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Remembering a diamond

Published June 16. 2012 09:01AM

He was a country boy, a description that, for many, might conjure up preconceived notions.

But don't ever stereotype country folk because you'd probably be wrong.

Dad was quite a character. He knew how to ride horseback but also played the violin. For country folk, it's a fiddle.

He was a wiz at math and had exceptional penmanship. Interestingly, he was neither left-handed nor right-handed, but completely ambidextrous.

Dad had blond hair, and so do I, but otherwise the apple fell far from the tree.

He was tall and thin. He walked with perfect posture and always wore a homburg, as did many men of the Greatest Generation.

He came from a long line of Pennsylvania Dutchmen. Not Amish nor Mennonite, but Reformed.

His parents typically spoke the native tongue at home in rural Palmerton, Carbon County, and so he grew up speaking two languages.

Dad eventually moved to the next county, settling in the rolling hills and farms of Lewistown Valley. For a time he served as magistrate in that local district, Walker Township. Back then the job was called justice-of-the-peace.

After I was born, we moved to the neighboring town of Tamaqua, right on the main street. Back then, Dad would march us off to a Presybterian Church on Sunday mornings. When the congregation stood and sang hymns, Dad would join in and drown out everybody. He had a strong, bellowing voice that filled the nave and sanctuary.

All of the heads would turn to look at him. Even the choir stared in awe. I was embarrassed. I remember ducking down by the pews to hide. There I'd study everyone's shoes.

Today I have misgivings. I wish I knew how to sing like Dad. I wish I would've asked him to teach me the violin.

Health became an issue as he grew older. He developed diabetes. Eventually, he lost both legs below the knee.

But Dad learned to walk again using prosthetics. Amazingly, he even taught himself to jog on two artificial legs. Nothing could keep his spirit down.

After hitting age 55, Dad realized the years were moving along quickly. He decided to treat himself to something special. His birthday was in April and his birthstone, a diamond. So the decision was easy.

But Dad didn't run out to simply buy a diamond ring as others might do. Dad did everything his own way. He didn't want just any old gemstone. He wanted the brightest. So he imported from Belgium seven very fine, round-cut diamonds. I'm not sure why he chose seven, although Dad had seven children, including his first son who died in infancy.

When those diamonds arrived, Dad designed a golden sunburst setting. He took his plans to a jeweler. There, they created a brilliant cluster ring that glittered like no other. Dad wore it proudly. "These diamonds sparkle like fire," he'd say, always admiring that torch on his finger. He knew the ring was special, a reflection of his spirit. To him, those diamonds embodied the zest for living that is so important for each of us.

"When I die," he said, "I want you to take this ring off my finger." Dad wanted the ring to survive. Burying it just didn't seem right, he thought. Diamonds are forever.

One autumn evening when the leaves were in full color, Dad passed away at home unexpectedly. He was 69.

In shock over what had happened, I forgot about the ring. But it was still on his finger at the funeral home a few days later. There, it was carefully removed.

Turns out, his final words to me were inscribed inside that 14K band. It had my my name, followed by 'From Dad.'

By coincidence, my birth month happens to be April, just like Dad.

So on that cold night 21 years ago, I put Dad's dazzling ring on my finger. It's been there ever since.

I remove it only to clean it. I make sure it sparkles to the max because that's how Dad always kept it.

It's a privilege to carry the torch. But more importantly, it's an honor to remember a diamond.

Tomorrow is Father's Day. Be sure to honor the diamond in your life.

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