Recently, I moved into my parents’ house. I can no longer afford my own place. Fortunately, their house has five bedrooms; two of which are upstairs with a full bath. The larger of the two was my grandmother’s room. It is now my bedroom.
Despite having more furniture and arranging it differently, I couldn’t help but see flashes of my grandmother’s effects. For example, I hanged a picture where she had a coronation plate of Queen Elizabeth II.
My grandma was born in England in 1913. Her biological mother, Christine, was unwed. So, a friend of the family, a widow with four children named Elizabeth, adopted her. Flo thought it odd how Aunt Christine would bring her birthday gifts, but not her siblings. She found out the truth in 1927 when she and Elizabeth were being interviewed for visas to the States. Her older siblings were already here. Elizabeth answered honestly the question as to whether Flo was her natural or adopted child. Flo always felt her mother’s heart was broken by having to admit she wasn’t really her own. Elizabeth passed away soon after.
By this time, Christine was married and living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Until her departure for the States, Flo stayed with them. She liked her stepfather, but wasn’t too crazy about Christine. Her words. When asked to stay, Flo simply replied she wanted to be with her family. My mother once remarked to her, “Ma, you know, you probably broke Christine’s heart when you said that.” Flo never thought of it that way; she just wanted to be honest.
She turned fourteen on the ship. She couldn’t see what the big deal was about the Statue of Liberty. She didn’t care for Ellis Island either. Margaret, her sister, was waiting for her. Until Flo could get to her, she had to put up with the loud and brash Americans directing the newly arrived immigrants. Again, her words.
She had a difficult time adjusting to life here. Besides dealing with her adoption, the students at the Brooklyn high school she attended teased her about her English accent. Can you imagine Brooklynites teasing someone about how she spoke English?
Flo remained in the States for the rest of her life. Albeit illegally. Her visa expired. She worked for the Edison Company. When FDR created Social Security, Flo received a card. She had four children with an American.
In 1963, my grandfather Harry went shopping for a wedding ring with my then 16-year-old mother. I’m not sure what the story was: she never had one or something had happened to the one she had.
My mom helped her father pick out a ring. Harry was too excited to wait for Christmas so he gave it to her early. Flo was absolutely delighted. Three days before the holiday, Harry passed away. Did he know or sense it? Who knows?
Flo never remarried and lived until 91. As my mother and her siblings went through Flo’s things, her only request was the wedding ring.
I unpacked my belongings into my new bedroom. Everything was everywhere. I couldn’t remember where things were, despite having carefully marked the boxes. Most of my possessions were placed into storage. I looked around me, trying to imagine my stuff over the shadows of my grandmother’s. I decided to open the small box with my jewelry. I found an envelope labelled “Grandma’s Ring” written in my mom’s script. I opened it to see the wedding ring. I had forgotten I even had it. At that moment, I felt welcomed.