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A plain gold band, a symbol of almost 66 years of marriage, is missing

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Nov. 25, 2011 at 5:25 a.m.

Sifting through family photo albums, Bettye Tate's heart is broken because her husband's wedding ring disappeared while living at an assisted-living center. Wilford Tate is in the photograph in the upper left   corner, wearing a green shirt. The photo was taken at his granddaughter's wedding.

Bettye Tate looked down at her husband's finger, wondering if her eyes were playing tricks on her.

After more than 60 years, the plain gold band he had never taken off was gone, leaving his left hand naked.

"What happened to your ring?" she asked him, her delicately wrinkled brow furrowing.

He shook his head, the expression on his face dreamy and confused. He had no idea.

Bettye Tate, 85, married Wilford Tate, 90, on Dec. 12, 1945. Wilford had just come home from serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II.

The pair grew up together, and though there had never been anything romantic between them, Wilford wrote her letters while he was overseas, and she wrote back.

"When I get back, I'm going to marry her, if she isn't already married," he told his friends.

When he returned to Luling, he asked her for a date. Then he asked her to marry him. She said she wasn't ready, and he asked her again. She said no. Everywhere she looked, there he'd be, at home, at the beauty parlor where she worked, always asking her to be his wife.

"I thought, 'Aw, shucks, I might as well give up, because he's not going to," Bettye said, her blue eyes suddenly sparkling as an impish smile played on her face.

It was snowing and bitterly cold the day they married, white flakes falling softly outside the windows of the Methodist Church in Luling.

She wore a pink suit, with her black hair piled up high on her head in a riot of ringlets, with a little hat on top. At 6-feet, 3-inches, he towered over his petite bride, sharply dressed in a gray suit, with his brown hair slicked back smoothly from his forehead.

He put a gold ring on her finger and she slid a broad gold band onto his. The photographer snapped some pictures after the ceremony, capturing the pair, grinning and pressed together, embarking on a future.

From that day on, he never took off his ring. He wore it no matter what he was doing, as the years passed and their sons were born and the pair grew older and their marriage endured. The ring never left his hand.

Last month, Wilford grew too weak to get out of bed. At 85-years-old, with her petite frame, Bettye couldn't lift him, so the family put him in a retirement home.

They were told not to leave any valuables at the retirement home, and Bettye and her granddaughter, Elizabeth, tried to take the ring off his finger. The old metal band, a soft gold, worn with age, wouldn't budge. The knuckle on his ring finger was knotty and arthritic and even together the two couldn't pull it from his finger. Finally, they gave up.

Bettye visited her husband everyday, but a couple of weeks ago she got sick and had to stay away. Then, while she was recuperating, her husband came down with pneumonia and was moved to Citizens Medical Center. Somewhere between the retirement home and the hospital, his wedding ring disappeared.

Wilford alternates between days where he is lucid, his mind clear and sharp, and days where he simply isn't there, Bettye said. He doesn't even know the ring is missing yet, she said.

Nurses have searched the hospital, and there has been no sign of the ring. Bettye said she is afraid it has been stolen.

"If it has, I don't know how they did it. They would have had to cut it off his hand," she said.

She doesn't know what happened to the ring, but as their 66th wedding anniversary approaches, Bettye said she just wants it back.

"If someone has it and returns it, there will be no questions asked," she said.

Her blue eyes swam with tears and she lifted her hand to her mouth, pausing a moment.

"To have the ring that we got when we were married 66 years ago - he never took it off," she said, softly. "Sixty-six years is a long time, and he never took it off," she said.

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