Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Giving Back

Buried treasures: every metal detectorist dreams of finding some.  Whether it be old coins in a farmers field, relics from a Civil War battlefield, or jewelry found along the beaches after a long hot summer, each new find is a possible keepsake.

But every once in a while a treasure is found that contains some small clue to its owners identity...and every detectorist must decide "if I found the person this belongs to, would I return it?"

Last spring, my husband and I were hunting a local small-town ball field.  I hit a strong signal in center field and was rewarded with a glint of gold at the bottom of the 4 inch deep hole.  I pulled out a heavy men's class ring, unable to believe my luck.  I'd found rings before...cheap metal rings lost from children's small fingers...but this was my first gold.  I carefully cleaned the dirt from the ring and slipped it on my finger...a perfect fit.  A keeper.  So it wasn't from my own graduation year...or even from my high school.  I liked it.  It was a keeper.

And then my husband walked over and brought me back to reality with a simple "I wonder who lost it?" 

I slowly pulled the ring from my finger and took a good look at it.  Coatesville Senior High School...Class of 1968.  A very small clue.  A garnet as the center stone.  Another very small clue.  And engraved on the inside of the band the initials JMZ.

The next day I contacted the high school and a woman in the library.  She informed me that yearbooks were considered private and she couldn't give me any information contained within them.  I explained my reasoning for wanting to look at a 1968 yearbook and she agreed to speak to someone "higher up" about it and that she would call me back.  A hour later she called to say that, though she could not allow me to look at the yearbook, she had looked through it herself and could find no one with those initials.  A dead end.

A week later my husbands sister called to tell me she had graduated in 1968.  She was in the middle of moving and her yearbook was packed away, but that to her recollection no one with those initials had graduated with her.  It looked like another dead end.

I looked in phone books, on reunion websites, even military records but always came up empty.  Eventually I put the ring away in a jewelry case and there it sat for the next 6 months.

By chance, one day, I was talking to our local township sheriff and happened to mention the ring.  He thought for a moment and then said "wait here, I'll be right back."  Ten minutes later he was back with news I couldn't believe.  Not only had he had figured out the owner of the ring, but he had stopped by their house, quickly told them the story of my find, and now was going to take me to return the ring to them.

To make a long story short:  the original owner of the ring had passed away almost twenty years before and the ring had been given to his daughter.  She had worn it on a chain around her neck until four years ago when it was lost during a softball game.  The look on her face when I placed the ring in her hand and the tears of joy that welled in her eyes when she said "thank you" are memories I will treasure...far more than a ring I couldn't honestly claim as my own.