Virginia's Cameo Ring

[Photo of Virginia's Cameo Ring]

Virginia's Cameo Ring

My object is very simple: my grandmother’s cameo ring. It was given to her by her husband John at the time of their courtship when he was on furlough from World War Two. They met at an Irish Dance Hall in Cleveland where he would go with his friend and where my grandmother would go with her friend from the hospital where my grandmother Virginia and she were both nurses. The ring originally belonged to my Grandpa John’s mother; because he had a limited income during the war, she gave it to him, to give to Virginia, as a "promise ring," as was then the custom, to ask her to wait for him until the war ended. The Battle of Normandy was the last battle in which my Grandpa fought: he returned home shortly thereafter, in 1944, and the war officially concluded in 1945. Virginia and John were married in 1946 in the Catholic Church (after she was given, and accepted, an engagement ring subsequent to the precious "promise" ring), though not in the actual chapel. Because Virginia was Protestant she was not allowed to marry in the chapel itself; they were wed in a private ceremony in the office of the priest. To me this ring symbolizes the sacred meaning of a promise. I cannot myself imagine the fear and anxiety of having recently met someone, fallen in love, and then to see that beloved person return to war, knowing that anything could happen to that person. My grandmother was in love, so she was willing to pledge her fidelity to her future husband, and I believe that when one is truly in love, this is an easy thing to do—what is hard is to maintain faith and hope in the return of one’s loved one or loved ones when they leave for war. I think the ceremony of giving a promise ring (technically, a "pre-engagement ring"), while now an out-dated custom, is a richly symbolic act that prefigures the commitment one makes during an actual engagement, followed by the even more profound commitment one makes after undertaking the vows of marriage. I wear this ring, given to me by my Grandmother at the time of her passing, to remember her, and to honor her commitment to her husband and her family, through good times and bad. It represents to me everything that is sacred and worth valuing about the nature of a promise.

  • grand-mother
  • promise
  • war
  • ring
Virginia McNamara
Country of origin
Country of residence