Jody Trammell was rummaging through her late son's dresser when she saw the Largo High School class ring in the top drawer. The blue emerald ring didn't belong to her or anyone else in her family, but it had been part of her life for more than three decades. It was there through a house burglary and a fire, through cancer and an abusive marriage, through divorces and 11 state-to-state moves. And it was there when she buried her mother, father, brother and son in an 18-month span.
It was her son and daughter who found the sparkling piece of jewelry while playing in a shallow part of Avon Park's Trout Lake. She promised them she would find the ring's owner.
That was 35 years ago.
So when the ring resurfaced a few months back, she sat it next to her home computer in Gatlinburg, Tenn., to remind herself to honor the promise she made to them.
On Aug. 4, she went to her office and sat. When she turned on the computer, she said she heard her late son's voice as loud and as plain as if he were standing there:
"Mom, take care of that ring."
As if she was responding to a live human being, she shouted back, "Okay!"
• • •
Barbara Jan Ballew Jenkins was a first-year student at St. Petersburg Junior College in 1975 when her mother broke the news.
"We had a little incident," her mother, also named Barbara Ballew, began.
That spring, Jenkins' little sister went with her church teen group to Avon Park. Jenkins let her wear her class ring. It was too big for her, but she wanted to show off her big sister's jewelry to her friends.
"In a way, it was a compliment to me because she was emulating me," Jenkins said. "She wanted everything that I had."
One day, when the 16-year-old was swimming near a dock, the ring slipped off of her finger.
"Your sister lost the ring," their mother told Jenkins.
The ring held so many memories: trips to the beach, high school years, endings, new starts.
"I thought it was gone forever," said Jenkins, who lives near Palm Harbor in Crystal Beach. "I was fairly positive I would never see it."
• • •
Her Internet browser up, Trammell started typing:
L-A-R-G-O H-I-G-H S-C-H-O-O-L
She saw that the class of 1970 reunion was scheduled for Aug. 20-22. She sent an e-mail to reunion committee member Pam Beynon:
Back in the '70s, I was the manager of a retreat and conference center in Avon Park. One day when down at the lake, my 18-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter found a ring in the water, under the sand. They were so fascinated with the blue sparkling stone, and wanted to keep it, but I told them we would find the owner and send it to them. I put the ring away for safe keeping, never to be seen again. After 11 moves, across many states, and a house fire, where I lost 95% of everything, the ring has resurfaced in a small box.
The ring is a girl's ring, class of '73, approximately size 7, with the engraved initials BJB. The ring itself is in excellent condition. It appears to have been worn for a while — maybe one to two years.
Please let me know if you can help, or point me in the right direction. I would love to get this ring back to its owner and close this circle!
Beynon asked a group of friends to do some detective work. They scoured Classmates.com and Facebook. They got their hands on Largo High's 1972 yearbook.
"I perused the class list of juniors and you were the only female with first and last initials BB," Karen Baumbach, Beynon's classmate, wrote in an e-mail to Jenkins.
Baumbach searched other online databases and found a number that belonged to Jenkins' mother. She left a rambling voicemail.
When Trammell checked her e-mail inbox that evening, she had a message from Jenkins:
It's a long story how your e-mail reached me, but I believe I'm the owner of the class ring you found.
Trammell told her late son the news. He died in a car accident in 2003 at age 28.
"I just said out loud, 'Paul, we did it.' "
• • •
The ring arrived via Federal Express on Aug. 11.
Jenkins ripped open the package and slid the ring on her finger. She hasn't taken it off since. She called her mom, her husband and her sister.
Susie Topping never bought her own class ring because she felt guilty about losing the one that belonged to her big sister.
Now that the ring has been found, "It's relieved my sister's guilt," Jenkins said. "And it's made me feel better about loaning things to" her.
Topping and Jenkins plan to visit Trammell in October.
"Now," Jenkins said, "I have what I consider a very good new friend."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.