PANAMA CITY — The ring was just a little too big, but her daughter begged to borrow it for the week.
It was Spring Break 2002. Regina Ham had taken her 14-year-old to Panama City Beach and there was a boy. He was 16, Ham said, and her daughter wanted to borrow the class ring because she thought it made her look older.
“She talked me into it,” Ham said, adding that she was with her daughter “the whole time.”
Besides that she was playing chaperone, that ring was special. When she became the first person from her family to graduate high school in 1986, she bought it for herself when her mom couldn’t afford to buy her one.
“It was such an accomplishment,” she said.
The ring was her high school experience etched into a piece of jewelry — her birthstone as the centerpiece, a track runner for one side as that was her sport, an ode to her school in Pike County Alabama on the other, and her name, then Regina Brooks, etched into the band.
But it slipped off while her daughter was walking along the shoreline, and like that, it was lost to the waves.
“I never thought I would see it again,” Ham said. “I missed it too. I didn’t wear it all the time, but I wore it a lot. I brought it up just six months ago .... That I sure did miss it.”
The Gulf of Mexico is funny about lost objects, though. There are some things it holds on to forever. Others that get swept up in the currents and brought halfway around the world. And then, there are the things it gives back.
In this case, the ring was given back with a little help from a snorkeler.
Tim Nagler was snorkeling along the jetties at St. Andrews State Park when he spotted the ring.
“Help,” he posted on Facebook. “I found this class ring snorkeling in the Panama City pass next to St Andrews State Park dated 1986. It’s from Pike County Alabama. The name on it is Regina Brooks. If anyone knows someone from Troy, Alabama area please let me know.”
Between Panama City Beach being one of the most popular vacation spots for Alabamans and a few key Facebook groups with humongous reach, it took just hours for the right person to spot it.
“I know her, it’s Regina Ham now,” a woman commented.
It wasn’t long after that Ham was connected to the post. Despite 17 years in the salt water, the ring in the photo still looks nearly perfect. All the etchings are still there, and there’s no rust or barnacles in sight.
Ham starts crying nearly every time she looks at the photo.
“I get chills,” she said. “It’s just amazing. God works in mysterious ways. It’s so amazing. I don’t really know what to say.”
Ham and Nagler are still working out the details of getting the ring back to her, Ham said.