FORT MYERS, Fla. — When Kendra Spriggs slips the gold ring on James Simpson’s finger Sunday, the act will not only bond the two of them but also a man and the great-grandfather he never met.
Spriggs and Simpson will marry at the barn at Buckingham Farms, a rustic, chic venue set amidst avocado trees and beds of kale and collard greens. The date will be Oct. 18, 2015, exactly 100 years from the day when Simpson’s great-grandparents, two young Polish immigrants, kids really, wed at a wood frame church in Massachusetts.
That date, 10-18-1915, is engraved inside the 14-karat gold-filled band that belonged to Simpson’s great-grandfather. It is same ring Spriggs will give Simpson.
A century has worn the ring, revealing a brassy finish below its lustrous gold. The ring is not unlike the two men, who along with kinship share the physical trait of large hands.
Both have also felt the heartache of a similar tragedy and survived.
One afternoon around two years ago, Simpson and Spriggs were chatting with his family at his mom’s house in Fort Myers Shores, Fla.
“You better marry her before she finds someone else,” Simpson’s 81-year-old grandmother, Beverly Butrym, told her grandson that afternoon — or at some time before Simpson proposed.
“Not too many people, or anybody that I know, gets to have something that’s been in the family 100 years that they get to wear every day that has the same significant meaning.”James Simpson, Buckingham, Fla.
“We already got you the ring,” said Stanley Butrym, his 87-year-old grandfather. “You don’t have to buy one.”
Stanley Butrym inherited the ring from his father, who was also named Stanley Butrym and died in 1945. Stanley is short for Stanislaw.
Several years earlier, the younger Stanley Butrym had given the ring to his daughter, Caren Simpson, because she had two sons. James Simpson was one of them. She stowed it in a velvet drawer in a jewelry box in her bedroom.
James Simpson and Spriggs had been dating since 2009. He asked her out for a drink and pizza “because she was cute.”
She agreed, but he was a little quiet for her taste.
“At first, I was like, 'I don’t know about this,' ” she said.
But he soon warmed up, and they discovered a mutual love of four wheelers and rodeos. James Simpson rode bulls as a teenager, mostly so he could chase cowgirls.
They had been dating about three months when he bought a home in Buckingham, Fla. Spriggs moved in, too.
Some months later, they found out she was pregnant. During the pregnancy, they visited Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and saw a bride arrive in a Cinderella carriage.
Someday, she told him she would like for them to get married there.
James Simpson and Kendra Spriggs will get married Oct. 18, 2015, exactly 100 years after Simpson's great-grandparents were wed. (Photo: Amanda Inscore, The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press)
Their daughter, Kaylee, was born July 24, 2011. She was a happy baby with an angelic face who hardly ever cried.
But Kaylee had a heart condition. At 9 months, she required surgery.
Two days before surgery, the trio had photos taken together. Those photos populate a living room markedly absent of the toys of a child.
Kaylee died May 2, 2012, after going into cardiac arrest after surgery. The couple grieved their daughter but remained strong, perhaps grew stronger, in their love.
“I know that he’s there for me, and I’m there for him,” said Spriggs, now 26. Her fiancé is 27.
The ring came into the equation about a year after their daughter's death.
They had made it through that devastating time. One afternoon in his mother’s house, James Simpson tried on the ring.
It fit perfectly, a surprise because he’s double-jointed. He peered inside the ring and saw the inscription.
That’s the day we should get married, he said.
They rushed to a calendar and saw it would be a Sunday. That could work!
“There’s been a lot of tears cried. We’ve had a lot of tragedies. That makes this wedding so special that we’re able to celebrate something so joyful.”Caren Simpson, James Simpson's mom
Spriggs groaned; it seemed so far. She suspected that was one reason why he chose it.
That was partly true, he now admits. More so, he thought it would be cool to share the ring and the day, exactly a century later.
“Not too many people, or anybody that I know, gets to have something that’s been in the family 100 years that they get to wear every day that has the same significant meaning,” he said.
“Then it got here and I’m like, ‘crap,’ ” he joked with his bride, who nudged him.
James Simpson officially proposed Aug. 30, 2014, at the Grand Floridian. Because Spriggs is a 911 operator and he has a business cleaning the leftover grease in restaurant exhausts, it was beyond their means to get married there.
But at least that could be the place she agreed to marry him.
He appreciates that she puts up with his spoiled attitude, and she said that beneath that attitude is a caring man, one who shows her his love.
For their wedding, Spriggs asked people to share their own photos.
Caren Simpson went to her father’s house and found the wedding photo of her son's great-grandparents, Mary and Stanislaw Butrym. The couple stands stiffly without smiles, the signature pose of the time.
Stanislaw Butrym wears a bow tie. Caren Simpson noticed how her father had stuck a photo of his parents with their first child, a baby girl named Stephania, if she remembers correctly, next to the wedding photo.
James Simpson’s great-grandparents, Stanislaw and Mary Butrym, were two young Polish immigrants when they wed at a wood frame church Oct. 18, 1915, in Massachusetts. (Photo: Courtesy of Butrym family)
In the second photo her grandfather held the baby in a white dress on his knee.
Caren Simpson had grown up knowing her grandparents’ first child had died. The baby died around age 2 because of an illness related to a pandemic, surviving family believes though no one can recall what. (The influenza pandemic that killed more than 40 million worldwide first hit the USA in spring 1918.)
Oh my God, Caren Simpson thought, her grandparents had faced the same pain and managed to survive as a couple. She later showed her son the photo.
“They lost her as a baby, too, and not that anything takes the place, but they went on and have five healthy kids and one them is still kicking around and is still just as ornery.”
She was referring to her father.
Her son winced at the idea of five: He and Spriggs had talked about having two more kids, possibly three.
“There’s been a lot of tears cried,” Caren Simpson said. “We’ve had a lot of tragedies. That makes this wedding so special that we’re able to celebrate something so joyful.”
Much of Stanislaw Butrym’s history was lost when he died in 1945. What remains are the hazy memories of his sole surviving child, just a teen in 1945.
Stanislaw Butrym came from Poland, maybe through Ellis Island as his eventual bride did. Stanislaw and Mary Butrym met at a Polish picnic in Massachusetts.
“As rough and tough as a guy as he is, he’s got a heart of gold.”Caren Simpson, Fort Myers, Fla.
She married around age 19. Stanley Butrym imagines his father was not much older.
Stanislaw Butrym bought a bar in Worcester, Mass., where he went by the name “Steve.” When Prohibition began in 1920, it was a speakeasy.
Before that, Stanislaw Butrym survived on selling fish he caught. The family spoke Polish at home and his parents never argued, at least not in front of the children.
When Stanley Butrym would leave the house, his father commanded, "Don’t spoil the family name."
Then Stanislaw Butrym became sick, but his son doesn’t know from what. Young Stanley Butrym and his siblings had to work to provide for the family.
Stanley Butrym took a job pulling weeds for 2 cents an hour. His father became bedridden and his mother would carry her husband, not a small man, up the stairs.
He died in his 50s. Stanley Butrym later inherited his father's wedding band.
Stanley Butrym sees at least one similarity between his grandson and father.
“They’re not scared of hard work,” he said.
“I hope he don’t buy a barroom,” said his wife, Beverly Butrym. They both laughed.
James Simpson is not the type to over sentimentalize, but he does see a shade of himself in the 100-year-old ring.
“It’s rough and dirty-looking,” he said.
He’s never really worn jewelry. Grease is packed below his nails, which he said is normal.
Maybe this is why his mother is considering buying him a mock ring. For now, she’s trusting the character of the man she’s watched him become.
“As rough and tough as a guy as he is, he’s got a heart of gold,” Caren Simpson said. “He knows what he’s got there, literally, on his hand.”
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