Father didn’t care much for jewellery. He disliked the heavy watch-chains which were worn by the men of his time, chains with charms dangling down from the middle. His had none of these things on it; it was strong and handsome but simple. His studs and cuff-links were on the same order, not ornate like those then in fashion. His ring was a solid plain band of gold, set with a rectangular sapphire. All these objects we regarded with a reverence which we felt was their due. There was a special sort of rightness about Father’s things, in our eyes, and we had a special respect for them because they were Father’s.
Father had had a lighter ring once, with a smaller sapphire, which he had worn as a young man. He had discarded it as less suitable for him, however, as he got on in life, and it had been put away long ago in the safe in our pantry.
Mother didn’t like to have it lying idle there, year after year. After I left college, she decided that I had better wear it, so that the family would get some good out of it once more. One afternoon she and I went into the crowded pantry, with its smell of damp washcloths, and she took it out of the safe.
I did not want a ring, but Mother presented this one to me with such affection that I saw no way to get out of accepting it. She put it on my finger and kissed me. I looked at the thing. The sapphire was a beautiful little stone. I thought that after a while I might learn to like it, perhaps. At any rate, there was nothing to get out of order or break.
I soon discovered, however, that this ring was a nuisance–it was such hard work not to lose it. If I had bought and paid for it myself, I suppose I’d have cherished it, but as it had been wished on me, it was only a responsibility. It preyed on my mind. After a little while, I stopped wearing it and put it away.
When Mother noticed that it wasn’t on my finger, she spoke out at once. She said there wasn’t much point in my having a ring if I merely kept it in my bureau drawer. She reminded me that it was a very handsome ring and I ought to be proud to wear it.
I explained that I couldn’t get used to remembering that I was wearing a ring, and had several times left it on public washstands and got it back only by sheer luck. Mother was frightened. She instantly agreed that it would be a terrible thing to lose Father’s ring. It went back into the safe in the pantry.
Several years later, it was taken out again, and after another little ceremony it was entrusted to George. He had even more trouble with it than I’d had. He, too, decided that he didn’t wish to wear it himself, so, as he had married, he gave it to his wife, who adored it. Everyone was happy for a while until Mother happened to see Father’s ring nestling on Wilhelmine’s finger. Mother was very fond of Wilhelmine, but this strange sight disturbed her. She felt that the only right and appropriate use for that ring was for it to be worn by one of Father’s sons. She asked George to take it away from Wilhelmine and return it. He silently did so, and back it went again to the pantry.
It was a curious fact that everything that Father had ever owned seemed to be permanently a part of him. No matter what happened to it, it remained impressed with his personality. This isn’t unusual in the case of a ring, I suppose, but the same thing was true even of Father’s old neckties, especially from his point of view. I don’t think he cared what became of that ring, the way Mother did, but when he gave me an old necktie or a discarded pair of trousers, they still seemed to him to be his. Not only did he feel that way about it but he made me feel that way, too. He explained to me that he gave things which he didn’t care about to the coachman or the Salvation Army, but that when he had a particularly handsome tie which had plenty of wear in it yet, or a pair of trousers which he had been fond of, he saved anything of that sort for me.
A pair of striped trousers which he had worn to church on Sundays for years went up to New Haven with me one Christmas, when I was a junior, and as I was short of clothes at the time they came in very handy. I had to be careful not to take off my coat while I was wearing them, though. They looked oddly baggy in the seat when exposed to full view–on nights when I was playing billiards in a poolroom, for instance. They also made it harder for me to climb Osborn Hall’s iron gate. This gate was ten feet high, with a row of long, sharp spikes at the top, and to get quickly over it in Father’s trousers was quite a feat.
There was no point in getting over it quickly. In fact, there was no point in getting over it at all. Osborn Hall was used solely for lectures, and we saw quite enough of it in the daytime without trying to get in there at night. Besides, we couldn’t get in anyhow, even after climbing the gate, because the big inside doors were locked fast. After standing in the vestibule a minute, between the doors and the gate, there was nothing to do but climb back again and go home to bed. This seemed like a useful or stimulating performance, though, when we had been drinking.
On nights like these, as I was undressing in my bedroom, I sometimes had moral qualms over the way that I was making Father’s trousers lead this new kind of life. Once in a while such misgivings would even come over me elsewhere. They were not clear-cut or acute, but they floated around in the back of my mind. Usually I paid little attention to what clothes I had on, but when I did happen to notice that I was wearing those trousers into places which were not respectable, I didn’t feel right about it.
Then one week I lent them to a classmate of mine, Jerry Ives, to wear in his rôle of a fat man in some Psi U play. Father wasn’t fat, but he was much more full-bodied than Jerry, and there was plenty of room in his trousers for a pillow and Jerry besides. I thought no more of the matter until the night of the play, but when the curtain went up and I saw Father’s Sunday trousers running across the stage pursued by a comic bartender who was yelling “Stop thief!” I felt distinctly uncomfortable.
After that, nothing seemed to go right with them. The fact was, they simply didn’t fit into undergraduate life. The night that I most fully realized this, I remember, was when a girl whom Father would have by no means approved of sat on what was my lap but his trousers. Father was a good eighty miles away and safely in bed, but I became so preoccupied and ill at ease that I got up and left.