Inheritances

By Deborah Paige

On the Friday before Mother’s Day, I drive to a Whittier pawnshop that has five-star reviews. I’m a pawnshop novice, but after a few jewelers refuse to make me an offer on my mother’s wedding band, suggesting its greatest value is merely sentimental, I’ve decided that sentimentality is not enough reason for me, a pragmatist, to hold on to it. 

I suppose many daughters would do just that. Perhaps they’d periodically remove the ring from its keeping-place, sliding it onto a finger to admire in the sunlight. This might spark an anecdote about their mother finding true love later in life, marrying a kind and sensitive man who indulged her as best he could, who tolerated and coaxed her temperamental nature, who cooked, baked, quilted, and did the laundry, who worried about his wife when her walks kept her out too long, who regularly kissed her and said, “I love you,” who treasured her children and grandchildren far better than their biological father and grandfather had. Who had a wicked sense of humor and an eye-roll that could undo us. This ring, to my mother, represented all she had ever desired and finally attained in her 60s. For decades, I wanted the same things. 

The pawnshop lady weighs the ring and holds it under a special light. She taps the various diamonds, tiny and large, with a stylus-like tool, appraising their clarity. She works quickly and confidently, without pause or consultation. While I dread a lowball offer, I’m heartened by her efficiency and competence. In less than five minutes, she says, “I can give you $650.” I silently weigh my options: I can refuse her offer, take the ring back home, never wearing or admiring it while recounting heartwarming stories of love the second time around. Or, I can invest the money in my retirement account, a future hug from my mother in my old age, something to count on. From a large wad of cash, the pawnshop lady unpeels seven crisp bills into my palm.

Pulling away from the sketchy strip mall, I feel strangely unsettled. That I have left something of such value to my mother in the hands of a complete stranger who may, for all I know, disassemble the ring and melt it down, makes me feel like a mercenary. My mother and stepdad were sentimental, lovers of stories with easy morals and happy endings. But if I have learned anything about her and about myself in recent years, including these months since her death, it’s that, for the most part, we wanted very different things. 

On Sunday, I will spend my first Mother’s Day without a mother and, as if rejecting a tangible reminder of her, I have sold off her ring like a traitor to her happily-ever-after. I pull over to type these words into my phone: “I do not want my mother’s life. My daughters do not want mine. That’s how it’s supposed to work, I think.” 

Then I head to the bank. 

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Deborah Paige teaches community college in Southern California. She writes creative nonfiction and dabbles in fiction, all while avidly ignoring the solid writing advice she doles out to her students.  Find her on Twitter @mspaigefullcoll.

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