A Garden Engagement

Cracker Jack rings led to our marriage.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRISTINA HESS

When I moved in with Don, my One True Soulmate, in the mid-1990s, we both wanted to relandscape his normal-sized lot in suburban Palo Alto, California. We decided to tear out the ivy, periwinkle, and grass, so we could stick in the plants we wanted.

California native plants had brought Don and me together, so the whole front would be dedicated to them, to show the world their beauty, variety, and drought-tolerance. (Weren’t we smug?) The backyard would be partly natives, partly not, with the existing birches and guavas staying in place.

The sunniest spot would go to vegetables. As I was digging in the future vegetable patch one afternoon, visualizing tomatoes, corn, and squash, a simple ring appeared in the soil. It was a solitaire, its gemstone a pale gray bead, a pretend pearl. The ring part was split so that it would fit anyone’s finger, from a child’s to a sumo wrestler’s. We’re not talk-ing Cartier or Tiffany here.

As I was digging in the garden one afternoon, a simple ring appeared in the soil.

“Look what I found,” I said, showing it to my love. He smiled. Apparently a previous owner’s child had lost it in the yard. At that point we hadn’t talked of marriage. I was twice divorced, and Don’s marriage had ended 23 years before. We’d come into this with long pasts, and we were both a bit shy, in spite of living together.
The next Spring, I unearthed another bit of jewelry. Again a split ring, but this time the “gemstone” was a pinkish bit of plastic.

I brought out the first one I’d found, and showed both of them to Don. He said, “Let’s get married.” We slipped them on each other’s fingers and smiled.

So we did. We acquired proper rings from a jeweler, simple bands of rose gold, which is, after all, the only botanically named metal. A few friends married us on an August day in a wildflower preserve that Don and I had worked on saving. A couple of weeks later we had a blowout party in our backyard, with champagne, cake, the whole works.

Twenty years later, we had a big anniversary party in our backyard, with champagne and cake again. I spoke to our assembled friends and family about finding the two rings. I mentioned that I’d not been sure my love would want to take a chance on a two-time loser like me. Unearthed by chance in the service of the plants that had brought us together, those cheap little rings had shown us the answer.

I suspected that these rings were Cracker Jack prizes. Where else could they have come from except that homey, all-American source, from the simple box with the jaunty sailor boy who had saluted munchers for over a hundred years?

I did some research and found a whole culture of Cracker Jack rings being used for marriage proposals. Don and I had fallen into a great, sassy, young-at-heart tradition.

Before writing this piece, I looked closely at our rings to check if they really were “of the same paradigm,” as my husband would say jokingly. To my amazement, I discerned inscriptions on the inside of the rings. One seemed to be saying “MA….” Marry me? The other had something undecipherable and then “HON…” Honey?

But on closer inspection, they both bore the unromantic text: “MADE IN HONG KONG.”

Don passed away three Summers ago. His ring of rose gold hangs on a string of black yarn in his office, next to the calendar that is still open to that fateful month. My ring rests in a ring box in a drawer in our bedroom.

And the two Cracker Jack rings nestle beside each other in a jewelry box all their own.

This article was published originally in 2020, in GreenPrints Issue #123.


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