Thanks to English Josey of Lake Charles, La., for sharing the story of his Beaufort High School class ring.
THE MAGICAL RING
By English Josey
"Papa E, could you show me your treasures?" my granddaughters will say as they reach for the pouch where I keep my magical ring, along with other tokens of my journey through life.
I honestly couldn't tell you what a Beaufort High School class ring looks like today, but back in my day, class of 1966, it was quite a symbolic piece of art. A garnet stone in a golden setting, it comes alive with symbols of the rich history of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
On one side is the palmetto tree, a French galleon, the monolith commemorating the early exploration of Port Royal and the date 1711 to note the charter of the city of Beaufort.
On the other side is the school's crest, with tridents for the Tidal Wave, the solar system and Mercury's winged foot. Above the crest is the Lamp of Knowledge, symbolizing the illumination of the mind. I like to think of it as Aladdin's lamp, recalling to me the tale of the boy in "The Arabian Nights" who found a magic lamp and a magic ring: by rubbing these he could call up a genie to do whatever he asked.
The lamp is my favorite symbol on this Beaufort High School class ring of 1966, and I always tell my grandchildren to rub it as I retell the tales of the travels of this magical ring.
We received our senior rings before Christmas 1965, and I wore the ring proudly until the spring or summer of 1966. Then I lost it in a rip current at Hunting Island State Park, while learning to surf with some of my classmates who had moved to the area from California.
I remember being extremely distraught and wondering what my parents were going to say. I am still wondering. I don't think I ever told them, and they probably assumed that I gave the ring to my best girl, and that would have been the end of that.
Thus began my journey in life without the magical ring. Although I earned the right to wear The Ring in 1970, and received all of the rights and mysteries bestowed on a graduate of the Military College of South Carolina (The Citadel), life without my high school ring would prove to be challenging.
Although my degrees are in literature, I spent the next 30 years following a perishing textile and apparel industry as it struggled to remain domestic in a prevailing global market. I was a manager for most of the best companies in the United States, at a time when "Buy American" became more of a plea than a challenge. As each employer chose to go offshore, I found myself faced with many difficult choices.
At one point, I sent my wife and 15-year-old daughter to live in Beaufort while I stayed behind to find a new tack. It was there that my daughter, attending Beaufort Academy, became friends with many of the sons and daughters of my Beaufort High School classmates. That was in 1996, some 30 years after my graduation from high school.
In February 2000, after relocating to Louisiana to work for the last major domestic textile manufacturer of record, I received a call from a friend of the family of one of my daughter's best friends from Beaufort Academy. While running his metal detector on the beach at Hunting Island, he uncovered what he thought was a "pop-top" that turned out to be my ring. It was under a piece of asphalt.
The fact that the beach had been two miles further to the east in 1966 made this discovery hard to digest. The fact that someone found this ring, saw the "ERJ" initials inside the band, and asked one of the few people who could identify me for a clue, is magical.
Although his daughter had kept in close contact with my daughter, there were no plans for them to meet in the near future, so I asked the finder to send the ring to Louisiana, and for his agreement I was most grateful.
For several years, I wore the ring proudly, and its magical powers became a topic of discussion in various informal settings within my family and work environment.
Then the magic died with the end of life as we had known it, as that manufacturer in turn went offshore. Because all of my immediate family had found its way to Louisiana, and I was already know as "Papa E," my wife and I decided to stay on and try something different.
Well, different is as different does, and at some point in the creation of a new me, I misplaced the magical ring. I have to think that this happened in early 2003. I always thought it might be in a repacked box somewhere in some attic or storage closet, but I never really knew. After a while, the ring and its magic drifted away from my thoughts. Life changed, and we moved from one city to another in pursuit of a new opportunity.
Then came a call to my home phone in 2010, in the city where we had been living for five years. Someone had found my ring in the parking lot of the post office of our previous address. She had put it on her computer desk at home, and from time to time had attempted to trace its owner.
She had repeatedly called the school administration in Beaufort, N.C., to no avail.
Then, while watching a documentary on The Citadel, she learned that one of its former presidents, Gen. James Grimsley, had family ties to Beaufort, S.C. She called that school administration, speaking with someone who happened to be the wife of Grimsley's son. She confirmed that her son and I attended The Citadel at the same time, and that I could well be the mysterious "ERJ." It was easy enough to retrieve my contact information from The Citadel.
But the key to the puzzle was found when "ERJ" was revealed to our new friend to be English Rutherford Josey. Her daughter then remembered that she and my daughter had been sorority sisters at Louisiana State University, and that my daughter had a sister who still lived in their city. In fact, on investigation, they lived in adjoining neighborhoods. I gratefully asked that the magical ring be delivered to my daughter and I have been the proud wearer of that ring to this day.
In the 46 years that I have owned this ring, I have probably had it in my possession for five or six years at the most.
The magic that I have missed while being without it is debatable.
But the magic that I receive while being "Papa E," and recounting the ring's powers to avid listeners, is limited only by the belief that comes from youth.