Tim Woodward

Buried treasure: Lost for 5 years, wedding ring is back on ‘shocked’ Boise woman’s finger

People rarely have anything good to say about road work, which has reached epidemic proportions in Boise this summer. Roads are torn up everywhere, with the usual consequences – the delays, the noise, the mess …

It’s especially frustrating when it’s on your street. You have to live with the mess, you can’t leave your car parked on the street, you can’t wait till it’s over.

Once in a great while, however, the work results in a pleasant surprise.

That’s what happened with Alicia Lee.

Lee, her husband and their two children live on N. 14th Street, which temporarily resembled a minefield this spring.

“They said they were reducing the slope of the grade on the street, so they ripped it up and repaved it,” she said.

In the evenings, when the road crew had finished for the day, a different group of men came to do their thing. Watching them work, Lee had an idea.

Backtrack five years now, to the summer of 2013. Her children were small then. Ruby was 3; Jack was 5. She was putting sunscreen on them for an afternoon at a water park when she realized something was missing.

Her wedding ring.

“I thought I’d taken it off and set it on the kitchen counter so I wouldn’t get sunscreen on it,” she said.

Only it wasn’t there.

“I looked, but I couldn’t find it. I had other things to do so it was awhile before I looked again. I thought maybe I’d moved it somewhere to keep it safe. I looked in pockets, purses, in drawers, under couch cushions … You start looking everywhere, even though you know there’s no possible chance it could be there,” she said.

Not necessarily. I once found my shoes in the refrigerator.

But that’s another story.

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Two strangers, searching Alicia Lee’s torn-up North End street with metal detectors, were able to find her long-lost wedding ring. It was buried six inches down, about where her daughter said it was. Photo provided by Alicia Lee

‘Sick feeling’

Losing a wedding ring isn’t something you get over. It wasn’t an inexpensive ring, either. Lee’s husband, Darin, paid $1,500 for it in the late 1990s, when he was just out of college and working as a medical lab assistant.

“It was a lot of money for him then,” she said.

When the ring didn’t turn up in the house, she remembered that Ruby had been playing in the yard with a plastic shovel and bucket at about the time it disappeared.

“I got this sick feeling thinking she might have taken it outside,” Alicia said. “The neighbor’s son had been mowing out there and I was afraid he might have mowed it up.

“I asked Ruby, ‘Honey, have you seen mommy’s sparkly ring?’ She said, ‘Yeah! I buried it!’”

Not the answer mommy was hoping for. Ruby went on to say she’d buried it in a neighbor’s yard, near a sprinkler box.

The search escalated.

“We got a metal detector and looked with that. I’d lie awake nights wondering where the ring could be and would get up and go out looking for it,” Alicia said. “I couldn’t stop looking for a couple of years. I’d look with headlamps and flashlights. I’d get on my hands and knees and comb through the neighbors’ grass. I found little scraps of metal, I found a lot of dew and slugs, but no ring.

“It hurt my heart thinking it might still be out there somewhere. Finally I decided it must have gotten into the neighbors’ mower bag and was somewhere far away and I was never going to see it again.”

She’d been married 15 years when the ring was lost. It felt strange to her not to be wearing it, so she bought a set of toy wedding rings. After the real ring had been missing for about two years, Darin bought her a replacement, identical to the first but with a slightly larger stone.

Fast-forward to the present, and the street was being torn up.

“It was the first time the pavement had been uncovered in years, and these guys would come in the evening with metal detectors,” Alicia said. “They showed me some old coins they’d found and I said, ‘Hey, maybe you guys could find the ring my daughter lost.’”

Not that she had much hope. It had been five years, after all. She’d searched every inch of ground within shouting distance of where Ruby said she buried the ring. She’d even dug up the flower beds.

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Two strangers, searching Alicia Lee’s torn-up North End street with metal detectors, were able to find her long-lost wedding ring. It was buried six inches down, about where her daughter said it was. Photo provided by Alicia Lee

‘I started screaming’

None of which deterred Dennis Kuga.

Kuga is a member of the Idaho Diggers, whose hobby is searching with metal detectors for buried items. He was one of the guys working 14th Street after the road crew left.

“He put on headphones and started looking,” Lee said. “He had a really good metal detector and some kind of wand thingy that he pointed at the ground. Then he whipped a little spade out of his pocket and dug up a piece of the neighbors’ yard.”

A big piece.

“I didn’t think it could be that far down. I thought it might be a bottle cap or a sprinkler head, but 6 inches down here’s this sparkly thing,” Alicia said. “He said, ‘Hold on,’ and pulled out this dirty ring.”

The ring.

Her reaction?

“I started screaming. Then I went numb. I lost circulation all over my body,” she said. “You lose a sock or an earring, that’s one thing – but your wedding ring that’s been missing for five years? It was like a miracle!”

Ruby’s reaction?

“I couldn’t believe it. How could I have buried it that far down with a plastic shovel when I was 3 years old?” the girl said.

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“I’m glad it has a happy ending,” says Ruby Lee, right, who as a three-year-old buried her mother’s wedding ring and lost it. Five years later, two guys with a metal detector found it - right where Ruby said it was. Her mother, Alicia Lee, now wears two rings: the original and the replacement. Katherine Jones

Alicia said it took Kuga all of a minute, maybe a minute and a half, to find the ring she’d spent years searching for on her hands and knees.

It wasn’t the first ring he’d found, but it was the most valuable.

“I got cold chills,” Kuga said. “This is what I live for - making people’s days.”

Which of her two wedding rings is Lee wearing now?

“Both of them!” she said, laughing. “On the same finger. I can’t let go of this. I’m still in shock.”

The moral of the story?

If you can’t find a lost item yourself, maybe a professional can.

And …

“Sometimes you find something even after years and years. Never give up hope,” Alicia said.

Tim Woodward’s column runs monthly and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following day. Know someone with an interesting story for him? Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.