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Great Aunt Emma

Great Aunt Emma’s ring sits in a red box on a small table in my room.

I am afraid to wear it, worried it might slip off my finger and be lost forever.

Our biggest family heirloom, it was given her by her married lover

a man with whom she traveled, we’re told, and she herself never married.

When she died the ring went to Great Aunt Nancy and then

to her daughter Shirley whom I never met and finally to my mother

and now to me.  Unmarried, my sisters said.  You should have it.

For I, too, am unmarried many years.

We girls never knew Aunt Emma, certainly never knew

the man she loved.  Nor do we know any of the delicious details,

whether he was handsome or good or rich, where and how

they went about together and if his wife knew and what then.

How long did it go on and did Aunt Emma have other beaus?

Were there passionate, tear-filled rows, moonlit nights,

secret rendezvous, vows to give the whole thing up?

The photo I have shows a pretty, possibly mischievous

though not particularly elegant woman in spectacles

and a high-necked dress with a proper lace collar.

No hat with feathers, no diamond earrings, nothing flashy.

No siren, no Sarah Bernhardt, no flamboyant bon vivant.

She probably even wore serviceable shoes.

The mysterious, the enigmatic, the great

Great Aunt Emma.

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