So, when I was home in June for my cousin Jason’s wedding, my grandmother bestowed on me Mrs. Baggot’s Ring. Mrs. Baggot’s ring originally belonged to my great-great grandfather, Charles Ambrose Plamondon, who had a gear company in Chicago and who died, along with his wife Mary (they were celebrating their 37th wedding anniversary) on the Lusitania. Apparently, the story goes that Doctor Murphy, who invented a major gastrointestinal surgical procedure, and who I think was some sort of cousin, gave this ring to Charles Ambrose as a gift, probably sometime shortly before the turn of the 20th century. Then, Charles Ambrose gave it to Mrs. Baggot, who was not yet Mrs. Baggot since she was only 16 at the time, she too was some sort of cousin (I have to say, this seems like the oddest part of the story, what was old C.A. doing giving a sizeable diamond ring to a 16 year old? Hmm? were they all such feckless rich people that they were just passing around large diamond rings?). At any rate, Charles and Mary got on the Lusiatnia in 1919 despite, as family lore has it, being warned by the German ambassador that it might be dangerous. Mary, as a result, left most of her good jewels in a vault in New York, and another family legend has it that when her body was recovered on the Cork strand, none of her jewels went missing. Charles’s body was recovered from the wreck and they’re both interred in a very grand mausoleum in Calvalry Cemetary in Chicago, and my Mom has the dashing portrait of Charles hanging in her living room. So, when my grandmother turned 16, Mrs. Baggot, who was by then no longer the lissome 16 year old who inspired grown men to give her jewels, gave the ring back to my grandmother on her own 16th birthday as a memento of her (Jane’s, my grandmother’s) grandfather, and my granny, God love her, had hoarded said ring until last summer when she gave it to me, in part because I am a favorite, and in part, she said, “because you’re the only one who will care about the story.” And they wonder why I became a writer?
So, the point of this is that it’s taken me several months to get used to wearing Mrs. Baggot’s Ring (initial caps, it has its own identity). It’s a fairly large diamond, although an old-fashioned mine cut, and it’s set in a gold band with an odd Bakelite-like matte-black surface. Was it a mourning ring, I wonder? At any rate, it seemed pretentious to wear around. But the thing is, I like wearing it. When my grandmother gave it to me, she also said, slyly, “See, now you have a big diamond, and you didn’t have to marry anyone to get it!” I’m a little north of 40, and the marriage thing is looking less likely all the time, and the fact that my fierce and wonderful grandmother sees this as a good thing, well, there are days that I slip Mrs. Baggot’s Ring on as a reminder that in my family at least, getting to my age without having made a disasterous marriage is a real leap forward. I’ve also discovered that I find myself slipping on Mrs. Baggot’s Ring when I have to go do a reading, or a performance, or something slightly scary. There it is, a visible reminder that I am A Favorite, that my grandmother, a woman who was a crack polo player in the 1930’s but who couldn’t compete because she was a woman; a woman who went to Ireland in her 60’s, saddle on her arm, looking to ride with the Galway Hounds; a woman who raised us to be brave, and honest, and bold — well, she thinks I did okay. My fierce and bold and brave grandmother loves me and beleives in me and when I look at that ring I see not only a large old diamond with a story, but that fact. That my grandmother believes in me. And when I have to go into a scary situation, I like wearing Mrs. Baggot’s Ring. It reminds me that my family came to America and did great things — built both big companies and settlement houses on the West Side, dared to sail on doomed ships, and scrapped through the many many years of waning family fortunes to keep kids in good schools, keep the farm together, and to just keep moving on.