By Jude Brigley
In the cavern of Milan cathedral, when still a young woman, I was shocked to see how people had asked St. Anthony to find their lost things. I was superstitious enough to understand the plea for something to return, but it was the juxtaposition of sock with loved one which jarred the senses.
I suppose you love whom and what you choose, or don’t choose. For whoever said love was a choice? Yet the snaps and Polaroids of the missing looked back with red-tinged eyes or frozen smiles. There was something sad and raw about the emotions of those whose notes were pinned on the wall with an old photograph, lest God or St. Anthony did not know whom they were looking for, like some short-sighted, celestial detectives.
Everyone knows how socks once parted, rarely return to their pairing. See also gloves. But perusing these odd digit-covering pieces of wool or leather next to remnants of the human dead, or missing, was incongruous to say the least. I may have said some rather scathing things at the time about bad taste or getting a grip. Being young, I probably said those things too loudly and too forcefully, but then, I did not know of the living significance of things. All of this came back to me in a reverie only recently.
My mother gave me my grandmother’s wedding ring, which was significant because of the story that went with it. My grandmother was brought up as a Baptist in a small town. She fell in love with a Catholic who lived on the same street. This was the 1920s and an awkward situation. He could not marry in a Baptist Church and she would have to convert to marry in a Catholic one. They told no one: not family, not friends. They took the train to a neighbouring town and married in secret. Then, they went home for several weeks, until my grandmother’s sister found out that she was wearing her ring on a string around her neck. It was a fait accompli, and my grandfather was welcomed into the family. Neither grandparent attended church again as both gave up the past to be together. The ring was a symbol of their love and gave me a link with their past. I wore it on my little finger, my grandmother’s slim hand unlike mine.
Then one day, I looked down at my hand and the ring was missing. I looked around, searched the house, but with mounting dread I realised that this family emblem was lost. I tried putting it out of my head. I told no one of its loss, as if keeping quiet made it not so.
One day, while working on the family tree, the memory of the loss came over me once more like a clouded sky robbing summer of light. It was then I remembered Milan Cathedral and how I read someone’s note asking for the return of her wedding ring. I had scoffed at the time, but now it came to me like a road to Jericho moment, walls tumbled as I saw that objects contained more than themselves. It was then that I said a little prayer to St. Anthony like a superstitious schoolgirl to bring back the ring. I laughed at myself a little.
Later that day, I was tackling the washing. It was a beautiful sunny day and I decided I would tackle even those last few towels at the bottom of the laundry basket. Come, now, we all have tasks we leave for another day, and then another.
I picked up the last one. Something clinked and fell to the bottom. The basket was now empty of laundry and, there glittering, small and perfectly round, was my grandmother’s ring. Look, I was overjoyed. I think I even did a little jig around the bathroom. If I didn’t, I should have.
Yes, logically, I realised that wiping my hands in the towel, the ring got caught up in the threads. The towel had been thrown into the wash and woefully neglected. That is what happened. Well, that, or the ring heard me calling it home and came back to me from some dark place objects go if they feel neglected or taken for granted, a sort of department of lost things. Things that are parted will always feel alone. The journey back, as in an old fairy tale, needs a voice to call, a memory to be stirred, an identity to be re-defined.
Have you seen my ring? It belonged to my grandmother.