Finding a diamond in the rough (beach sand)

Jul 21, 2010

On Saturday, July 10, Taunton resident Tracey Cole, along with her fiancé Mark DeLorme and her mother, made an impromptu stop in Onset to visit the beach while passing though town.

Cole has visited Onset for years and wanted to make a quick detour to spend some time in the sun before returning home to Taunton for the day. "I was begging them like a kid" to stop, she said.

So the three stopped, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and headed back to Taunton in the late afternoon.

But Cole and DeLorme, whose wedding is scheduled for September 10, 2011 (9/10/11), quickly noticed something was amiss.

"We got all the way home ... and went to unlock the kitchen door, and Mark said, 'Where's the ring?'" Cole recalled. Her engagement ring was not on her finger.

Cole remembered placing the ring in the pocket of her shorts while helping DeLorme put on sunscreen when they first got to the beach. After she realized she wasn't wearing the ring, she went to retrieve it from her pocket, but it wasn't there, she said.

"My immediate reaction was, I need to get back to the beach because if somebody finds it, I'm never going to see the ring again," Cole said.

They returned to Onset at about 6 p.m. and started searching. It was quite a scene, Cole said.

"How do you look inconspicuous about trying to find a ring on the beach?" Cole asked. "[Neighbors] started coming to the beach. It was like out of a movie. They all started coming out of their cottages" and helping to look.

One neighbor even grabbed a metal detector from her basement -- and used it for the first time to help with the search. "This is what these people did on their Saturday night," Cole said, adding that she was thankful for the dedication and help of the neighbors.

But night fell, the ring was still nowhere to be found, and the team called off the search around 9 p.m. They vowed to return Sunday morning.

"You could tell it was just a major, major emotional loss for [Cole]," said Onset resident Dick Wheeler, who lives by the beach and watched the scene unfold.

Cole said she felt especially bad for her fiancé. "[He] had worked really hard. He'd had it designed. It's not like I could have just gone to Zales to find another one. It was a one-of-a-kind, very beautiful ring, and he was proud of it," she said. "I think he was just more disappointed that we don't have a lot of nice things, and the first nice thing that he worked so hard to give me was gone."

The following morning, Wheeler flagged down Municipal Maintenance employee James Maxim, who was cleaning the sand with beach-grooming equipment.

"I asked him if he could leave that space open," Wheeler said, referring to the area where Cole sat with her family and likely dropped the ring. "It was his good thinking that turned the whole thing."

Cole and DeLorme returned to the beach at 6 a.m., and were met by the team of neighbors and Municipal Maintenance workers who supported the efforts to find the ring.

"It kind of gives you this reassurance that there are good people in the world," Cole said. "It was totally our problem and not theirs. They were just totally dedicated to the cause."

Maxim groomed the beach and dropped off debris for the searchers to sift through.

"It took us like two hours. We looked through [a] pile of trash and it wasn't in there," Cole said. "The smell was atrocious."

Municipal Maintenance workers tried to make Cole feel better about the situation. "These guys were just unbelievable, super-nice, sensitive, kind, guys," Cole said.

Maxim then spent 15 to 20 minutes grooming the small section of the beach where Cole believed she had lost the ring. He dropped off a 5-gallon bucket full of sand.

"I said, you never know," Maxim recalled telling Cole. "Just keep plugging."

So the team kept at it, and sure enough, found the ring, unscathed, in the sand that Maxim had set aside.

"Not a scratch. Not a dent," Cole said. "I think [the ring] looks more beautiful now than it did when I first got it."

It was a lucky day, Maxim said. "It was a needle in a haystack, I called it," he said. "To find that little bitty ring like that in that big ol' beach is pretty amazing."

Cole attributes the find to everyone who helped out. "The ring got found thanks to all the municipal workers and neighbors of Onset Village," she said, adding that she probably would have given up if not for the support she received from everyone.

"What a great, close-knit community that is. You don't find that anymore," Cole said. "I will be going there every summer for the rest of my life."