"How much is it worth?"
"How much is the ring worth? What's the value of it?"
"Oh... it's worth nothing, but it's priceless to me."
I guess I was around 10 years old the first time I saw the ring. My grandmother wore it on the fourth finger of her right hand. We had many things in common, my grandmother and I. Our love of sewing, our fondness of a good book, our affinity for cheese (even though she was more of a pimento cheese lover and I stuck to goat), our belief in education, and our birth month.
One day I was at her house, getting crochet lessons, and I noticed that she had to take it off when she crocheted. The yarn was getting caught on the prongs.
"Do you know what this stone is, Jessie?" "No, ma'am." "It's an opal. It's my birthstone. It's our birthstone."
Over the years, I would see the ring from time to time. Sometimes she wore it, sometimes she didn't. She would always remind me that it was "our" ring.
Towards the end of her life, her memory came and went. One day she would recognize me, then next day she would fully believe that I was the 27 year old version of my mother. She would go from asking me about my pregnancy, to telling me that I gained too much weight since the last visit. The day came when she began dividing her belongings. The ring came into my possession and was tucked away into the bottom of my jewelry box. Within a few months, she was gone.
Days and weeks passed and eventually, I went looking for the ring. I had initially tucked it away because it wasn't wearable. It was too small, the opal was broken, and three of the garnets were falling out. I had just decided to go back to school and something about the idea of wearing my grandmother's ring resonated within me. She was a wonderful teacher. She believed that an education was a person's greatest asset. Part of me felt that if I wore the ring, I would absorb some of her magical teaching powers. But I wasn't ready yet. I wasn't an official teacher. It didn't feel right.
Another year went by and I was offered a job teaching. A real job. I was ecstatic. I was finally going to be a teacher. I promised myself that I would use my first paycheck to fix the ring and carry on her legacy.
Only there was a problem. Being a teacher did not start out all apples and No.2 pencils. It was hard. I was new. I was lost. I left work every day with the feeling that I had failed. Every minute, of every day, I felt less like a teacher, and more like a disgrace. I began to believe with all my heart that I was not the teacher that she would have wanted me to be. I wasn't sure I was a teacher at all.
I will never forget the look on my sister's face when she found me one Friday morning, on the bathroom floor, sobbing over the prospect of another day in the front of the classroom. She looked at me like I was a stranger. I was slowly turning into a different person. A defeated person. My first paycheck came and went and I didn't fix the ring. I couldn't. I didn't deserve it.
I'd like to say that one day I woke up, jumped out of bed, and was suddenly the most bomb-diggity-est teacher that ever lived.
It didn't happen quite so easily.
The up swing started with my father. After two weeks of school, I had decided I was done. I was driving to work with the full intention of quitting. I decided to call my dad. This was a mistake, or maybe a blessing. At the time it was hard to tell. It was that morning that my dear Poppa had finally had enough of my crying and moaning. To paraphrase him, I was told to pull my head out of my ass and start being the woman that he raised me to be. There were other words, but I'll skip those for today. I needed to hear them, you don't.
I decided to stick it out.
You really don't have much of a choice when your dad tells you to stop being a candy ass.
The weeks went by and I slowly found my place. I spent every spare minute learning my trade. I poured over pacing charts. I studied ELA assessments. I watched more videos of veteran teachers than I can recall. I asked questions. I asked more questions that my poor principal had ever been asked in her entire career. I became a nuisance to the guidance counselor. A women with a wealth of knowledge and a heart big enough to share everything she knew with me. I grew and I learned.
I honestly don't know who learned more that year, my students or myself. I look back now and it feels like we fought a battle together. Me and my little eagles. I think about them daily. I wonder how they are doing in their classes. I pray that I did them justice and that they look back on our year together and have fond memories. I hope they remember the Ms. Jessie who liked to sign and dance, and not the Ms. Jessie who cried and cried.
My first year as a teacher ended as quickly as it began.
In no time it was summer and I was getting a new classroom ready at a new school. I felt an excitement that I didn't have my first year in the classroom. My first year, I was hired two days before school started and into a grade level that I had ZERO experience with. My second year, I had months to prepare. A WHOLE summer to get a room ready. I painted. I decorated. I came up with a theme! I planned. I made copies ahead of time. I had beautiful "Open House" paper work all ready for new parents and my new little friends. In short, I finally felt like a teacher.
I knew it was time. I went to my jewelry box and dug out her ring. It was still there, broken but beautiful. I sent it to the most highly recommended jewelry shop in our area. The lady asked me how much it was worth. I honestly had no way to explain to her the "worth" of this particular ring. I left the ring at the shop to be repaired.
Today I received a phone call that it was ready. After all this time, both the ring and I were ready.
So here I sit, thinking about her, wearing the ring and knowing that I finally deserve it. Tomorrow will be her birthday. I can't think of a more perfect day to wear her ring, to school, for the first time.
Happy Birthday Granny!
I hope you are proud of me; and thanks for the sewing lessons. They sure came in handy making curtains for my classroom.