of the debris and a beam of light to hit them in just the right way may be all it takes for them to grab our attention and sparkle.

My class ring is a butterfly I’d long ago set free. Since it returned, if the old saying is true, it will be mine forever.

It’s an iffy proposition, this “releasing-the-butterflies” trick. It makes me wonder about other butterflies that have been set free along the way. Maybe someday they will fly back, too. Maybe not.

Maybe the only way to know for sure is to burn the field.

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