Kim Flanders only vaguely remembers when and how she lost the pocketbook.
It was some time around 1999, when the Orange native placed her bag atop her car while loading her children in after a trip to the supermarket.
Once the kids were safely stowed, Flanders drove off, oblivious to the fact that she had left the purse on the car’s roof. When she later realized her mistake, she returned to the supermarket in hopes of finding it. Unfortunately, it was gone.
But 18 years later, the bag, and most of its contents, have resurfaced. A man whom Flanders went to high school with unexpectedly fished it out of Silver Lake in Athol last week, not far from where Flanders grew up and once lived.
“What are the chances of that thing being pulled up?” said Flanders, who now lives in Florida. “I never imagined it would be at the bottom of Silver Lake.”
The bizarre story about the bag’s return began June 1, when Dondi Mitchell’s daughter misplaced a pair of his sunglasses. Mitchell, who graduated with Flanders from Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School in Orange in 1985, went in search of the glasses the next day at a nearby park. The retired United States postal worker hadn’t planned to fish that day, but he had his rod and gear in the truck, so he figured “I’m here, I might as well fish.”
While reeling in his line and trying to avoid some lily pads, Mitchell’s lure scraped the bottom and got snagged on something heavy. He knew immediately it wasn’t a fish.
“I thought it was a rug. Then as it got closer to the surface, I realized it was some type of a bag,” he said. “As it came out of the water, that’s when I noticed it was a purse.”
Curious, Mitchell began digging through the algae-covered pocketbook in search of any items that might lead to its owner. He found a calculator, a checkbook, some cards, and a few rocks that he assumes were used to weigh it down after it was presumably stolen and tossed in the water.
Then he found an outdated Massachusetts driver’s license.
“I could see the picture and it was a little muddied up, so I wiped it with my hand and I said, ‘Are you kidding me!? That’s Kim!’ ” Mitchell said. “I was like, ‘You got to be friggin’ kidding me.’ ”
That was the first head-scratching twist. But wait, there’s more, if you can believe it.
While Mitchell and Flanders — her license read Kim Sexton, from her previous marriage — hadn’t talked in years, they were friends on Facebook. At one point, Flanders had even been Mitchell’s daughter’s elementary school teacher before she moved to Florida.
Here’s another: Inside the purse were a wedding band and anniversary ring from her first marriage, which she had cut off after giving birth to one of her children.
Still not weird enough? The purse was found June 2, which was the date that Flanders got married to that first husband.
“It was very strange,” Flanders said.
Both Mitchell and Flanders say the town they grew up in is fairly small. But the chances of so many coincidences unfolding, they admit, is even smaller.
“I mean, it definitely is crazy,” Mitchell said. “I still — it’s like — I can’t believe it. . . . It was so surprising that that’s what it turned out to be.”
After Mitchell reached out to Flanders online about the purse, he posted pictures of his find on Facebook.
“I caught my best catch yet. A purse belonging to a classmate of mine. She told me it’s been missing since the 90’s. Wow. 18 years,” he wrote. “I did manage to bend my hook on my favorite lure, but well worth it.”
Mitchell later mailed the purse and its contents to Flanders’s home in Florida, finally reuniting Flanders with the belongings she left on her car nearly two decades ago, at a time when she was living a different life.
“I sent it insured, just in case,” Mitchell said, laughing. “I thought, ‘It better not get lost in the mail.’ ”
But this catch didn’t get away. Flanders said the purse, rings, and her old license all arrived at her doorstep Thursday.
“It’s a little bit dingy,” she said. “But it doesn’t look too bad from being down there for so long.”