Sunday, June 4, 2006

Turning Coal into Diamonds

He was a small man, the stereotypical smiling Irishman, and he had a hard time finding a decent job in New York. "Irishmen and dogs need not apply," said the signs in the windows. So for years he drove a coal truck to feed his family. Dirty work – he’d be a sooty, sweaty mess by the end of the day, but his eyes always glinted and twinkled like he had the biggest secret.

Older now, he had a bungalow in Jersey and a tiny boat to chase the Atlantic bluefish. A proud grandfather, he spoiled the little ones rotten. Lace dresses for the girls, baseball gloves for the boys. Nana protested such extravagance, but Pop-pop just kept smiling.

The coal that fed his family finally killed him, emphysema burying his last breath in ashes. It was then that Nana came to me. "Pop-pop left this for you," she said, handing me a tiny velvet box. Years earlier, Pop-pop had surprised Nana with a magnificent diamond ring – a half-carat stone for every grandson, a full-carat for every girl. When he passed, Nana took the stones and had them made into 5 separate rings, one for each grandchild.

At the time, I wasn’t impressed. I had no need for a ring and I wanted my Pop-pop back. I wanted him to take me fishing ("No place for a girl," said Nana), and buy me a scary monster costume for Halloween instead of the princess I was supposed to be. I shoved the ring in a drawer and forgot about it.

Somehow, through marriage, children, divorce, the tiny velvet box and its contents have endured. And now, finally, I get it. Quietly, slowly, he had turned the soft, sooty dirt into hard, glittering beauty. An eternal, twinkling star to outshine all the darkness. Thank you, Pop-pop, for me, for all, for everything.