By Nancy B. Kennedy
Favorite pews aren’t just for churches. I have a favorite pew in my hometown of Hopewell at an outdoor sanctuary called the Quarry—a lush, green oasis where, summer after summer, I set up my beach chair on a hillside overlooking the swimming hole.
The Hopewell Quarry Swim Club
There, I swim laps in the cool, spring-fed water or float aimlessly in an inner tube, lulled into a trance by the sun. I lift my face to the blue sky and listen to the croaking of bullfrogs, the chatter of lifeguards, and the mighty splash of the brave souls who jump from the high dive. A heron might glide over my head or a dragonfly land on my toes. The aroma of grilling hamburgers wafts over the water.
A lifeguard paddles by on a rescue board, guiding a child through the swim test. We all hold our breath, willing the young swimmer to pass the test, to scamper to the front desk for the coveted wrist band, to conquer this enduring rite of passage.
And so it has been at the Quarry Swim Club, year after idyllic year, this summertime haven that time and progress seem to have ignored. Look around. It might be 2017 or it might be 1928, the year the swim club opened. It’s hard to tell.
This year, though, the past and the present collided in a spectacular fashion for me.
An Amazing Discovery
On an early day in June, I arrived with my armload of Quarry paraphernalia. Setting up in my usual spot, I bent down to pick up shards of glass that the winter frost had heaved up. It’s the first thing I do every year, kick off my flip-flops and make my pew safe for bare feet. I flung a few jagged pieces into the bushes, but then spotted a small glint of gold in the ground.
Picking up a sharp stone, I dug all around the gold bit and tried to pull it out, but it wouldn’t budge. Digging down farther, I uncovered a clear, red stone. I had found a class ring—and a tree root was growing through it!
I yanked at the root until it broke and slid the ring off. It was dirt encrusted, so I took it over to the edge of the Quarry to wash it off. A circle of swimmers gathered round as I swirled my find in the water. Once clean, I could see that it was from St. Hubert’s Catholic High School for Girls. Inside the band were inscribed the initials JPW. Class of 1949!
At the bottom of the 55-foot-deep Quarry lie possessions that will never be recovered—my husband’s watch, for one. And, over the years, I’ve picked up pens, barrettes and coins that children have dropped on their way to get an ice cream. But this time I’d found something of real value.
The St. Hubert's ring in the ground
I set out to find the ring’s owner. I imagined a young woman enjoying a day out with her friends or her family. She’d had a wonderful day—some swimming, a picnic maybe, lots of laughter—but packing up her things, she realizes the ring is gone. A frantic search ensues, but there’s a lot of ground to cover, and finally, she’s forced to go home empty handed.
My hunt for JPW began with St. Hubert’s, a Philadelphia school still in operation. But yearbooks from that era are scarce. And we women can be tricky to trace, what with our mélange of maiden and married names.
The ring sat on my desk for two months, tucked inside a little treasure box. Day after day, I took it out and wondered about the owner. She had small hands, this JPW, because the ring fit only my pinkie finger. But my research was turning up nothing.
I Take It to Facebook
Finally, deciding I needed help, I took to the internet. I posted a photo of the ring and some details on Facebook, and asked people to share it. I omitted the initials, wanting to make sure only the owner came forward.
The post pinged around the internet. Hundreds, and then thousands, of re-posts. Comments poured in: “Shared, Class of ’69.” “Shared in Mayfair, Philly.” “Are the initials ECF?” “Are the initials JPD?” Oh! So close.
On the second day, after almost 9,000 shares, the comment I was looking for popped up. “Are the initials JPW?” asked Andrea Forrester. Immediately, I sent a private message and then, hands shaking, placed a phone call.
After checking a 1949 yearbook that Andrea’s daughter had squirreled away, we confirmed the ring belonged to Andrea’s mother, Julia Patricia Walsh. It was no wonder we couldn’t locate her among the alumnae and donor lists, census data and school records. No one ever called Andrea’s mother Julia. She was Patsy, Andrea said, and after she married, Patsy Cariola.
Andrea thinks the ring was lost on a family visit to the Quarry in the early 1970s. She’ll never know for sure—sadly, Patsy Cariola died of a brain tumor in her mid 50s. “We were best friends,” Andrea says. “I miss her every day.”
Andrea Forrester and me at the ring reunion
So, on August 6, at a restaurant midway between our homes, we arranged a reunion. Andrea was accompanied by 10 family members, while I came with my husband, a TV crew and a St. Hubert’s representative. There, I placed the ring in Andrea’s hands, and tears came to her eyes as she slipped it on her finger—almost 70 years after her mother had first worn it.
My store of Quarry memories grows larger with each passing year. The day our son, Evan, passed the swim test and jumped from the high dive, his tiny 6-year-old body surfacing in front of me, water dripping from his triumphant grin. The time I had the Quarry to myself as a rainstorm blew in and thousands of fat drops splashed all around me. The days now when I look over at the snack bar and realize that the college kid working there is my own grown son.
But this year, when the closing whistle blows on Labor Day, I’ll be thinking not of my family, but of Andrea and her family. I’ll take one last look around my pew and then walk away, trusting that if I’ve left anything behind, some curious soul in the distant future will come looking for me.
Nancy B. Kennedy is a journalist and the author of seven books. When she’s not digging up rings, she’s helping women find matches for their single earrings at her Facebook page, My Lost Earring.
© Copyright 2017 The Hopewell Express. Published August 28, 2017.
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