Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Gift

Dick, Jeremy, Abe

Our purpose in going to West Point last weekend was to attend Ring Weekend ceremony for all Firsties (seniors). The idea of a class ring originated at West Point in 1835 and the tradition is very strong still. The rings symbolize more than a fraternity or alma mater, they symbolize that the cadets who wear one stand as a part of the long gray line—a group of men and women who have pledged to protect our Constitution from tyranny or outside forces. Some of the former graduates’ families and widows have donated the deceased's rings to be melted down and poured into the current class’ rings, continuing the tradition of service.

Abe listening to Plebes reciting the ring poop

After the Firsties receive their rings they must walk back to the barracks where the Plebes (freshmen) are waiting for them. Plebes have NO privileges at West Point. They are treated as nonentities and this is the one time they have a token of power. A Plebe may stop the ring-bearing Firstie to admire his ring. And then, as part of the admiration they obnoxiously say:

Oh my gosh, sir!
What a beautiful ring!
What a crass mass of brass and glass!
What a bold mold of rolled gold!
What a cool jewel you got from you school!
See how it sparkles and shines!
It must have cost you a fortune!
May I touch it? May I touch it please, sir?

The Firsties must stand there until the Plebe has finished his verse and stared at the crass mass of brass and glass. (Abe said when he was a Plebe he would say it painfully slow or even make mistakes while saying it so that the Firstie would have to stand there for a long time.)

unknown firstie trying to escape

This year it was raining and such a funny scene—Firsties trying to dodge and outrun hordes of Plebes. It reminded me of tag in first grade, because the Firsties were only safe from the chanting Plebes when they hit the base of barrack steps. When we got to the inward courtyard between the barracks, Abe took off on a dead run to miss the barrage. He was able to skirt them (he must be a quarterback or something), but the Plebes looked like galloping gray ghosts chasing after him.

We went up to Abe's room and met his roommates while he changed his clothes and we hoped to dry out some. Since parents are only allowed in the rooms a couple of times during a cadet’s tenure at the academy, it never gets old seeing their neatly made beds. Each year the cadets are given more privileges and Abe and his two roommates can now have a mini-fridge and futon in their room. Abe sleeps on the hard futon every night rather than sleeping in his bunk and having to make a neat bed in the morning.

The night of the ring ceremony, Ray took us out to supper at the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate. After we had ordered and were waiting for our food, Calvin tapped the glass with his knife and said, “Can I have your attention? Abe has something he’d like to say.” Then Abe pulled out a little black box and said, “Mom, this is for you.”

I opened it and inside was a pin in replica to his class ring. He said how much he appreciated me helping him get through West Point and how he never would have made it without my encouragement and support. It was one of those moments that my heart will replay often for the pin symbolizes more than “thank you” to me. A son must cut the apron strings for proper growth, but even though you know it must be done doesn’t mean it isn't painful. What a wonderful gift to discover that after those apron strings have been cut and your son has learned to balance and walk on his own that he can and will bind himself back to you with bonds much stronger, more durable and flexible. To me, that gold pin replaces the strings and I wear it with as much pride and humility as I wore the apron, but probably with more grace and definitely more patience. I just love it and am so grateful for the gift and all it represents.


Tiffany Fackrell said...

It looks like you had lots of fun, but I can't help but laugh at that funny little tradition and that little chant about the class rings. I don't blame Abe for running, I think I would have been very annoyed if I had to listen to freshman chant that silly poem to me!!! Also as I read it, I wondered if I would stop every senior to recite it to them when I was a freshman....Hmmm I don't know, I think I might have been to worried about them being annoyed with me and forever remembering me for that!

HeatherM said...

Oh Jane, that last paragraph has me in tears. I can see through the tough "cutting" times I have ahead of me, and to the stronger bonds that will ensue. Thank you for your encouragement. I'm so glad you had a good time. What a special, special gift.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful gift Jane! It must feel good to know that your children are FINALLY at the age where they appreciate you. (not that they didn't while they were young) I have heard that campus is gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

oops that was me Jenny :)

Cali said...

That was beautifully and eloquently written. I loved the part about apron strings. I love you.


lelly said...

this one should have come with a kleenex warning!!

you must know that, as the mother of a growing son, i soak up everything you share on the subject. you'll have to excuse me for grabbing onto one of those apron strings :)

Barb said...

That is beautiful. And I really loved your words "bonds much stronger, more durable and flexible"

deidra said...

What a son you've raised!

I'm reading John McCain's book Faith of My Fathers and he talks a lot about the traditions at military academies. He was a little bugger and his experiences seemed based on defiance of rules/authority, getting drunk and womanizing, so it's quite nice to see good men coming from these institutions!

Carolyn said...

I most definately would have been one of those annoying kids waiting outside to stop all of the Seniors. Oh, they would have had it good...

And, what a good son you have! The pin looks so nice and I'm sure it looks great on.

tina said...

that is so sweet. made tears well up in my eyes and i have never met Abe! Thanks for sharing!

michelle said...

Beautiful significance in that gift!

Donna Chapin said...

Oh Jane,

How much fun to enjoy and be a part of this tradition.
BTW - did you know I can cry at the drop of a hat? Yep, I can, I did, and I know it won't be the last time I tear up reading your blog.

Nikki said...

That is so funny! I love that they have that tradition with the rings at school and the Plebes and the Firsties.

And how very special to have a pin replica of his ring. What a great kid you turned out!

Barb said...


Jess said...

Wow, what an amazing gift! Congrats to Abe and to you for raising such an amazing kid!

Becky said...

You are one in a million, Jane...your entire last paragraph is amazing. Thank you for sharing your heart and your hard-earned wisdom!

Lucy said...

You always write the best parts of motherhood. Thanks.