My mother realized her wedding band was missing when she opened her wallet to pay for dinner. She, my sister, and I had spent the entire day at the Art Fair, but as evening arrived and we needed to make a dining choice–to fight for a table among the throng at the first day of the fair, or to go somewhere a little less crowded–we opted to catch the shuttle back to Pioneer and grab a quick meal away on the way to my house.

My mom and my sister live on the west side of the state. When they come to Ann Arbor for the Art Fair, they rely on me to navigate. They are always amazed when I can find a clean restroom or a bit of air conditioning, and they trust me to lead them back to the booth with the piece they regretted not purchasing earlier in the day. How do I know where to go among all that confusion? Easy. I live here. I know the streets, the stores, and the landmarks. Plus, all the booths are numbered! It doesn’t take special skill to be their guide, but it’s fun to have them think I’m some kind of genius.

The weather that day was hot and humid. My mom’s hands were swollen, making her wedding ring uncomfortably tight, so she took it off and tucked it into her wallet for safekeeping before we started out in the morning. As the day progressed, we wended our way from one end of the fair to the other, purchasing food, drinks, and art all along the way. By the evening, there weren’t many places we hadn’t been, and too many places her ring could be.

This isn’t the first time my mom lost her wedding ring. Thirty years ago, she lost it in our backyard as she and my dad frantically secured patio furniture during a storm. My sister and I searched for days afterward to no avail–but two years later, my dad shocked us all when he unearthed the ring in a flower bed.

That time she could take comfort in knowing that her ring had to be in our yard. This time it’s lost in the labyrinth of the Art Fair.

I watch my mom’s eyes fill with tears, and I feel responsible–I’m her host, her townie, her navigator. I could contact lost and found tomorrow, but I have to do something now, if only to ease the sad, worried look on my mom’s face. My sister and I coax her to remember the last time she saw her ring. She can’t recall, but she remembers feeling something small and heavy hit her foot as she pulled out her wallet to buy a pair of earrings.

I remember the purchase. It was at a booth in the Liberty Street Courtyard. Unfortunately, that is two miles from where we sit at dinner. With darkness and the fair’s closing time rapidly approaching, we aren’t well situated to run a ring search and rescue mission.

While my mom sits with her meal untouched, my sister and I inhale our food, and I make a plan. We drive back to my house and tell my husband what happened. I grab a flashlight and leave my sister with my children, and we head back out.

The sun is setting when my husband drops my mom and me off. It’s just a few minutes after 9 p.m., but the tents are already zipped shut for the night. I feel uneasy: the darkening skies, the closed tents, and the flashlight in my hand make me feel like I’m up to no good.

My mom and I hurry to the courtyard, but the Art Fair closed up for the night is much different from the Art Fair open for business. The shuttered tents are disorienting, with no visible artwork to tell one from another. Even the booth numbers are hidden. I’m wondering if I’ll have to peek into every booth–surely someone will notify the police and I’ll be arrested–when we notice one booth still open.

A couple, looking slightly dazed, sit inside. They aren’t jewelers, but we approach them anyway. When I ask if they know whether a booth near them was selling jewelry, they reply that they haven’t left their own tent all day.

We thank them and step away. I look around in despair, frustrated by the sameness of the tents. As I’m thinking we’ll have to put our hopes into the lost and found after all, I realize the tent nearest me is backlit by a spotlight still shining in the couple’s booth. Is that silhouette on the tent wall an earring display? I dart a look around to see if anyone is watching, then lift the bottom of the tent just high enough to peek inside. Yes, those are earrings on the wall! I sweep my flashlight beam across the gravel floor, from one corner to the other.

A glint of gold on the far side catches my eye. Not daring to believe it, and expecting to hear a police officer shout “Freeze,” I squeeze under the tent and rush to see what’s winking at me. It’s my mother’s wedding band, tilted on the gravel at just the right angle for my flashlight beam to make it shine. It had been there for hours, unnoticed.

My mother is incredulous and overjoyed, and I feel like a superhero. Over the years we’ve found things at the Art Fair that we enjoy, things that serve not only as decorations in our homes but also as reminders of a fun day spent together. No other Art Fair find, though, will ever top this one–my mom’s lost wedding ring. And my mom learned her lesson. Now, on days when her ring won’t fit, she leaves it in a jewelry box, safe at home.