A friend recently lost his grandmother which made my mind drift back to memories of my own grandma who passed away when I was 14 years old. In her 80s, she was the first person to die who was close to me.
Her name was Mollie, and when she was in her late 60s she lost her wedding ring. My mom, who was in her 20s at the time, bought a replacement ring, a thin gold band that was larger than usual to fit over my grandmother’s gnarled fingers and knuckles. They were hard-working hands, hands that had raised 10 children, worked in the farm fields and canned the rewards from those fields; washed, ironed, and cleaned; snapped beans and made dumplings. I was an infant at the time but Grandma said that when she passed on she wanted me, my mom’s oldest child, to have that wedding band.
Engraved inside the thin sliver of gold were their initials, “JFO” for John Francis Osborne, and “MKO” for Mollie Kennedy Osborne, along with the date they were married: August 21, 1904, which was a Sunday.
Today, I wear that gold wedding ring along with my own, hers behind mine so I will not lose it, as a reminder of the hardy mountain people who were there before me, the Appalachian Scots-Irish blood that made up my heritage. It is a reminder of the woman who had a hard life but always persevered, did not complain, and did not look to others to bail her family out of the poverty of the depression. She and my grandfather took it upon themselves to take care of their family.
Mollie was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Her father was a wealthy man for that area, a store owner who provided for his family, and was well known and respected in the community. She married John who was a Virginia man from across the state line, on the other side of the New River. He, too, was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a log cabin on a “knob” in Grayson County.
“The Knob,” as we have known it all our lives, still has the remains of that cabin which is in remarkably good shape after standing for 150 years. Somewhere in my stuff, most likely stored in a box tucked away in a closet, are sketches I made of this special, unique part of our family’s history that is now accessible only by hiking up the mountain because the road is now nothing more than a rutted path through the overgrown woods.
After marrying, my grandparents moved to a nearby mountainside farm, plowing the rocky mountain soil and raising some livestock. It was a rough life, especially with a growing brood of children, living in a rough-hewn three-room cabin. America was in the depths of the depression. My grandfather, who had traveled beyond the mountains while serving in World War I, loaded his family on a train bound for the Richmond area where they settled down in Chesterfield County, and he went to work at one of the large manufacturing factories. He never gave up farming … even into his 80s he had a huge garden and some cows and horses.
My grandparents were examples of the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps fortitude. Their youngest child, my mother who is the lone survivor of her immediate family, went into business in a man’s world, set goals, and achieved much recognition. She passed that work ethic down to my two sisters and me.
And that is why I wear my grandmother’s wedding ring as a reminder of the hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice that paved the path for me.