What was Geraldine Deal doing with that hippie ring? It wasn't her style.
Jeri (with a "J" because her three best friends' names all happened to start with "J") was a quirky old lady. The kind with a vintage ceramic bedpan as decoration on her coffee table, and more than 300 Russian nesting dolls perfectly arranged in an antique curio cabinet.
You know, the type of funky gypsy woman we all dream of, but few of us are ever brave enough to actually become.
Jeri with a J began collecting unusual items as a child, when she used to gather up ribbons from the dead flower bouquets on gravestones at the nearby cemetery. Turns out the flat headstones were the perfect place for dancing and putting on plays.
On the outside, Jeri with a J looked like a conservative Catholic grandma who followed the kids around with a rag, cleaning their fingerprints off the fridge. But to those who really knew her, she was peculiar in the most admirable way.
So when her granddaughter, Reba Sparrow, opened up the jewelry chest and found a rather normal looking silver and amber ring, with a bit of a '70s flair, it just didn't match up.
But it did match Reba's style. So she took it. The family was dividing up Jeri's possessions after her funeral.
I met Reba in middle-school theater -- not dancing on gravestones, but only because it'd been done before. Reba was the hippie version of her odd grandma, the kind of girl who once shaved her head, spray-painted her van with bright flowers and stars and lived in it with her cat. For a full year. Because she grew up in Germany, my dad decided to name her van the Germanized version of "The Reba," which he made official with a spray-paint title. My crazy, bald friend drove around for months with "die Reba" painted on her driver's side door, loving every confused American stare she got.
She loved her grandma's silver and amber ring, too, showing it off to dozens of relatives in the following weeks. She found herself staring at it, feeling the emptiness of her loss, but Reba couldn't cry. In the back of her mind, she kept wondering about the ring. Black opal? Sure. But glowing amber? Not Jeri.
Suddenly, the sadness caught up with Reba. Looking around her own apartment, everything reminded her of her grandma. Her 1923-copyright "Alice in Wonderland" book. Those silly nesting dolls, which Reba inherited. Her portrait of Bozo the Clown. The walls seemed to be closing in. Reba burst into tears. She jumped into her car with a friend to go watch "The A Team" remake. Because Mr. T fixes everything.
It had been overcast since Jeri with a J died of Alzheimer's on June 19, age 83, but as Reba drove toward her friend's house, the sun pushed the clouds apart. A thin beam of sunlight hit Reba's hand on the steering wheel, and she gasped.
Inside the innocent amber oval, illuminated by the precise angle of the sun, was a dead bug.
Jeri with a J had bought the ring because a mosquito had been trapped in petrified tree sap when it was drying approximately 100 million years ago. Sort of like a stack of Russian nesting dolls, secrets within secrets.
Now the ring made perfect sense. On the outside, it was any ol' pretty ring. But on the inside, for those who really looked, the ring was peculiar in the most admirable way.
Just like Grandma Jeri.