On Thursday, Aug. 22, Dr. Terry Aitken was swimming for his 13th time this season at the St. Marys Quarry. But his unluckiest day of the summer of 2013 certainly wasn’t last week.
Instead, his unluckiest day was July 17. That’s the day when, after swimming some lengths with his friend Henry deYoung of St. Marys, followed by a couple rounds of Scrabble (both men, in their retirements, have taken their love of the word-based board game to new competitive heights, participating in tournaments across North America) at deYoung’s house, Aitken arrived home in Stratford and discovered his wedding ring had vanished.
Aitken and his wife Valerie were married on Dec. 31, 1976 in Belleville, days after he stepped off the plane from his native home of England. Aside from a few times when the ring slipped off his finger while he was washing his hands, he had been wearing the ring she purchased for him ever since.
“It comes off with a twist, but it doesn’t come off easily.”
Aitken immediately called his friend. “Henry searched through his plumbing, hoping to find it in the drain of one of his sinks,” he recalled.
But when that yielded nothing, both men figured the ring was lost — most likely in the popular swimming hole. “I figured it was under a foot of silt at the bottom of the Quarry,” deYoung confessed last week.
Aitken wasn’t so quick to give up hope. He heard about a Stratford scuba diving enthusiast who is planning to explore the depths of the Quarry after it closes for the season Sept. 2. She said she and a partner diver would keep an eye for the ring — although he could tell she didn’t expect to find it.
Aitken didn’t hold a grudge against the Quarry, however. He kept coming back, swimming lengths along the buoy line on the northern boundary of the swimming area. He was doing exactly that on Tuesday, Aug. 20 when, as he reached the western rock wall and turned to begin another length, “I caught a fleeting glance of this yellow object.” Coming to a stop, he looked closely and saw that the object was suspended on a rock ledge about 2 1/2 feet below the surface of the water.
“The water seemed to be particularly clear that day,” he said, adding that ever since he lost the ring, he had kept his eyes open underwater on the very slim chance that he would see something.
The odds of his seeing something might not be too miniscule. After all, any lifeguard who has done more than a few weeks’ service at the Quarry will confirm the occasional incidence of car keys dropping out of bathers’ swimming trunks. And, although fishing is only permitted in the “Old Quarry” on the opposite side of Water Street, some anglers seeking more of a thrill have been known to try their luck in the Swimming Quarry, outside of regular swimming hours. So fishing lures might also lurk below the waves.
Plus, as Aitken notes, the cool Quarry waters tend to cause slight contractions in the diameter of human fingers. His wasn’t the first wedding ring, he has been told, to find a watery grave in the St. Marys Quarry.
So when he reached for the yellow object, “I figured if it was a ring, it surely wasn’t going to be my ring.”
Well, miracle of miracles, it WAS Aitken’s ring!
DeYoung was the first to find out. “I thanked the Lord on the spot,” Aitken said. And then he yelled at the top of his voice, to his friend on the shore. “Henry! I found my ring! I found my ring!”
Meeting with the Journal Argus last week at the Quarry, Aitken gave “a bit of a twist” to remove his nearly 40-year-old ring, and held it up for examination. It had developed a slight film during its weeks underwater, but has since been restored to its former sheen.
And it has also been appraised by a Stratford jeweller — something Aitken advises everyone to do, so they can include their wedding rings in their insurance policies.
Does he had any other advice regarding swimming and wedding rings? Would Terry Aitken ever wear it again while doing lengths at the Quarry?
“Absolutely not!” he laughed.