EDMONDS — Her husband gave her two diamond bracelets.
And she threw them in the trash.
What’s up with that?
Colleen Baum put the diamond tennis bracelets on the kitchen counter while packing for a 10-day getaway with Neal for their 57th wedding anniversary on Aug. 22.
The slender chain bracelets, gifts from Neal in recent years, were amid papers she tossed in a quick cleaning sweep before heading out to a grandson’s dinner party that evening.
“To be kind, she is fastidious,” Neal said. “She didn’t want to leave the house with stuff on the counter.”
The next morning, Colleen awoke with a bad feeling about her bracelets. “In the back of my head I realized, ‘I probably threw them in the garbage,’” she said.
The trash truck was long gone when she bounded out of bed in dread. Neal was supposed to play golf with some buddies but had overslept, so he was there to assist.
Colleen called Sound Disposal. Linda Nicholson, office manager, took her frantic call.
“I felt so bad for her. She was crying,” Nicholson said. “She said, ‘It’s in a white Costco bag.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh-my-God, everybody’s garbage is in a white Costco bag,’ and I didn’t want to say that to her. I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’”
Nicholson notified her husband, Gene, who was driving the garbage truck that was pretty full. Bags are compacted at pickup.
“Nobody was really confident we were going to find it,” she said. “That’s a lot of trash and two little diamond bracelets.”
He took the load to the Snohomish County Southwest Recycling & Transfer Station in Mountlake Terrace. The county’s solid waste operations supervisor Steve McLean organized the search party with workers Scott Barton and Jack Lockhart.
They rooted through five tons of rubbish.
“The mission was to find the bracelets in a white trash bag like 80% of what we receive,” county public works spokesperson Julie Kuntz said.
Neal went inside while Colleen waited anxiously in the car.
“They dumped everything out on this big concrete floor. They got their gloves on and just started wading through it, looking through bag after bag,” Neal said.
“I never expected somebody to stop everything and do that. I can’t believe people even do this stuff anymore. They went out of their way wading through waist-high trash trying to find these bracelets.”
Neal watched as they scoured five tons of smelly wrappers, sticky cans and dirty diapers.
“It was a 30-foot-long line of trash, about 4 or 5 feet deep,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is impossible they’ll never find it.’”
The search lasted 40 minutes until finding diamonds in the rough.
“I’ll be darned if they didn’t come up with it,” Neal said. “It was a needle in a haystack thing.”
The bracelets had fallen out of the bags and were buried under the mound of debris.
It was a moment of elation for all involved. Colleen cried for the second time that day.
Nicholson said a week later a woman called Sound Disposal saying her wallet was in a recycle bin that was picked up. That entailed workers digging through trash at the recycling center in Woodinville. The driver even delivered the wallet to the customer’s house.
“We’re two-for-two,” Nicholson said.
Actually, three-for-three in the county.
Last December, at the county’s Cathcart Way Operations Center in Snohomish, workers retrieved a man’s wedding ring from two tons of recyclables.
The gold band had slipped off Kevin Klein’s finger when he’d taken a load to the Sultan Drop Box. His dumpster dive through cardboard, paper and stray garbage was to no avail so he notified the pros, who dug through the mess at the operations center.
“I thought for sure there was no way we were going to find it,” Klein told The Herald at the time.
Most items reported lost are not found, county spokesperson Kuntz said.
In the case of the diamond bracelets, the value was more sentimental than financial.
“It’s not the cost. It was that Neal had given them to me,” Colleen said.
(They were insured, Neal said.)
It has been a busy year for the couple. Their company Vaxpoint, which does business as Seattle Visiting Nurse Association, has done over 120,000 COVID vaccinations in Snohomish and King counties.
The Baums had a break before the next wave of shots, including those for flu.
“We were packing to head down the coast, trying to take it easy,” Neal said.
The trip coincided with their anniversary. Both were 20 when married 57 years ago.
They met when they were 17.
Love at first sight?
“She says it was,” he said.
They have two children and four grandchildren.
The diamond bracelets venture is another chapter in their history.
“It all ended well,” Neal said. “Even if it was a little stinky.”
Andrea Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown
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