She thought her ring was lost forever. Then I remodeled my kitchen.
By Mary Beth Eastman
Originally published Oct 16, 2016 at timesonline.com
Birds chittered in the trees overhanging Sue Bechdel’s front porch in Beaver. Sue herself was silent; though the world kept spinning, time seemed to hold still for her as she reached out her hand to take her mother’s old wedding ring.
It had been lost for 50 years. Now it was back.
I met Sue in 2008 when I bought her house. It was the home she lived in as a girl. I had just moved with my family to western Pennsylvania from Baltimore, Md., where my husband had been a teacher. My kids, just 1 and 3 at the time, ran around underfoot at the closing in a little office in Brighton Township. Everything went swimmingly; all 300 pounds of forms were signed without incident. As we finished the transaction, Sue cleared her throat. She said, I know you’re going to remodel that kitchen. When you do -- not if, but when -- please, please be on the lookout for my mother’s wedding ring. It would mean a great deal to me if you found it.
I promised Sue that we would.
Flash forward eight years: eight years of sticky handprints, dog fur, chipped and peeling paint. We had added to the brood with a daughter in 2010. By 2016, that kitchen remodel could be put off no longer. The cabinets had been installed in 1960 -- a year before President Barack Obama was born. The kitchen was a Mad Men-era dream of honey oak and Formica. The oven was a brand called Modern Maid. It was long past time to upgrade.
We started with the roof, and then the siding. Scaffolding embraced the house like a birdcage. Soon we had filled a Dumpster with detritus and debris, and then a second Dumpster after that. At last we demolished the old kitchen. The oven, which was beyond repair, was consigned to the scrapyard.
One night I returned home from work, donned my customary dust mask and entered the dusty pit that was once our kitchen. My husband, heaving like Darth Vader through a respirator, held something out to me, glinting amid the dust motes swirling in the light of the work lamp. It was the ring.
The ring was beyond beautiful. It was tiny, delicate, sprinkled with diamonds. Standing there, I was struck by its simplicity, and wondered about the woman who had herself stood in that spot by the sink in 1965. But first, it was time to track down Sue.
Since this was 2016, I immediately took to Facebook, putting out an APB among my friends and acquaintances. It didn’t take long; in no time we had found her via her son and daughter-in-law: They were at the beach, on vacation.
“My daughter-in-law said, ‘Mom! Mom! They’re looking for you, they’ve found grandma’s ring!’” Sue said later. “I was flabbergasted. Just flabbergasted. I pretty much lost it.” At the beach, surrounded by her family, she recounted the story of the ring for everyone there who hadn’t heard it.
When I met with Sue the following week, she explained how the ring came to be lost for so long. It was about 1965. Sue was a teenager. Her mother, Ada Wyncoop, had a habit of removing her rings when she washed her hands.
“So she was there at the sink, which you know well, and she took off her rings, and this one hit the counter and boom,” Sue said. It bounced up and slipped through the tiny space between the wall and the backsplash, irretrievable.
“She was sick about it. I remember thinking ‘How awful, you’ve lost your wedding ring. It’s gone.’ And she was devastated.”
Sue’s dad was not willing to open up the wall to retrieve the ring.
“For some reason, he was reluctant to do that,” Sue said. “Mom didn’t pressure him. He ended up buying her this cheapie little ring, and she wore it, happily. And she never said a lot more about it. I’m sure she thought about it all the time. I thought about it all the time.”
Sue’s father, Harry Wyncoop, died in 2005.
“Not long before he had his accident and passed away, he said, ‘Don’t forget about Mom’s ring.’”
The ring hadn’t been mentioned by the family in ages, so Sue was surprised he brought it up then. But in the emotion and tumult after his death, as Sue and her husband, Jack, were preparing the Wyncoop house for sale, they didn’t even think about opening that wall. It was only at the closing that she mentioned it at all.
“I remember sitting there (at the closing) and thinking, ’I’m gonna say this, maybe I shouldn’t, but I’m gonna say this,” Sue said. That’s when she asked me to watch for the ring.
Sue, who now lives just around the corner from her old family home, said she passed our house occasionally over the summer and could see that we had finally begun the exterior renovations.
“Oh, they probably put the kitchen off again,” she said she thought to herself. “I’m not sure how, but they’ve probably put it off again.
“When I hadn’t heard from you and didn’t think anything was happening, I thought, well, you know, it’s over and done, I’m not going to think about it anymore.”
But just weeks after she put it out of her mind for good, I called her up with the good news.
“I was so, so excited about getting home (from the beach), and actually getting to put these two back together,” she said, holding the wedding ring next to her mother’s engagement ring, which she wears on her right hand.
“When my parents were married, it was back in 1943, the war was going on. My Dad was older, so he didn’t go overseas; he stayed down in Newport News, Va. He came home one weekend to get married. They went to Indiana, Pa., because my mom’s oldest brother and his wife lived there and he owned a jewelry store. That’s the only reason I can figure he (could have bought the ring) - because I can’t imagine he could have afforded anything as nice as this.”
When she was reunited with the ring that afternoon in August, Sue said she was definitely going to get the ring resized, now that it had been found.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but then I thought, ‘I am going to wear it,’” she said. She wanted to have it with her all the time, a reminder of her mother.
Sometimes what’s lost can be found. It just takes a little time -- and about 50 years’ worth of patience.