Chances of finding cherished ring? ‘One in a billion’

Susan Christian Goulding
Orange County Register

Seal Beach, Calif. — – Something was missing from her life.

Dee Gardner, 78, glanced down at her left hand and spotted the glaring absence of her ring — an heirloom steeped in family history and warm memories.

“I felt like my heart had been ripped out,” she said.

Gardner had spent the first day of December running errands all over the place — a doctor’s appointment in Long Beach, California, a post office and CVS in Seal Beach, California, a church dinner in Los Alamitos, California, and, finally, a Ross Dress for Less in Westminster, California..

At some point along the way, her beloved ring — 11 raised diamonds on a hammered gold band — slipped off.

She didn’t notice until 11 that night, when she sat down in her Leisure World condo to munch a bowl of popcorn.

“I called security and they helped me search my car,” Gardner said. “I pulled the drain out of my shower. I didn’t sleep all night.”

The next day, she retraced her steps. Ross and CVS checked security videos to no avail. Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church employees scoured the grounds and emptied the vacuum bag — again, coming up empty.

Gardner placed an ad in the Orange County Register and, in desperation, called dozens of pawn shops.

“She was heartbroken,” said Lori Kendall, Gardner’s niece-in-law. “Yes, it’s just a piece of jewelry. But it has so much sentimental value.”

Its original stone once graced an engagement ring Gardner received from a high school boyfriend in 1956. That wedding never happened, and a few years later she received another ring from the man she would marry. So she gave the first ring to her mother — whose frugal husband had always pooh-poohed jewelry.

“My dad pounced out his chair, took the ring from me, kissed her and put it on her finger,” Gardner recalled with a laugh. “I’d never seen him act so romantic.”

Her mother wore the ring until her death in 1971. By then divorced, Gardner had the diamond reset with an array of others for a modern look.

For the next 45 years, the ring would be Gardner’s most cherished possession. But now, after searching for weeks, she began to face reality.

On Feb. 13, the day before her Valentine’s birthday, Gardner decided to gift herself a new ring — and was about to head to Norwalk, California, to look for something affordable in pawn shops.

Her friend and neighbor, Paul Ballard, asked her why she was going so far. He suggested a pawn shop on Westminster Boulevard near the mall. So Gardner took a right turn out of Leisure World instead of a left.

She brought along a photo of the missing ring to show the owner the style she hoped to find.

“He turned pale, reached in a case and pulled out my ring,” Gardner said. “It was like a dream. I was crying and he was handing me Kleenex. We were hugging.”

Gardner paid him $170 — refunding the amount he’d invested. Afterward, she invited Ballard to a celebratory lunch — and picked up the tab to thank him for inadvertently steering her in the right direction.

Although she had filed a police report, Gardner dropped the matter.

“I lost it and someone found it,” she said. “There was no crime.”

Kendall was skeptical when Gardner called with the good news.

“I thought it was wishful thinking and she didn’t really have the right ring,” she said. “It was too good to be true.”

Gardner understands her disbelief.

“What are the chances?” she said. “One in a billion.”