Okay, so here’s what I didn’t tell you about the engagement ring last time (Box Office Blues):
Shopping for the ring was a genu-ine adventure.
When my husband moved to Seattle, he got acquainted with a college friend’s dad who purchased cosmetics and jewelry for a large drug store chain in the Northwest. When he learned that Art was about to pop the big question and was in the market for a ring, he wrote down the name of one of his wholesale connections, along with the phone number and address of his business. Apparently, this man could hook you up.
I flew up for semester break and learned we’d be buying rings from this guy downtown who was supposed to be giving us a really good deal. Okay, I thought, whatever works. We found the correct block, parked, and fed the meter. The address we were looking for was in the middle of the block, but it was just a door. We walked in and proceeded down a slightly dim, narrow hallway.
This is sorta weird. So, where’s the jewelry showroom?
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I imagined we were going to a Zale’s or something. Shows you how much I understood about “wholesale”. We spotted the door with the jeweler’s name on it. A short, bespectacled man with a slight paunch and thinning hair answered the door.
“Hello. My name is Art, and this is Linda, my fiancée. Bob said you might be able to help us — we’re looking to buy wedding rings.”
“Oh, right! Come on in.” We entered the smallish office. Not a piece of jewelry anywhere in sight.
“Give me a minute to wrap up some paperwork and I’ll be right with you.” Before long, he grabbed some keys and headed for the door.
“Come with me.”
He led us back out into the hallway, locking the office door behind him. We followed him on down the hall to a freight elevator. The three of us rode it to another floor — another new experience for me. Then down another hallway to a nondescript door. He unlocked it. The room was filled with safes, one of which he opened, then lifted out several large oblong trays. He stacked them on a counter, and placed one directly in front of us, removing the lid.
I tried hard not to gasp audibly. Inside that tray were more diamonds and gold than I’d ever seen in one place in my entire life! This explains why all the keys and safes! l stood there, just staring like a fool at q dazzling array of brilliant and fiery gems, exquisitely highlighted by the black velvet inside the tray.
“See anything you like?”
Ha! He’s kidding, right? They’re ALL gorgeous!
Our host must have noticed my head spinning. He helped out by selecting several individual rings, placing them on the lid of the tray. Then he handed me one. I gingerly took it from him.
“Wow, that’s nice,” I murmured, as I held the diamond solitaire up to my hand. He repeated this gesture several more times, and as I put each one to my finger, it scored a perfect 10. Realizing we would be there quite a while at this rate, my husband thought of a way to narrow the search.
“How much is that one?”
The man turned over a tiny tag on the ring to get a look, then quoted a price that reflected his 50% wholesale discount, which was still about twice as much as we could afford. We spelled out our price range, and he went for a different tray. (This is hard to believe now, but my husband’s starting training salary in 1969 was a whopping $500 a month.)
Again, he lifted the lid, revealing more stunning rings — more modest*, but dazzling in their own right. We’re talking diamonds here. I continued with the selection process until he handed me one that especially caught my fancy.
“Oooo, I really like that one.” My sweetheart agreed.
“It does have a lot of fire,” the man pointed out. Indeed, it did. We then asked him his opinion regarding the ring’s design. What he said in reply has since become a favorite and oft-used line in our family:
“If you like it, it’s niiice.”
Sold to the young, mildly impoverished suitor from Kent! He lifted the matching wedding band from the tray, replaced the lid, and returned all the trays to the safe. Back down in his office, he boxed the rings and wrote up the ticket. Having completed the transaction, we thanked the helpful wholesale merchant and waltzed out of his establishment and back out into the fresh air. Did we really just get my rings?!!
[Insert Bond movie here.]
A few days later, I would find myself back in my dorm in southern California — in bed with the flu, in fact. My appetite was gone, but attentive roommates insisted on keeping me supplied with fresh hand-squeezed orange juice and grapefruits from the dining hall. Another friend brought fresh-squeezed tomato juice. (This was, after all, southern Cal, and the food at our school was exceptionally high quality.) I consumed all offerings, hoping to stay hydrated. I had just slid back into bed after downing some o.j. when, about ten minutes later, I started to feel tingly.
Hmmm. That’s strange…
Moments later, the tingling morphed into itching. I mean, serious itching. And I felt flushed. I headed for the medicine cabinet mirror. The visage staring back at me was horrifying: my face was covered with welts! I glanced down — my arms were covered, too. I lifted my pajama top — Aack!! they were even on my tummy. The welts grew larger and larger as I watched. I stumbled down the hall in search of someone — anyone! — to help me.
I spotted a girl at her desk. She took one look and emphatically declared, “I’m calling the infirmary right now! You go lay back down!” I did. But lying there alone, my thoughts spun out of control. What dreadful disease had I caught in Seattle? How serious will it be? A couple minutes later, she came to my room.
“The nurse said it sounds like hives.”
Never heard of them. Can’t be good…
“She doesn’t think they’re serious and they’ll probably clear up in a little while, but meanwhile, we’re supposed to get you into a warm bath and dump some baking soda in it.”
The bath solution immediately soothed the itching. I relaxed in the therapeutic waters for about fifteen minutes, at which point the hives had nearly disappeared. So I got out of the tub, wrapped my robe around me, and headed back to bed. The last thing I remember seeing was a girl sitting cross-legged on the floor, visiting with one of my roommates.
When I came to, I was staring up into a cluster of faces. Apparently, I had gotten out of the tub too quickly, so the blood rushed from my head. Naturally, when I fainted, everyone came running. And now all of them were hovering over me, peering at my now hive-less face.
“Are you okay?!”
It took a moment to get oriented. They quickly filled me in on the sequence of events and why I was flat on my back in the hallway. I made a move to get back up, but the visiting girl stopped me.
“I think you need to stay here a little longer. We don’t need you fainting again.” I obediently put my head back down.
“What’s this?” she asked, holding up my newly ring-clad hand.
A roommate gave her the scoop. “She flew up to Seattle and got engaged over the break.”
“So, that’s it!” Moving her head closer to mine, she quipped, “You’re allergic to this ring! I think you should give it to me — I’ll hang onto it for you, heh heh.” Everyone thought this was just a riot. Unfortunately, I was too woozy to join in the hilarity. Laughter trailed down the hall as two of the girls escorted me back to bed.
I recall the incident being retold often that semester and every time feeling silly for having created such a commotion in our dorm by overdosing on vitamin C and triggering an allergic reaction.
And just for the record: I was really glad it was the citrus, and not the ring.
From our wedding album, 6-11-72.
[* A couple of years ago, a student worker in our office asked me, “You got married young, didn’t you?” I told her yes, as a matter of fact, I did. “I knew it,” she replied. “I guess based on the size of the diamond — young couples are usually pretty broke.” Nailed it, she did.]