A Ring on Her Finger Wherever She Goes

From earliest childhood I dreamed of marriage. It had nothing to do with watching movies like ''Cinderella'' or playing with dolls or the way in which girls of my generation were raised.

My mother didn't seem to care whether I got married or not. But she did care passionately about what kind of life I would make for myself someday, and even before I entered kindergarten, she was proclaiming that she would ''scrub floors'' if necessary, in order to see that I went to college.

I was not the slightest bit interested in college back then, but I was fascinated with my mother's wedding ring. It was a wide gold band with a patina of engraved vertical lines encircling it. It was unique, yet simple and modest in design.

How I longed to try it on, but she wouldn't take it off and, in fact, never has. It wasn't that she couldn't remove it. She simply made it clear that it was not going on my finger, not even for one minute.

By the time I reached high school, I discovered that my best friend's mother not only sported an immense rock on her ring finger, but, unlike my mother, had no reservations about letting hopelessly romantic teenage girls try it on for size.

It became our ritual to head to my friend's house after school, where we would sit at the kitchen table with her mother. The highlight of this afternoon social was the ring, which her mother would allow me to wear for as long as I remained at the table under her watchful eye. I would slip it on and shamelessly gawk at it from as many angles as possible.

Eventually, my friends began to marry. As they approached the task of choosing rings, they began speaking in a language only the engaged can understand. Words like ''cut'' and ''clarity'' now became topics for entire conversations, which I tolerated while amusing myself modeling their rings.

When I wasn't busy working as a professional bridesmaid (nine times in all) I found a job, moved into my own apartment, and (to my mother's great joy) began attending college. But alas, no eligible male with the accompanying wedding band seemed to be on the horizon. Until, that is, I was least expecting it.

Because of a series of unexpected circumstances, I found myself on a Greyhound bus, 1,200 miles from home and trying to get back to my car. Several stops down the road, who should wearily plod up the steps of that bus but a young man, dragging a heavy back pack, dressed in corduroy pants, flannel shirt, and a cowboy hat.

Like me, he was trying to get home. During the brief time that we spent together on that bus, we discovered two things: Our homes were nearly 3,000 miles apart and, if we could jump that hurdle, we wanted to get to know each other better.

And that is what led us, five months later, to Anchorage, Alaska, looking for wedding rings. Broke but happy, we settled on two 14-carat gold bands for about $100.

They were as plain and nondescript as could be. But trying mine on and having it actually fit my finger - intended for me alone and a symbol of someone's love for me - made me feel as if it were the Hope Diamond.

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