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A Beautiful Gold Ring Lost, A Friendship Rekindled

NOEL KING, HOST:

If you had to evacuate your home at a minute's notice, what would you take with you? Last month, NPR brought you the story of a Jewish boy who escaped Nazi Germany with little more than the clothes on his back, a small bag and a toy monkey. That monkey led to a discovery years later of family he never knew we had. We wondered what stories other people had about that one object that meant so much to them. Yesterday, we heard the story of a treasured rosary. Today, we hear from Sarah Daily Frey, who got something from her childhood sweetheart.

SARAH DAILY FREY: His name is Juan Antonio Hernandez Osterchrist.

KING: Frey is an American, but she's the daughter of Methodist missionaries. And she spent part of her childhood in the Dominican Republic - that is until the assassination of the dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961. At the time, she was living with her parents in Santo Domingo.

FREY: I remember being home one day in the apartment. Mom and Dad were gone. And some soldiers came up and pointed a gun with a bayonet on it, pointed it at me. They were searching for all the assassins. That was in that first week. We were having Thanksgiving dinner. And we heard all this rumbling coming down the street, and we saw tanks coming. I think that was the turning point for my folks. And by December, they decided that I would be going to the United States after Christmas.

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FREY: So Juan Antonio gave me a gold ring. It was kind of a sunburst setting, and it had a Brazilian aquamarine stone and two rubies on each side. And I knew that that was a very important gesture in that Latin American culture. And this was a pre-engagement ring.

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FREY: I left Santa Domingo and ended up in Minneapolis, Minn., 30 degrees below zero. I didn't know this family. And I was freezing. And I was miserable. And that ring just became - even though it was still brand-new on my finger, that ring just - that's what I would touch. That was my comfort. Juan Antonio and I wrote each other all the time. And then the letters just kind of became a little bit more sporadic. And then life kind of takes its courses, doesn't it? When my mom was evacuated by the American Marines, she told me that one of the things that she had found out was that Juan Antonio was married. And that was quite a shock to me.

Fast-forward about 25 years. I'm married to my college sweetheart and living in Carrollton, Texas. My oldest daughter, Lisa (ph), was in the 8th grade. And she asked me one day if she could wear my ring to school. I said yes. So she was taking a swimming class that semester. And she put the ring in the locker, so she wouldn't lose it in the water. And when she came back, the ring was gone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FREY: I had worn that ring on my finger the whole time for 25 years. And we were both devastated by that.

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FREY: So fast-forward another 25 years. I had been on Facebook, oh, I don't know maybe a year. And one day, I thought, I'm going to just put Juan Antonio Hernandez Osterchrist. And there he was. I found him. And he wrote back, I've been looking for you, but I didn't know your married name. So he called me. And during that first conversation, he said, Sarita, you remember that ring that I gave you? And I said yes. He said, do you still have it? And I said no. And I told him the story. It wasn't until my husband was diagnosed with melanoma brain cancer that Juan Antonio became just rock-solid in my life. Friendship was the thing that we needed from each other. That ring is gone, but the circle of the friendship and the care and the love is just never-ending. And that's why that ring meant so much to me.

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KING: That was Sarah Daily Frey with the story of a most precious object in her life. She and Juan Antonio actually met up in Florida in 2016. It was their first time seeing each other in person in more than 50 years. And the gold ring - Sarah hopes that one day, it might turn up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.