A couple of years ago I developed another image of this ring, all in sharp focus for “record-keeping”. Recently I also created this version to better communicate the bright and shiny aspirations of its first owner…

Dear visitor: you may want to get a cup of your favorite refreshment before you continue.  Make yourself comfortable while I tell you the story of the ring and its owner’s tumultuous journey through two continents. (Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the real people involved.)
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This ring was made for “Emily,” a lovely and vivacious English girl with high hopes and dreams for a happy life; a girl who bravely embraced adventure and adversity in pursuit of those dreams, but who, tragically, never got to see them fulfilled.

Emily’s life began in the small Southern England town of Beckenham, in the last decade of the Victorian era. Now a London suburb, Beckenham was then a village surrounded by open countryside, yet its proximity to London made it a popular retreat for the moneyed classes. And they built  grand houses and villas — enough conspicuous wealth to set a girl’s imagination aflutter.

The year 1912, pivotal in Emily’s life, found her mourning the loss of her young husband to pneumonia. Theirs had been a secret love, an unspoken union. Fears of parental disapproval had forced the young lovers to elope a few years earlier, telling no one what they had done. Emily was now heart-broken and destitute but a return to her parents’ home was the last thing she’d consider. Ingrained Victorian attitudes had long established marriage as the proper pathway for a young woman’s entry into adulthood, so Emily decided that the way forward had to be through another marriage.

She met Francis. Tall and handsome in his British army uniform, his strong masculine visage complete with an assertive mustache, Francis had all the trappings of the consummate toy soldier. True to his youth and idealism he was also a bit of an adventurer who loved to speak of fame and fortune awaiting in some distant corner of the British empire. And Emily loved to hear him tell it. Together they weaved a fantasy world across the seas, where, in their imagination, they had already joined the landed aristocracy. They were so sure that somewhere on the far side of the ocean there was a perfect idyll beckoning them; a land pure, productive and unspoiled by the frenzy of British industrialization.

Anecdotal accounts of easy riches in the new world along with many ads and posters encouraging emigration to Canada fanned the flames of youthful imagination. Seeking new settlers for the vast prairie frontier, the Canadian government had launched their version of a “homestead act”. Free land was offered; 160 acres to any male immigrant willing to farm 40 or more of those acres right away, and to build a home within three years.

It was all too hard to ignore; a true, once-in-a-lifetime chance for a new beginning that the young dreamers found impossible to resist. The die was cast. They would marry and start on this new adventure together; and, as a token of his commitment to her, their union, and their mutual aspirations, Francis gave Emily this ring.

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Crossing the Atlantic from Liverpool to Quebec city on the “Empress of Ireland” was uneventful, barely a month after the Titanic’s ill-fated voyage along a mostly overlapping route. From Quebec city they sailed South to Montreal, then by train Westward to the Prairies. At long last they laid eyes on their promised land, north of Winnipeg, somewhere between the Lakes. “Surely,” thought Emily, as she surveyed her estate from atop a travel chest, “anyone should be able to earn a living from all this land.”

So, they built a small wooden shack — no indoor plumbing, a dirt floor, no insulation, and of course, no electricity — and set about to fulfill their part of the homestead contract.

It didn’t take long for raw enthusiasm to collide with the harsh realities of the prairie frontier. Francis the soldier, dreamer and adventurer really did try to make it as a farmer and a settler, but the odds were stacked against him.

As it turned out, the land they’d acquired, pretty and picturesque in its untamed state, especially in full Summer’s bloom, didn’t have much of an arable topsoil, only a thick, sticky layer of clay — sedimentation from a prehistoric lake — along with a mix of bush, scrub, stony land, and slough.  It was hard, if not impossible to ‘break’ this land into farming productivity with mere hand-tools or even horse-drawn implements. And then there were Manitoba’s unforgiving Winters. As the locals often say “sometimes it feels like the only thing standing against the winds from the North pole is a barbed wire fence”.

At least there were other settlers around, and their presence was an encouragement to the young couple. “If others are making it we should be able to make it, too.” And, perhaps they could. Yes, there were happy times, too, though short-lived. A son was born; hope for another pair of strong hands to one day work alongside Francis. Father and son together could perhaps tame even this barren, frigid land… we will never know; a hard home birth caused brain damage and the boy died while still a toddler.

A second child arrived all healthy and perfect as a baby could be, except for… her gender(!) (Daughters were seen as a liability in the hardscrabble world of pre-mechanized farming.) They named her Elizabeth, everyone called her Bess, and Bess was destined to prove them all wrong about what a girl could do; but that wasn’t to be until many years later. For now all Francis knew, or thought he knew, was that he could not count on much help from his immediate family.

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Seeing his dreams of landed aristocracy smothered by cruel reality like a field of prairie crocuses in a late Spring snowstorm, Francis turned to drink. And then… there was the rich American widow who took a liking to the still handsome, still young, soldier.

Reports from the front lines of the war in Europe had been all over the news, and Francis decided to join the Canadian regiments fighting over there. He’d hoped that time and distance away from home would help him clear his mind. A stark choice confronted him; he could return to a wife and daughter, some useless land, not a penny in his name, and the brutal Manitoba Winters, or he could pursue a rich widow and the promise of an easier life South of the border. Dear reader, what would you choose? (…Are you sure?)

Francis survived the bayonets and bullets of “the great war” but his marriage became collateral damage. Sorry Emily… I guess things didn’t work out…

There wasn’t much to split. The judge gave Emily custody of the baby, the land, and, of course, this ring. Francis disappeared south of the border, never to be seen again.

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A couple of decades passed while Emily and Bess earned a meager living as housekeepers in the farming communities of Southern Manitoba. Bess met a young bachelor farmer, the son of another English homesteader, who had had better luck making his land productive. They married. Eventually she gave him two strong sons and two beautiful daughters. And more than that, this diminutive woman, barely one hundred pounds of her, proved more than equal to the tasks and chores of farm life in the Canadian frontier while also managing a household and raising four children. So, through many decades, even in the depths of the great depression, Bess’s family did OK.

But Emily never got to see all that. Alone on a icy, dark Winter’s day, having just lost her only daughter’s companionship, her looks and health fast fading, and her last hope for a successful settlement inexorably slipping away, Emily, in a moment of deep despair, loaded a shotgun and put the muzzle in her mouth. She thought of her native family home half a world away in another continent, remembered the two husbands she had lost, one to disease and one to adversity, the first born son she could not rescue from the clutches of an untreatable condition, her only daughter now drifting away, the useless “free” land that she had gotten at the cost of all her life’s dreams… and pulled the trigger.

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All that now remained of the fantasy world that a hapless English lass had once dared to imagine, was Bess and this ring. But, it seems that was enough for a new beginning. Eventually Bess gave the ring to her eldest daughter, who,in turn, passed it on to her own daughter after letting her son’s bride wear it on their wedding day (”something old”). Yes, Bess’s family had taken root and was growing. If only Emily could see what her child had accomplished, the girl that nobody expected much of, and her child’s children, and their children, now into their fourth generation and all nicely settled in the New World. If she could only see how far the ring of her youthful imaginings had traveled…

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Somewhere along that journey I was tasked to make an image of the ring. No, I wasn’t “hired” for this assignment, because… Bess’s eldest daughter is my wife. This is all part of my family history now, too. Actually today (September 23, 2012), one hundred years after Emily’s arrival in this continent, is our 35th wedding anniversary! And yes, I’d marry her all over again. “In a heartbeat.” Our marriage has been a source of countless blessings. My loving wife, like grandma Emily can dream the dreams, and like momma Bess has that quiet, down-to-earth, shoulder-to-the-wheel determination to see them through. Emily would have been so proud…

“The ring is of course a circle… the symbol of eternity… It has no beginning and no end, like time. It returns to itself, like life… The hole in the center of the ring is not just space either; it is important in its own right as the symbol of the gateway, or door; leading to things and events both known and unknown.” (Excerpt from “History of the wedding ring”)

No beginning and no end, like time… a circular path leading back unto itself, like life… a doorway to worlds unknown; to a better future… and dreams that still stir…

And that’s the true story of Emily’s ring.