After washing her hands at the bathroom sink one day in 2010, Mary Strand went to flush the toilet and accidentally knocked her gold diamond ring into the bowl. She plunged her hands in, a desperate scramble to snatch it from the whirlpool. It eluded her grasp as she watched the ring circle the bowl, get sucked down and disappear.
Strand called her husband, David, who runs the family's sewer and drain cleaning business. When he got to their home in Rogers, Minn., he took the toilet outside to shake the ring loose. No luck. He then snaked his sewer camera 200 feet down the drain. That didn't work, either. Finally, the Strands contacted municipal workers to have them check the city's pipes.
When none of those efforts panned out, Strand gave up any hope of finding the ring that her husband had recently given her as a present for their 33rd wedding anniversary - a wide, gold band studded with a large, marquise diamond in the center and accented with 12 smaller diamonds and 16 "itty bitty" ones. Little did she know, it was but the start of an odyssey that would last 13 years before the ring would resurface at a wastewater treatment plant a quarter-mile away.
In March, wastewater workers in Rogers found the ring while cleaning a piece of equipment. Last week, after a weeks-long publicity campaign and investigation, Strand was reunited with her ring.
"I was very excited," she said.
Strand, who's now 71, admits that she has a problem keeping her rings on her fingers. The one she got as an anniversary present was a replacement for her original wedding ring, which she'd lost more than a decade earlier. Then there was the ring studded with five sapphires that her co-workers had given her as a Christmas gift.
"I lost that, too," she said in an interview, laughing.
Unbeknown to Strand, three wastewater workers were trying to fix a machine that was on the fritz in March when they found a chisel, a clamp and a diamond ring while clearing out the muck near the equipment. In April, the Metropolitan Council, a government agency serving towns and counties in the Twin Cities area, announced the discovery on social media and called on anyone who thought it might be theirs to make a claim by providing a description of what they'd lost.
John Tierney, one of the three wastewater workers who found the ring, said in a statement that its origin story was more or less a complete mystery, including how long it had been in the bowels of Rogers's sewage system.
"This ring could have been lost as long as 62 years ago," he said, "or as recently as a couple of weeks."
Hundreds called in, hoping to recover long-lost heirlooms or memorials to once passionate courtships. Some of the stories were "heartbreaking," spokesperson Kai Peterson said in a news release. Among them were "an elderly woman hoping for a miracle for this memory of a deceased husband" and someone "lamenting that they had lost their ring the night of their wedding."
Strand was unaware of the ring's discovery until her daughter, who lives about an hour outside Rogers, found out about it while trawling a neighborhood message board. She called her mother.
"Mom, it's got to be your ring," Strand remembered her saying.
Strand was suspicious, thinking her daughter might be targeting her in one of the family's infamous pranks. Still, she called the council the next day. An official asked her to describe the ring. After 13 years, she couldn't remember what it looked like. The man asked whether she could send a picture, and she did.
Officials followed up: What was the diamond's clarity? How much did it cost? Where did she get it? At that point, Strand knew they were homing in on her as their primary suspect, so to speak.
Officials had two jewelers compare the ring to the one from Strand's photos, she said. Both confirmed they were a match. Tierney compared the chances of finding the ring to the odds of winning the lottery.
"You're not going to look for that and find it," he said. "The odds are astronomical."
On Wednesday, Strand and her husband, who's 75, went to the Metropolitan Council offices for the reunification, which officials captured on video.
"Are you ready?" a council worker said. "Now it doesn't look like it did."
"I've been prepped for that," Strand said.
The official unwrapped a blue cloth to reveal what Strand had not seen since it whooshed down her toilet 13 years ago.
"What did you guys do to my ring?!" she said, jokingly.
Thirteen years in grit, muck and who knows what else had taken its toll. Four of the "itty bitty" diamonds had broken off, and the gold band is "really smudged," Strand said. But, she added, the marquise diamond is "absolutely gorgeous," and the ring as a whole is in remarkably good condition given what it has endured. Strand said she's just glad to have something that meant so much to her back, especially because she never expected to see it again.
"I remember looking at it and flashing back to when he gave it to me," she said. "That's how memorable a thing it was."