Issue Forty-Two - Summer 2023

Sentimental Value

By Carol Owens

Large and heavy, my ring: four gold dolphins arcing gracefully over my finger. It’s really two rings, joined by a slender circle of sapphires, set in gold. Widow now, no longer wife, I had chosen to take my husband’s wedding ring from the chain around my neck. I’d sandwiched both rings, one on either side of my fifth anniversary sapphire ring.

Sey had bought the slender ring from our favorite, a heritage jeweler, in Charleston. We were there celebrating five years of marriage. He’d surprised me with the antique ring, appreciated all the more for knowing another woman had loved it. A thin ring, it was perfect to wear while on our sailboat; the natural thing to join our two rings now.

I wore it seldom; working hands whether in the dirt or dishwater, were encumbered by the size and heaviness of the ring. I did love to wear it, until the arthritis in my hands had swollen my left ring finger knuckle. The ring would no longer slide over the knuckle to rest in its preferred place. Resized now, it fit perfectly on my right ring finger.

Eight days ago, I had just returned from a Veterans’ Day ceremony which the local elementary school had arranged for veterans and families. Still dressed in my blue blazer, my Air Force pin nestled next to the American flag on my collar, I glanced out the window at the Georgia Strait, tumbling waves tossing foamy meringue suds up over the spit in front of our house.

The birds had cleaned out the suet-again. They were tanking up, before the coming storm. I decided not to wait until I changed; dark heavy clouds were on the way from Sucia Island, across the Strait. I grabbed a couple of suet cakes, went out to the bird buffet/jungle gym, and filled the suet holders with seedy oily peanut butter cakes.

Then, stepping back up to the deck, checking the birdbath for clean water, I reflexively shook my right hand to rid it of the globs of suet sticking to my fingers. I felt it go. A soft “plop.”

My ring had slipped off. I did not see it go, nor where it chose to land. Cursing in Hungarian, calling myself stupid, careless, I ran down the steps, walking the bit of lawn. Actually, grass five inches deep, but only a narrow swathe between the edge of the deck and the blackberry shrubs which held the cliffside together; surely the ring would be…right there…No. Not.

Tears chilling my cheeks, I ran in to tell Bob about it. He fixed everything. He would find it. He was the most thorough person I had ever known; whatever he did, he did well. He always brought to mind the schoolgirl adage: “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.” My version of that had morphed to: “Whatever is worth doing…is worth doing…just enough.

We both searched, pacing in a grid pattern over the grass, scrutinizing the shrubs. They were empty of foliage now, so surely would show the glitter of gold. No such luck. Cold rain was falling now. Wherever it had flown, the ring wasn’t going anywhere.

I was convinced it had landed in the grass―that soft “plop.” Not the scratchy sound of shrub, nor the hard chunk of a rocky landing over the cliff…and thank goodness, not a watery splash.

We searched, and searched…for eight days. Raking, on hands and knees. Our wonderful neighbors spent hours finger combing the long grass. We found metal all right–ring tops from cans, parts of birdfeeders, even an old iron stove element…no gold ring.

Then, magic.

It began with a visit from Louise, our friend, the one who’d made it possible for us to move to Orcas. She’d found the house on the edge of the ocean for us. We were having tea, she’d come to pick up her Wonder Dog, Kirby. Kirby and I had spent the day together, dog therapy for me, beach therapy for Kirby.

Louise and I searched again for my ring. As we searched, I told her the story, crying on her shoulder. Then I said: “I believe it’s gone, permanently lost.” Trying to tamp down my feelings, I added, “ It’s just stuff, jewelry…I’m fine about it.” Not.

Louise called later that evening, saying that her husband knew of a local man who was a “ringfinder:” I’d never heard of that. He used a metal detector to aid his search. A metal detector? Why hadn’t I thought of that? Damien called within the hour, and appeared early the next day.

A forbidding day. Cold rain slanting sidewise, blown by the north wind which shook the alders. But Damien was formidable; tall, tenacious, his clothes layered for the weather. He spent hours searching. Using the large detector in the grass and shrubs, the handheld one under the deck, on hands and knees. I implored him to come in for coffee or lunch, to give up til better weather. He “liked” this weather, was not to be coaxed away from his task.

But at dusk, he gave up for the day, chilled through. The next day, more hours. Rehashing with me the way I had shaken my hand, where the arc might have taken the ring, which bird or critter might have found it, dropped it In the next yard, all scenarios explored. Damien’s red jacket could be seen on the cliff, in the thickets and brambles, on both sides of the house. But again, chilled and wet, he left at dusk.

The next night as we sat by a warm fire in the early dark of evening, Bob looked out the window and said: “There’s your friend.”

Damien, large spotlight in hand, was at the edge of the cliff, boots perilously clinging to the scrubby rock edge. Grabbing my raincoat, I dashed out, telling him to give up, that I’d reconciled myself to the loss.

But Damien wanted to try again with the light for a while. I persuaded him to come in before he left, to have a cup of salmon chowder before saying goodbye.

Getting comfortable again, I told Bob that I would be glad when this year was over. 2013 had been a year of grief and loss, illness and aging. My energy was drained; I didn’t realize how depressed I was over the loss of my ring. I was thinking of early bedtime, hiding under the covers in fetal position, heating blanket turned up to 9.

Damien came to the door, ready to leave. Opening the door, I told him he was the most tenacious and compassionate person I’d ever known, asking why he’d tried so hard and long. His face was drawn, cap dripping rain. I could tell he hated to give up. His record was almost perfect. He’d always, except once, found what he was looking for. The Ringfinder’s purpose is to perform this magic for those who lost something precious, even if only precious to them. They asked no fee, the beaming smiles on happy faces being their reward.

Damien, wet and cold, looked down from his six foot plus height, face and arms scratched and bleeding from his fall in the brambles, and said, “Maybe this is why.” He held out his gloved hand, and there it was. Gleaming in the palm of his workman’s glove.

I don’t remember the next few minutes, except for the sparkle in his eyes, the cold of his jacket as I hugged him hard.

Today, I went to my jewelry box, slipped the ring on my finger, assuring myself that, no, it was not a dream. Damien of Ringfinder’s fame, had done the impossible, found my treasure.

I know I can’t make anyone else feel the angst of those cold grey days, watching Damien searching in impossible conditions, always upbeat and smiling, repeating “I’ll find it.” And he did.

A grateful heart, Damien. I can never thank you enough. But I promise you this: the best Hungarian meal I ever cooked, and a check which will be totally inadequate. There is no way to repay such a debt. Thank you, Damien.

Copyright Owens 2023