When I called to talk to you recently, one of your caregivers answered.
You’d misplaced your pretty ring, she said. It must have slipped off your finger, but it didn’t take long to find. The ring had caught in the yarn of the afghan that kept you warm as you watched TV. Once it was back on your finger, you smiled and closed your eyes and took a nap.
This has happened before, Mom, your rings sliding off your now-thinner fingers. Last year on one of my regular visits, when I opened the door of your apartment I saw something glitter in the carpet of the living room. It was your diamond wedding set. That same day, I found your anniversary ring on the floor next to your recliner.
I took the rings to be sized at the same jewelery shop where Dad originally bought them for you. The jeweler is receiving special care now, too, and his son has taken over. Both of us are adult children doing the best we can for our parents, and on his advice I put your real rings in a safety deposit box and then brought you to the shop to pick out a “new” ring.
Later, as you studied the band of glittering “diamonds” on your hand, I told you the truth about your new ring with its synthetic diamonds. You weren’t upset. Especially when I reminded you of Dr. J. Willard Hershey, head of the McPherson College chemistry department. In the 1920s he created the first synthetic diamond under laboratory conditions by adding a starch carbon to molten iron in Harnly Science Hall. In the mid-1950s this feat was mistakenly credited to General Electric, but both the McPherson Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Academy of Science set the record straight through what was known as House Resolution #21.
You might have forgotten, Mom, but for awhile you were a student assistant to Dr. Hershey. You were an elementary education major at the college, and you did filing and secretarial work for the chemistry department. You also typed his dictated responses to the many requests for information that came to Dr. Hershey. You said he openly shared his research.
You told me stories about the tiny synthetic diamonds on display in the McPherson Museum, and the harworking, determined college professor who had challenged the accepted theory that synthetic diamonds required higher temperatures and pressures than could be produced in a college laboratory.
All those years ago, when I asked why he shared his research and experiments, I remember you saying that Dr. Hershey was a good professor and a helpful man. He shared information so that others could learn from it, build on it and go on to share it with others.
Even now, I remember saying that the chemistry professor’s generosity sounded to me like a perfect opportunity for someone else to steal an idea and then claim it as his own. I also remember the look you gave me, and the way you shook your head. You said I shouldn’t think so negatively. If I looked for the good in people, you said, that’s what I would usually find.
Now, in your ninety-third year, Mom, this continues to be your philosophy about most people. You and Dad built successful dealerships together, and along the way the business world undoubtedly taught you hard lessons about what less-than-good things some people are capable of doing. Those lessons made you lose naive trust in specific people, but, amazingly, you never seemed to lose hope and belief in the basic goodness of people in general. While I was growing up, many times I saw you careful and cautious, but I never saw you cynical.
Eventually, when your real diamonds are passed from your grandaughter to your great-grandchildren, together she and I will tell them the story of the young college student who typed letters for Dr. J. Willard Hershey. We’ll also tell them how their great-grandmother knew that everything that glitters doesn’t have to be gold–or even real diamonds–to be valuable.
I love you, Mom.