09/02/2010 03:22 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mother and Pearls

A few months ago, my daughter Ellie and I were in a Northampton, Massachusetts gallery that sells glass, crafts and jewelry. Ellie was showing me the wedding band that her fiancé Larry chose: A broad band made of palladium that will endure as Larry hefts Goshen stones to create landscape designs. What Larry makes beautiful defies the expression "you can't get water from a stone." As for Ellie, she searched for the perfect band to complement her engagement ring and kept coming up empty. I have worn my grandmother's wedding band since Mark and I married in 1981. I gave it to Ellie -- so fitting since she is my grandmother's namesake. Since Mom died, I have come to realize the splendor and joy when giving with a warm hand. A local jeweler resized the ring for Ellie. Grandma and I, oddly, given the difference in generations, had the same size seven hands and feet. Ellie has my mother's small-boned hands. The ring was polished, taken down nearly two sizes and the small diamonds reset. It was perfect.

In the gallery, I spied a ring in a case of one-of-a-kind jewels. Set in white gold, it was a flat, natural pearl -- its color neither white nor pink, its surface neither smooth nor rough, with a delicate swirl of tiny pave diamonds above and below so the pearl appeared to float. It was something I uncharacteristically desired -- having never been one for jewels, let alone rings which I feel draw attention to my working hands.

Mom was never a jewelry person either, and never bought anything of value for herself. What she left in her small, yet elegant, collection are pieces that were either my grandmother's or bought for her by her husband -- most of which, she rarely wore save an "Egyptian head" brooch that is an unidentifiable metal which she bought for herself at Sylvia Pines Uniquites her favorite antique store on New York City's Lexington Avenue. I cherish the few pieces Mom either gave me from her collection or bought for me at Sylvia Pines.

I had some money tucked away (it's usually what I slip the kids whenever I see them - I'm always good for fifty bucks here and there). I went through my jewelry box and pulled out some things that have been lying in there for the last 25 years (none given to me by Mom). Nearly every shop window from the shoemaker to the jeweler have bold signs "We Buy Your Old Gold," and so I went with my gold in a baggie. I had enough to buy the ring. Yes, I could have just put it on a charge card and slipped the expense by my husband, but the point was to buy something from me to me -- something Mom never did. Mom forgot to teach me that sometimes it's important to pamper yourself. In truth, indulgence can be like oxygen: You can't give air to someone else if you can't breathe yourself. With the ring's purchase, Mom's legacy was undone, although not without a modicum of guilt and a palpable shaking off of the self-indulgence factor. Belief systems are hard to leave behind.

I realized, it wasn't simply that I loved the ring. Rather, I was drawn to it. The ring personified all things metaphorically a pearl: Simple, raw, unprocessed, valuable -- and yet refined. In other words, the ring defined Mom. The purchase was an ode to Mom's dreams and pursuits many of which, since she's been gone, I realize were unfulfilled. It said, "See Mom, once in a while you can do something that's just for you."

I lost the ring this past weekend when Mark and I were in Miami. The humidity caused my hands to swell and I placed the ring on a magazine atop a table on the balcony of our hotel room. A false move into the table sent it flying to the ground below -- a mix of saw grass, foot high reeds and a swamp. I am covered with spider bites now from crawling on the ground for hours, using a fork to separate the blades of grass and stones as I searched everywhere but the swamp.

For sure, I don't want another ring, and I don't want a duplicate because there is none. Like Mom, the ring was one of a kind. I'm trying to figure out what the Universe is trying to tell me.