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My commitment was measured in carats

My grandfather Harry (my mother's father) gave my grandmother an inexpensive engagement ring. It wasn't until many years later that he bought her a 2.5-carat diamond. When my grandmother was in her early 80s and suffering from Alzheimer's, she became so frail that the ring would slide off her finger, so my grandfather reluctantly took it from her.

One day, a few years after I graduated from college, my grandfather showed me the ring. “When you meet the girl of your dreams,” he said, “I want you to propose with this.”

Twelve years passed.

Last May, my girlfriend, Jen, told me that if I didn't propose by Labor Day, she would leave. We'd been dating for two years and living together for months. I asked my mother for the ring. Dead silence.

“I'm not definitely getting married,” I said to her. “But I might. Don't tell anyone.”

“I have to tell your father. He needs to come with me to the safe-deposit box.”

A smaller diamond

I take my mother to lunch every weekend. That Saturday at Panera Bread, I noticed she was wearing a diamond engagement ring, but it was too small to be 2.5 carats. “It's Grandma Sandy's engagement ring.”

Grandma Sandy was my father's mother. When she died, my father gave me her simple wedding band, which I still wear on my pinkie.

“He thinks you should propose with this engagement ring,” my mother said.

While it was touching that my father wanted me to propose with his mother's ring, I didn't think he should make that choice for me.

“You can have that ring,” she said. “We just thought you would like this one better. The other one's so showy.”

Jen probably didn't care which ring I offered, but I'd already told her about the big one.

When I saw Jen that day, I mentioned my other grandmother's smaller diamond.

She held my face. “I want a commitment,” she said. “It's not about jewelry.”

But that night she ran into the bedroom and cried, “I don't want the small ring!”

“I thought you didn't care about jewelry.”

“I would be fine with a dot of a diamond,” she said, “but it makes me feel strange to know there are two rings and you and your family decided to give me the small one.”

I again asked my mother to retrieve the ring and we agreed to meet the following weekend to have it appraised. When I arrived at my parents' house, my mom handed me an old ring box. The diamond was more dusty than beautiful. “Come up here,” my father shouted from upstairs. “I want to show you something.”

What Grandpa wanted

I found him at his desk. “I think you're making a big mistake,” he said. At first I thought he was talking about Jen, but then he tried to give me his mother's engagement ring.

“Dad,” I said, “I loved your mom. I still wear her wedding band, but what's the point of having a 2.5-carat diamond engagement ring and keeping it in a safe-deposit box?”

“I didn't realize you were such a snob.”

“Dad!”

“And it bothers me that you're taking that ring away from your mother. If anyone should wear it, your mother should wear it.”

I took a deep breath. “Grandpa Harry wanted me to propose with the ring.”

“How about this: you keep the big ring, but propose with this one,” he said. “And on your 10th anniversary, you give her the big ring.”

“Are we in agreement?” my father asked. And they had almost convinced me.

But I believe in symbolism, and I knew I couldn't propose with anything but the bigger ring. If I proposed.

A question on court

That evening, Jen and I played tennis. I put the ring underneath three tennis balls in my shorts pocket. I planned to propose after we had played the three balls. As each of the first two left my pocket, I felt as if I was in a jump plane waiting for my turn to parachute out.

Finally I hit the third ball. She hit a shot far to my right, and that was my chance. I screamed and fell down clutching my knee.

She rushed over. “Are you OK?”

“I love you with all my heart,” I said, lifting the ring from my pocket. “Will you marry me?”

She looked confused.

“You're not really hurt?”

“Jen, will you marry me?”

She took hold of the ring. “This is the big … ?”

“Yes,” I said.

The wedding is in January.

The next weekend my parents took us to dinner. During the meal, they didn't mention the big diamond on Jen's finger, except once, when my mother leaned toward the ring and said, “Oh, it's beautiful,” as if she had never seen it before.

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