tampabay.com

From bittersweet past comes a present

By BARBARA SARTOR
Published February 12, 2006


Lou and I were ready to lock the doors and set out on a trip to Mexico. The Volkswagen camper was packed to overflowing. We had stopped the mail and the papers, alerted the neighbors and hired a lawn man. "Let's take one last look," Lou said.

We roamed the house looking for left-on burners, lights, locked doors. Then I noticed he had a coat in his hands, holding it up as if ready to take it with us.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "Surely we don't need coats in Mexico in the summer."

"This," he said, holding up the coat and showing me the inside pocket, "is the ideal place to hide valuables."

He had stuffed the pockets with important papers, jewelry, anything really special to him. Good idea, I thought. I walked into our bedroom and considered. Did I even have any valuables? I looked into my jewel box and there they were - my matching diamond engagement and wedding rings - gifts from my ex-husband on our 25th wedding anniversary. They were beautiful rings, but they brought back too many memories of a marriage gone wrong - and so I had put them away. I now wore a wide gold band on my ring finger, and that suited me better. Still, the rings were valuable, and I felt special that at least I had something worth protecting.

I went to my closet. Considered several jackets. Found my raincoat - aha! Outside and inside pockets! I put the rings in a small plastic bag, folded it neatly and wedged it carefully in the inside pocket. I patted it flat and rehung the coat inconspicuously between two jackets. No one would ever guess. I closed the closet door, taking one last look, and we left it all behind.

We traveled north in Florida and then west and south to Mexico. We swam in the Pacific Ocean, bathed in natural hot springs in the mountains, ate tacos and flan, and camped out and cooked steak in Texas on the way back. Home once more, we unpacked and joined the hectic world of our jobs, our routines.

It was months later that I thought of the rings. I went to the closet to recover them from the raincoat. But the raincoat wasn't there. The jackets were there, both of them. I went to the other closets to see if I had maybe moved the coat. Not there. Could someone have come into the house and selectively chosen that particular raincoat out of all the other coats and jackets? Could they have been spying on me that day I hid the rings _ perhaps peeking through the window, planning for the dark day they would break in and steal it? My mind went wild with scenarios; crazy ideas bumped together.

There were no signs of a break-in. Nothing else was gone - not the silver, not the china, not the other jewelry. Finally, I calmed down. I sat. I pondered. Back, back in my memory. Somewhere in my head had to be the answer. What - what could have happened? Did I move the raincoat? Did I take it to the cleaners? Did I give it away? Give it away!

A flash, like a light bulb above a cartoon character, appeared. Yes! I had given it away. It all came back in a rush. Where was my head when, just a couple of days ago, I had given the coat away? AMVETS, a charitable organization, had asked for donations. I had nearly forgotten the date they were to pick up, and I remembered rushing around, finding a box, scouring the dresser, the pantry, the garage, to fill it.

Then I remembered going through the closet. A raincoat in Florida is pretty useless; when it rains, it's usually hot. So the raincoat went into the box. No thought of the hidden rings. No thought, period. Just get that box out there before they came. AMVETS picked it up right on time. They left a note of thanks with their address and telephone number in case I needed it. I needed it. I called.

"Lady, I'm sorry, but we have racks and racks of clothes here, and boxes and boxes in the back. I'm the only one here in front."

Lou and I dropped everything and made the trip to Tampa, found the huge Wal-Mart-like store and went in. I knew at once it was pointless. The cavernous space was filled, as the lady said, with racks and racks of clothes. I gazed at this sea of rippling hangers, made a few half-hearted attempts to spot a lonely tan raincoat and gave up. Defeated, I felt stupid, empty and helpless.

As we drove back, I replayed the years gone by - the hopes of a teenage bride, the beauty of a gift of diamonds. I could have spent days going through all the racks on the floor and the boxes in the back, but what for? Really, what was the point? Those rings had stayed in a box in the drawer for 10 or more years. They had sat there, a bittersweet reminder of a dream that didn't happen - a life left behind. Wasn't it time to cut the final strand of that cord?

I let it go. It was like cleaning a blackboard, but with a wet eraser this time. I only hope whoever found the rings - and I sincerely hope someone found them - needed them and perhaps cherished them. I like to imagine some beautiful young woman walking down the aisle, her handsome new husband beside her. Her wedding dress gently sweeps the floor as they gaze adoringly at each other and then smile knowingly as they glance at the beautiful diamond rings on her perfectly manicured finger.

Barbara Sartor is a writer in Dunedin.