I am looking at the old stones of the arch bridge and can’t stop admiring the magic beauty of the place. The pre-dusk sun spilling in golden specks in the narrow river, the overgrown trees throwing early shadows on the grass, the aged arches forming perfect circles reflecting in the water, Hydrangea bushes splashing pastel colors here and there. It would be hard to find a more romantic spot than this quiet deserted park, especially at this time of day.
“Look what I found, Aunt Sarah,” I heard Michael’s voice behind me and didn’t want to turn away from the unframed artwork of nature before me.
“Someone must’ve dropped it on the rocks.” Michael continued. “Isn’t it awesome?”
Holding a small digital camera, my nephew quickly switched it on and clicked through the photos of babies, families, kids, school events. The last photo taken at the very same spot we now were standing happened to be of a man with several children knee deep in the river, all smiling at the camera, making funny faces.
“I feel bad for the person losing the camera with so many memories recorded,” I said, brushing back the hair from Michael’s forehead. “Maybe we should try and find the owner?” I could detect his desire to keep the slick little gadget wrestling with the notion of the right thing to do. “How about, if we don’t find the owner, you keep it?”
Sure thing! Relieved at the decision, Michael handed me the camera and ran back to the bridge to join his brothers.
Back at home I stuck the flashcard into my computer and looked through the photos of an unknown family, noticing how happy they all looked together at the Fourth of July barbeque. Most photos had kids in them and only a few showed adults, usually two men, brothers, two-three years apart, I assumed, because they looked alike, dark wavy hair and blue eyes. I couldn’t stop looking at the older guy. I wouldn’t mind a date with a guy like that, but seeing the resemblance of him and the kids always present in the photos, I knew he was already taken.
Remembering the task at hand, I looked at the photos closer, searching for details that could point me in the right direction. In one picture a boy of ten or eleven held a blue ribbon certificate at a school fair. Zooming in on the handwritten letters, I could read the name “David Newman.” I found the first puzzle piece and couldn’t stop now.
Next, I searched on craigslist, hoping the owner posted there about losing a camera. No one did, so I posted in the “Found” category. Now and then, I looked at “not my” guy’s photo still displayed on my screen and tried to come up with ideas on how to continue my search. My best friend Google gave me a hint with a http://www.ifoundyourcamera.net, a website for reuniting people with their lost cameras and other related items. Unfortunately, it was being renovated at the time, and I had to wait to post pictures and details there.
Becoming somewhat obsessed with my search I wrote in my blog and several communities I belonged to in Livejournal about the found camera. Suddenly, I got an offer of help, a girl opened an event in Facebook with a picture I uploaded and the name of the boy. She was spreading the word through her friends, and they, in turn, through theirs.
We still had no idea where the boy lived, but hoping it would not be far away from New York, I went back to looking at the photos and videos for more clues. Glancing at the same photo of David with his certificate, I noticed for the first time a sign on a wall “Elm Street Elementary School Educational Fair.” A minute later Google informed me there was only one such school in U.S. — located in Lakeforest, N.J., a mere 20 miles from my house.
The white pages showed me telephone numbers of 52 Newmans in Lakeforest, and resolved to find the right Newman family, I decided to start calling the next morning. Checking my e-mail before going to bed, I saw a new message from an unknown sender. It contained a phone number, “Newman,” and “Good luck!” That night I could barely sleep and anxiously waited for nine a.m. Tingling with excitement I dialed the number, but had to leave a message. The puzzle solved, I felt sadness descend on me, the adventure was ending. An hour later Mr. Newman returned my call.
“My wife and I are very grateful to you for finding us!” He said. “I am still amazed at how you did it.”
I could almost see him smiling, like in the photo I admired the night before.
“I’m glad I did it,” I said. “I had fun playing a detective.”
“You mentioned you lived in Valley Green. My brother lives near there. Could he stop by to pick up the camera?”
I put the camera on a shelf near the door and went to edit my own photos of the Arch Stone Bridge. Mesmerized again by the beauty of the place I barely heard the doorbell.
“I’m Matt Newman, David’s uncle,” a now familiar looking man said as I opened the door. “So nice to meet you, Sarah.”
“Please, come in.” I said hoping he could stay a little.
“These are for you.” Matt said and handed me a bunch of pale pink hydrangeas. “I would love to hear how you managed to find us.”
Born on Sakhalin Island in the Far East of Russia, Elina Zismanova grew up in northern Russia beyond the Arctic Circle. She moved to the U.S. in 1980 and now lives in Highland Park with her husband and four daughters