Heidi Renneker sat on a bench in Edgartown last Wednesday afternoon and stared at the diamond wedding ring on her left hand, winking in the summer sun. “No,” she said softly. “No, I didn’t think we’d ever see it again. I thought it was gone.”
On June 25, Ms. Renneker, her husband, Todd and their cherubs, Elsa (3), Jack (5), and Ava (8), were half way through their annual week on the Vineyard, playing catch in the water on State Beach.
“I threw the ball and my ring just flew off my hand and disappeared into the water. This ring fits perfectly. It’s never come off,” she said. The Rennekers watched, aghast, as the priceless third-generation heirloom ring arced away, then disappeared into three feet of water.
Two things happened almost immediately. First,”Todd said, ‘Don’t move! We’ll find it,’” Ms. Renneker recalled. Then the soft summer day suddenly turned ugly. Wind, chop and slashing rain came up, hampering, then ending, their groping search after 30 minutes.
Enter the “Ring Whisperer” aka Michael Waters of Edgartown. “We went back to our rental place and I just started Googling. Nothing under ‘metal detectors,’ so I Googled everything I could think of, and under ‘lost rings’ I saw a story in your paper (“Facebook leads to Mikey Waters and newlywed’s lost wedding ring,” MV Times, July 17, 2013)about Mikey finding a ring last year,” Ms. Renneker said.
“He called back almost immediately,” she said, turning to Mr. Waters, sitting quietly on the bench, enjoying the story. Mr. Waters had just returned the beloved ring to Ms. Renneker, accompanied by the kids and her mom, Linda Raveis, all of whom came back to the Island on Wednesday for the reunion.
“I could just tell from her voice how devastated she was,” Mr. Waters said. “So we went to State Beach that day and they showed me the area. I was going to find that ring for her.” A born and bred Islander, Mr. Waters knows the waters and currents hereabouts.
“The storm was in full force then. I had to wait for it to settle down, so I marked off a grid, set a couple of red landscaping flags on the dunes, where they’d stay put until the weather let up,” he said. Mr. Waters searched the beach near the tide line while he was waiting, to see if the ring had washed up.
The weather took its time letting up and the Rennekers departed several days later for their Wayland home without the ring, but with Mr. Waters’s commitment. “He kept telling me, ‘We’re going to find it’ and I could just tell he wouldn’t give up,” Ms. Renneker recalled. “This has been a wonderful life experience. I didn’t know people like Mikey were still around, who would make this kind of effort for complete strangers.”
Mr. Waters is a buoyant, understated man of middle height. His eyes dance, giving a hint of the leprechaun about him. Ring-finding is not his business; he just lucked into it, so to speak. Like most working Island residents, Mr. Waters has multiple jobs, as a truck driver and machinist for Goodale Construction Company in Oak Bluffs, and operating Creative Concrete Designs, a home-based business specializing in patios and driveways.
Being the Ring Whisperer is a feel-good avocation. He has no fees or rates, will accept a reward if offered, and often a reward is offered. Would he do it for nothing? “Yeah. I’ve done it for nothing,” he said. “Sometimes the object has little financial value, but its meaning is priceless to people. I like that feeling of seeing people reconnect with something important to them.”
So shortly after the Island Home cleared the dock in Vineyard Haven on Saturday morning with the Rennekers aboard, Mr. Waters was back in the water searching, and he unearthed the treasure.
“I’ve found rings before but not in three or four feet of water. I have a scuba-type attachment for the detector and I knew the current had been pushing right so I started at the far right of the grid. And there was a ring like Heidi described, three or four feet from the spot it went in, buried under two or three feet of sand,” he said.
“I knew they had already left, so I took a picture of the ring with my Iphone and sent it to Heidi,” he said.
“When I got the text with the picture and the message ‘Do we have a match?’ I just broke out in goosebumps, then ran screaming to Todd: ‘Mikey found the ring! He found it!,’” she said. Fade to happy pandemonium in Wayland, followed by a joyful reunion of the Rennekers, the ring, and Mikey Waters on Wednesday in Edgartown on the bench next to the courthouse.
Mr. Waters is seven for seven in the ring-finding business and word is getting around via Facebook and Google. “I’ve had four calls in the last two weeks, including the fire chief in Aquinnah (Simon Bollin) reporting that a couple being married at the Outermost Inn had lost one of their rings in the field near the Inn,” he said. “They got married with one ring and I went up the next morning. Hughie [Taylor, proprietor of the inn] had staked off the area. We found it.”
Mr. Waters has had his share of hard times. He went through a difficult health issue several years ago and experienced the Island rallying to him and his family.
If you’ve been to an annual town meeting or the odd selectmen’s meeting, you know that the people who live here can be contrary and stubborn beyond words, but not when it comes to helping out, friend or stranger will step up.
Heidi Renneker’s reaction on Wednesday to a stranger who showed up for her is a reminder that the people who live here are an essential part of the beauty of the place.