NEW JERSEY -- The parents of a young girl disappeared in 1959 while flying to Washington state, her pilot father and mother never heard from again. And for more than a decade, the family lived under a shroud of mystery.
Now, Joyce Wharton lives in New Jersey. And she recently received a wondrous gift from a stranger that brought back memories more than a half-century in the past.
"To me, it's my Christmas miracle," Joyce said. "And I look at the ring, and I think about my mother. It's like reaching back in time."
Fifty five years ago, Joyce lost her parents in a small plane crash.
"They went out to the airport and left, but they never arrived in Seattle," she said. "So for many many years, we didn't know what had happened."
Her family agonized for nearly 15 years without answers until plane wreckage was discovered in a dense wooded area in Washington.
With closure and peace finally in hand, Joyce said she never imagined there could be more to come. Then, on Sunday, she got an unexpected phone call.
"He said 'Joyce, I have your mother's ring, and I've been looking for you all these years and I want you to have this,'" she said.
The voice on the phone was Nick Buchanan, a logger who had stumbled upon the ring near the crash site.
With the help of his nephew, he used Ancestry.com to track Joyce down some 3,000 miles away.
"My mouth was open," she said. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing...it restores your faith in human nature, because there's so many bad things happening. And yet there are good people out there, kind people. People persevere."
Overwhelmed with joy, she calls the return of this precious family heirloom a miracle, one made possible by a perfect stranger she now considers a part of her family too.
"To see a ring that the last time I saw this ring, my mother was wearing it 55 years ago, that's my Christmas miracle," she said.