55 Years Of Love & A Ring
by Jeb Bensing
I am quickly going to take you back to a cool breezy Saturday afternoon at St. Pius Catholic Church, in Providence, Rode Island on May 3rd, 1941. I do not really know if the day was cool and breezy, but it is a calming picture in the mind if you think of a day, described in such a way. This day may have been just an ordinary day for most, but for a particular young man and woman, this day was special. A twenty-seven year old man by the name of Richard C. Pranik, and a twenty-three-year old woman by the name of Mary A. McCaffrey were officially married. Richard and Mary made a living and raised a family together the best they could during their lifetime. In between the first child being born in 1942, to the last in 1956, raising seven children was no easy job.
Richard was the typical head of the household who made something of himself, and expected the same from his children. Richard was very knowledgeable with current affairs, and knew just enough about many different things. He had his favorite chair, while he smoked a pipe, and drank a martini with an onion.
Mary was that typical strong minded lovable Irish Catholic Mum who made sure the kids were raised correctly, and maintained the household every day, twenty-four seven. Full or flush, the trials of marriage, family, and children created those bonds of affection that – propelled that everlasting love.
As the kids grew to adulthood, each one began making a life for themselves, and a career, which had eventually carried them in separate ways. Most of them created a family of their own, while also creating a career for themselves. My Mother was the fourth child out of those seven who has done pretty well for herself over the years. She may have moved way out here in Arizona, but we still had the chance to visit the Grandparents at least twice a year. I can still remember that distinct smell of my Grandfather’s pipe that emanated the whole house every time we went out to visit. When waking up in the morning, my nose would latch onto that tantalizing smell of bacon and pancakes my Grandmother would make for the family. Throughout the day while the TV displayed the News or a show on the BBC, the sounds of familiar voices would grasp my attention when the conversation carried with it, stories of the past.
Around the time when I was finishing my school year in Junior High (8th Grade), my world was pulled into a cloud of the nothing. I was forced with accepting the overwhelming perplexities with our human mind, while also fearing the grim realities of death. It came in a subtle way, nobody knew how to justify or even explain why it was happening. It started out with a forgotten thought, never realizing at that time, life was changing. Like all of us each day, that realization of an innocently forgotten memory can be flawlessly denied in hopes to soothing that fearful person inside our own mind. We except it as, “Oh well, I just forgot due to all the other things that must be remembered each day”. Soon, the strands of memory begin to develop more clouds of the nothing. Richard was forgetting how to perform basic day-to-day tasks. Counting changing, reading, and recalling knowledge, etc…… These unexplained symptoms began to reveal themselves around 1989, but it could have been earlier. It could have been genetics, life style, evolution, or the environment, nobody can say for sure even though the memory was obviously slipping away. On one typical morning when the day is expected to be a good one, a sudden attack of anxiety turned that day very much in the opposite way. My Grandfather knew something was terribly was wrong – very wrong. The next trip to the hospital seeking help for Richard’s situation brought with it, an unexpected life changing dilemma. A gradual loss of memory that had created a feeling of helplessness for a strong minded loving Father. Desperately introspectively searching for resemblance of that slightest memory, in hopes that it could bring comfort to the mind, alas – that moment just came to signify this is a beginning of the end.
My visits that were routinely twice a year, had changed to the unknown. My Aunt Virginia had always taken care of her parents, while maintaining her own career in Education, but now there was an added situation to the daily routine. A decision was made for guaranteeing that Richard would be taken care from that day, moving forward. Richard’s life was now headed in a different direction in a home away from home, while his memories would fade away like the mist along the rolling hills of Virginia.
When my Mum, would plan our trips out to Diamondbar California, the routine would be to spend time with Aunt Virginia and my Grandmother Mary, then we would also visit Grandfather Richard in his new home. The family would load into my Grandmother’s Ford Escort, and make our way over to see Grandpa. I can still smell the stale air that would be lingering down every hall, and filling every room. I recall days walking past all those home away from homes, catching small glimpses of many other families going through their own hard ache. Families desperately struggling for that moment of solace, while their mind must come to terms with helplessly watching their loved one deteriorate. A poor soul would just embrace the love of family, while patiently waiting for death to come pay them that one last visit.
While Richard was becoming accustomed to his new home, the Doctor had the faintest clue to what was happening. At one point, it was believed that Richard simply had a stroke, or a severe case of dementia, which could have resulted in the loss of memory. To this day, it has never been classified as Alzheimer’s that could have caused Richard's deterioration of the mind. The next several years were the hardest for all of us, but most of all on my Grandmother. Every day making her visits, hoping in some way, Richard was comfortable living in a strange place. It started out with a forgotten thought, never realizing at that time, life was changing. Like all of us each day, that realization of an innocently forgotten memory, is always flawless denied for soothing that fearful person inside our own mind.
"The heart struggles to heal, while the lungs strain for that single breath, when the eyes must bear witness to the deterioration of a man whom one has loved for so long."
April 21st through the 23rd, 1997
Mary would make her visits to see Richard the best she could, but it had become difficult for her as the days, and years dragged forward. Richard’s health became worse to the point of having a stroke, and then sadly slipping into a coma. By this stage of his life, Richard had been sent to a different care facility where he can be provided round the clock care. This facility was farther from Mary, so her visits became less of a daily routine.
All those 55 years, 11 months, and 20 days full of memories, family, and love, were now lost in that cloud of the nothing. It pains the heart when looking into the eyes of someone who has loved you almost all your life, and realizing that when they look back at you – there is nothing but confused unfamiliar thoughts. During one of Mary’s visits, the Doctors explained that Richard’s health was so uncertain; there was a real good possibility that he did not have much time left. Mary said her goodbyes the best her heart would allow, hoping in some way Richard could hear. Mary slowly inched her way out of the room, while leaving a part of that soul with the very husband she loved so much – for so long. During the early hour morning of April 23rd, that dreadful call came informing Mary of Richards passing during the night from a server stroke.
"Moving on so the heart can heal."
After a lifetime together creating those bonds of love, family, and affection, Richard had used his last long awaited breath. The moment came when he quietly announced his departure from this world onto the next. Richard’s soul passed on a mystic ripple that would journey outwardly in search of that loved one, creating an eternal bond with a warm embrace.
"He watches from a distance, as the mind embraces all the memories like a lost friend from the days of old. He no longer stands on the outside looking in, but now feeling at home while standing inside looking out."
With the help of my Aunt Virginia (Ginny), Grandma would live about another 10 years after the passing of her beloved husband Richard. She would do the same old things that she had done all her life. Every day, Mary would have that same old tenacity of internal strength, supported by her unrelenting faith in God. She would show a smile, and express all the love she had for family. Mary had lived a good life in her later years. She was fortunate enough not to have developed symptoms of Alzheimer's, but her mind and body had taken its toll by the time she reached 90 years old.
March 24th, 2007
Since my Grandmother had reached her 90th Birthday, it was decided to gather the Siblings, Grandchildren, and even Great-Grandchildren for a family reunion. With the exception for Uncle Rich (2nd Oldest Son) who had died a couple of years (1999) after Grandpa, all the other children attended the reunion. A family that had grown in strength, while sustaining that everlasting bond, all paid their respects to that wonderful Mum!
August 17th, 2007
Within months after my Grandmother’s Birthday, her health began to deteriorate to the point my Aunt Virginia required extra help. Mary’s last days had placed her too, in a home away from home, but her situation was different from Richard’s. Mary was doing well, and was even in good spirits as her days went past. Sometimes she would get confused with which child she was talking too while family came to visit. I get my kids mixed up all the time, so that would never be a concern. The Doctors wanted to place Mary on a rehabilitation processes, hoping she could regain her strength once again. I can remember one day my Mum telling me that, Grandma had fallen out of her bed one night. Mary’s health had deteriorated to the point that the ability to walk was extremely difficult. Mary had fallen, due to her belief that Richard was in the room next to her on the other bed. She was convinced that Richard was asking Mary to come over to him, which understandably compelled her to make an attempt to walk. I do not have any proof of this being the reason for her fall, but who am I to judge. My Grandmother may have mentioned that she had seen Richard in a dream, but you never know the whole truth 99% of the time when told. Who am I to question? I always believed Richard came to visit his one true love. I am not making any claims, but love can take anybody beyond human understanding. On August 17th, time which has been that ever nagging clicking sound in the back of the mind – had stopped for Mary A. Pranik. Over half a century had past, and now our hearts would only be left with loving memories to embrace and then – she was gone!
"It finally came just like a cool morning breeze that passes through your hair, while the sun warms the face. The soul would embrace the love of family, while patiently wait for death to come pay that one last visit."
After my Grandmother's funeral, my Aunt Ginny wanted to unload some of her belongings to the other family member's instead of donating to some strangers. Like the other family members, I rummaged through many of the items that my Grandmother had held on to for so many years. Then I came across this box full of jewelry that looked very cluttered and mixed with many other types of rings and necklaces. The wooden old box was black, added with delicately crafted lines of art all around the perimeter. I took notice that the box was made in Poland, and I believe it belonged to my Grandmother, but not for certain. A tale of the box will be another in another time – if any of my family members could tell me. As I slowly opened the lid of the box, I could notice items of various jewelry displayed inside. As I rummaged around through these beautiful contents, a small delicate gold ring had caught my eye. This was a plain looking thin gold ring. No diamonds or pearls, or even fancy nick knack’s on it. Just a plain ring with two notches grouped together that spawned the perimeter of the ring. I picked up this ring and noticed how simple it looked to me at that time. Then all of a sudden, an unexpected gut feeling had compelled me to keep this one ring all to myself. While my mind was clearly pushing back this strange and unexpected obsession, I began to make my way over by my Aunt Virginia, who was standing next to her Mum’s bed. I patiently waited my turn, while hiding the ring in the palm of my hand not wanting to attract attention from the other family members. Finally that chance to ask about the ring had finally come. My Aunt was taken aback, and surprised that I found the ring. She told me that it was my Grandmother's first wedding ring. After a period of time, my Grandmother’s finger had grown too big for it, which my Grandfather had then bought another one that would fit. I believe my sister ended up possessing that second ring. It was strange for me to become obsessed with this ring in which I now had. At that time, my daughter was almost seven, while my son was about two and a half years old. Uncanny thinking that I was almost thirty-two years old, married, with two kids becoming obsessed with this innocent looking ring.
I took this ring with me back home, placed it on a chain, and carried it with me every day. While carrying this ring, I had felt complete. I did not have many pictures of my Grandparents, so this was my only connection with them both. Their love for each other had represented so much, and I was honored to carry it with me everywhere my travels would take me. At that time, I was happy in many aspects of my life. My first marriage was to a woman named Heather, who I had been with since 1992, by 2004, we had two children together (Savannah & Jared) who were healthy, and happy while at the same time keeping me on my toes.
2008 – 2010
My marriage with Heather had always experienced those typical ups and downs, full and flush, but by 2008 – days were dark. Now the stressful moments became continuous, and the children unavoidably were collateral damage. The breakdown in my marriage soon spilled over onto other aspects of my life. My kids were unhappy, the family became disappointed, and then the job suffered. Since 2007, my ring had been faithfully carried around my neck, while at the same time, helped ease my soul. That chain, in which I used as the ever so strong support system, had actually broken. My mind never did realize the symbolism at the time, but change was coming soon. My ring was now being carried inside one of my old medicine containers, tucked deep into my front pocket. One day after coming home from work, I placed my things, including that container on the counter. I then went about my evening helping around the house and with the two kids. The next day while getting ready to leave work, I grabbed my things including the container, and was ready to walk out the door. After a few steps, a strange fearful nagging thought had just then pinched the back of my mind. I reached into my pocket desperately reaching for that container, but it was too late – the ring was gone! The heart quickly increased in its beating rhythm, perspiration began to accumulate all over the body, and finally my cheek had felt the cold thin stream of sweat creep down along the side of my face. The fear had now kicked into overload, while anxiety filled my soul. I looked all around the house, car, front yard, and then back yard, but the ring could not be found.
It was unbelievable, that ring somehow mysteriously vanished out of a sealed plastic container like a flash of light in the corner of my eye. The next few weeks, and then months were spent looking for that ring. I went through every toy box, corner, table, bathroom, and even through that maroon-suede couch – but still managed to produce the same failure in the end. My mind began to focus on becoming a complete failure in many other aspects of my marriage. A very short time after losing the ring, my failures became more frequent as the months dragged forward. Due to a breakdown in communication and support for each other, my first marriage finally came to an end by 2009. I moved out of our house in Northwest Peoria, over ten miles away to North central Phoenix. I took all my belongings, including that one maroon-suede couch.
"Moving on so the heart can heal."
By now, it was 2010, and I was living on the third floor apartment, a new job, and time with my two children. Like many families who make that choice in an untimely breakup, mine were rough during some moments, but for the most part it went smoothly. Heather and I had gone our separate ways, while maintaining the best possible stable routine for our two children. After taking time for myself, the hopes in dating again was finally on my to do list. I will be the first one to tell you, dating is not something for me in any aspect. I despise the demanding effort it takes to sale yourself on a date. That half-hearted effort in hoping your heart would find some sort of sparkle within a woman’s character. After many months putting my gambling chips on this dating website, any hopes in finding a good woman – was quickly fading into oblivion. Around the month of September, I had made the decision in canceling the dating website, so my mind and heart could find balance. Just when you have mentally stepped back, and waited for a life of loneliness, in came a woman named Bernadette!
I will spare all of you the boring details, and get to my point to what Bernadette has to do this story of mine. When I first talked with Bernadette on the phone one night, the discussion about our favorite romantic movie comes up by surprise. Ha – not really a surprise when talking with a complete stranger who happens to be a woman, and whom you have met via a dating website. Sorry! I regress.
I began to tell Bernadette that my favorite romantic movie is, “When Harry Met Sally”, and not only that, but the end scene during the New Year’s Party was a classic! You know, when Harry tells Sally the real reason why he loves her. I am going to use a line from Harry,
“I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of the life to start as soon as possible.”
From that moment on I was hooked, lined, and sunk to the idea of getting to know Bernadette a lot more. Actually, I do not really like talking on the phone, so my mind was weakened and most likely taken advantage of by Bernadette’s articulate conversations. Soon the days turned into weeks, and the months transitioned to a year of dating. Now our relationship came to the point to where the opportunity came for me to move in with Bernadette. By the end of November, my lease on the apartment was ending, so the next step for me was to start that long strenuous process of moving once again. It had taken me about three weeks to pack up all of my belongings, and move them over to my new house. The fourth week was open for me to make the final rounds for clearing the last of my belongings, mainly that old maroon suede couch! My initial thoughts were to donate that couch to Goodwill, but my ex-wife Heather had requested to take over ownership instead. I was surprised that Heather wanted an old couch full of long hidden memories, but she did pay for it so long ago. During the last day of cleaning the apartment, I decided to clean up that couch before Heather’s Father was going to help me move it over to her apartment. I lifted up the couch to vacuum the carpet underneath when I notice a pile of dirt, papers, change, and OK – trash! At that very second, my eyes noticed a very small object practically hidden within this pile of trash.
I cannot explain it, define it, or remotely dispute how the ring ended up back within my possession. I turned off the vacuum, and slowly bent over reaching for the ring. I am sure you have figured out by now after reading this story – Yes! I knelt down hard on my knees and wept like a little infant who had just dropped their ice-cream on the floor.
This story revolves around a simple ring that comes with not just a story, but also the true essence of love! That inherent emotion in which we are provided with a plethora of variations in using a word. In its smallest element, it may be uttered in isolation with literal, or a practical meaning – vies-a-vies love! Having the ability, and even the opportunity with opening the gates of trust, respect, and emotions can quickly consumes us within a blink of an eye. Many times we can take for granted that our own mind, along with the heart can be so, fragile. Our emotions can get the better of us at any moment, with whomever we love and care about in our lives. A complete stranger could also get the better of our emotions, if we allow. We often fear the heart could just wither and die, while other times the heart can become obsessed. I have thought about the ring’s travels in many scenarios, but still cannot explain why, and or how – it came back! My Mum told me that the wee leprechaun’s who had entrusted me in taking the ring from my Grandmother, became concerned when my first marriage broke down. One night, “tese tree wee leprechaun’s, came to take me ring away!” When the time was right, and my heart was in a better place, they would give me back my precious ring. The three leprechauns’ would take a precious item away from you, only if the time was not right - for you. When you would change your ways, or the troubling situation in which you were in had been solved, said item would then be returned.
I do in fact really miss my Grandparents, Richard and Mary Pranik. I also have complete solace in knowing that they both are together in Heaven amongst God’s warm embrace. I have the honor in admitting to be a part of the Pranik and McCaffery lineage. I will forever keep this ring ever so close to my heart for the rest of my days. I am also secure in the knowledge; that this ring will carry on with my own children.
"This ring has withstood the test of time, and somehow has found its way back into my life. Something so inconspicuous, had traveled so far of a distance and time, all the while carried with it – well over fifty years of memories."
55 YEARS OF LOVE & A RING
- 55 Years Of Love & A Ring
A love story that began with my Grandparents, and continues on with me, and beyond throughout each generation that fallows.
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