We have had an unusually cold fall, and it reminded me of the year my wife, Donna, and I got engaged. We met one summer at a small college in Idaho that we attended. I lived close by, but Donna was from California. We dated through the fall and got engaged before Christmas, planning a spring wedding.
I had gone down to meet her family at Thanksgiving, so I chose to stay in Idaho for the Christmas break and try to earn money to pay for her ring, our wedding, and the honeymoon. I found a job at a large, local dairy that milked cows on two eight-hour shifts.
It was a cold winter. In fact, for an entire week, the national news announced that St. Anthony, Idaho, was the low of the continental United States at fifty below. That’s where I was working, and I had grown up there, but I hadn’t ever experienced it that cold. A person has to be careful in those temperatures. I went out once to get some more cows into the milking corral, and my hand froze to the gate the instant I touched it. When I finally got free, my hand blistered across my entire palm.
Being the Christmas season, some of the milking crew left, and we were shorthanded. Most days, they asked me to work both shifts. When things went wrong, which they often did in that kind of weather, I ended up being there nearly twenty-four hours straight. I was only getting about four hours of sleep each day.
I had a relative who saw all the hours I was working and asked why I would take such a job. When I told her that part of the reason I did was because I wanted to buy a nice ring for Donna, the relative chastised me and told me I was a fool.
“My husband gave me his class ring when we got engaged,” she said. “That was good enough for me.”
I reminded her of a show we both had seen where the man gave eight cows to pay for his future wife. The usual amount was two or three, with no one ever paying more than five. But the man wanted the woman to know how much she was worth to him.
“We don’t pay cows for a wife in our society,” I said. “But a man gives the girl a ring, and when he tries to make it the best he can, it shows how much she means to him. Each person needs to decide for themselves how to show their love. I want Donna to have a nice ring.”
My relative ignored what I said and continued to chide me about my decision. I would come home from a long, bitter day of work and pull a chair up to the woodstove to get warm. As soon as my relative walked into the room, she started in on me again. I tried hard to ignore her, sometimes even leaving the warmth of the room to get away. But a person can only take so much.
One day, after working in the cold, I came in late at night. I was too tired to eat, so I got a cup of hot chocolate and sat by the wood stove. I had just received my paycheck, and I pulled out a catalog to consider the absolute best ring I could afford. That was when my relative walked in. She saw what I was looking at.
“You know, you are so stupid,” she said. “Look at the price of the rings you are looking at. They are hundreds of dollars. The class ring my husband gave me cost less than forty.”
I finally could take no more. “That was probably sufficient,” I replied. “But that would not be enough for Donna because she is not a one-cow type of lady.”
My relative stormed from the room. She didn’t speak to me for about a month.
It was really nice.