In a collection bucket, the mystery of the ring

February 14, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Nickels, dimes and quarters plunked and pooled onto the plush living room rug as volunteers spilled out the bounty they had collected at last December's Mayor's Christmas Parade in Hampden.

As they began running their hands through the pile of coins, sifting through what would add up to nearly $2,000 in small change, an oddity in the slew of silver and copper caught parade chairman Tom Kerr's eye: a gold wedding band.

"Hey, a ring!" he called out, and then, almost by reflex, glanced down at his hand, where he has worn his own band of gold for 37 years - though not as regularly as his wife, Sharen, would like - to make sure it was still there.

It wasn't his; neither did it belong to any of the eight volunteers who walked the parade route Dec. 5, collecting donations to support the event.

That meant that someone in the crowd of thousands dropped the ring into one of the buckets as the collectors meandered along with the parade's floats and bands, down Falls Road, across The Avenue and into the parking lot of the Rotunda shopping center.

It could have been anyone.

Kerr, his wife and their friends have exercised more than a little imagination since then, speculating on how the ring got into the bucket. An accidental slip from a finger? Someone's creative idea for a donation? And perhaps the saddest scenario: a gesture of disgust to punctuate the end of an unhappy marriage?

Though he scoffs at the mere mention of sentimentality, and his wife flat-out laughs at the notion of her husband as a romantic, Kerr, for the past two months, has held out hope of reuniting the band with its owner.

Maybe it's because the featherweight scuffed 10-karat ring reminds him of his own first wedding band, back before he and his wife could afford better. Or maybe he just doesn't want to believe that a marriage could be so joyless that someone would simply toss the symbol of it into a bucket. Maybe he's just trying to do the right thing.

Whatever Kerr's reasons, from December until today, Valentine's Day, the ring has sat atop the little TV in his kitchen, just in case.

A lifelong Medfield resident, Kerr, 61, has never strayed more than a few blocks from the house he grew up in. His wife was raised a short walk away on Elm Avenue in Hampden, though they did not meet until he was 22.

One of Kerr's good friends lived on that street, and on a summer day in 1965 they were shooting the breeze outside when a girl from two doors up walked by with her dog. Kerr's friend introduced them; they shared a quick moment of conversation, then, as Kerr walked away, he told his friend, "I'm going to marry that girl."

Sharen, who was 15, says she thought differently - if she thought about him at all after that first encounter. Yet almost 40 years later, she remembers what she was wearing that day: a white blouse and a yellow linen skirt.

After a first date, sparked because Sharen needed a ride to a dance and Tom was the only boy she knew with a car, and then a year's worth of more nobly inspired dates, Tom turned to Sharen with a question.

"I said, `You want to get married?'" he says. "She said, `Yeah.'"

That proposal came in December 1966. The diamond solitaire to back it up didn't arrive until the following March, and the two exchanged wedding bands that October.

Ever since, those rings have scarcely left the couple's fingers.

Tom, who in the early years of their marriage worked in his father's plumbing business, removed his during tricky jobs, fearful it would snag on a pipe.

Though Sharen teased Tom about the flecks of carbon that spotted the engagement ring's diamond, she was devastated when the ring disappeared years ago. Though it has been replaced, she still wishes she had the original, imperfections and all. "It's the one you picked out," she told Tom when he suggested returning the flawed ring to the store to exchange it for another one. "It's the one I want."

Two months ago, after finding the ring in the bucket, Kerr placed a note in his community's Historic Hampden Happenings newsletter. "Missing a ring?" it began and ended with his phone number. He sat back and waited, half-expecting a call right way.

He got one. He got many, actually. Just not anything like he was hoping for.

People from all over the neighborhood, the city and as far away as Glen Burnie, called to claim the ring. When he asked the callers to describe it, they talked about it being silver or platinum, or about its diamond setting. When he asked them to tell him how it was inscribed, they offered up initials and dates.

"All these people were doing is trying to get a ring for free," he said. "It's someone's wedding ring. Geez."

It's become something of a Kerr family parlor game, guessing how the ring ended up in the bucket.

It's kind of romantic, thinking it slid from a chilled finger into the bucket as someone made a contribution - and ever since, the owner has been sad and searching. But since it was 58 degrees that day, not even glove weather, Tom knows that's highly unlikely.

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