Sometimes you do something so dumb, so painfully embarrassing, you can't even tell your mother about it.

This was one of those times.

Mama, if you're reading this, I hope you're sitting down. I did an awful thing in our nation's capital last spring.

I lost your mother's ring. The stunning one with three diamonds and two sapphires. The one Aunt Marysia gave me when I was 16, which for years I cherished and wore only on special occasions.

Normally when I travel, I bundle all my good jewelry in an opaque plastic bag and stuff it in the freezer. I have good reason not to trust myself, after all. The world is littered with jewelry that I've lost since I was a kid.

So I should have known better when my husband Steve and I set out on a trip to New York, the Caribbean and Washington. But noooo -- I didn't listen to the pesky voice of experience. I decided that jewelry was meant to be worn and admired, and wear it I would.

All in all, things went remarkably well -- until that rainy Saturday in D.C. At the Renwick, I bought a bright plastic bracelet and slipped it over mywrist before we set out on foot toward the White House. Admiring my purchase, I decided its futuristic design clashed with the classic elegance of my ring and was seized with the impulse to move the ring to my other hand. Just as it cleared the end of my finger, it vanished.

I froze in my footsteps, horrified. I stammered an explanation to Steve, and the search began -- my clothes, purse, the sidewalk, the cedar chips around the nearby saplings. Nothing. The concrete perimeter of the White House was utterly smooth and uncluttered; the nearest grate was 25 feet away. There were so few people around, we could easily have spotted anyone stooping to pick something up.

Even the Secret Service guards pitched in, running their metal detectors over me and my bag, the cedar chips, the immaculate lawn on the other side of the fence. Nothing.

After an hour, damp and disconsolate, we gave up.

The next day, we returned to the east gate: Someone had turned in a ring. Alas, it was a plain silver band. Gloomily, we filed a report with the National Park Service police.

I railed at my stupid vanity. So what if the ring didn't look "right" with the bracelet?

Then I figured it out. Grandmother Lilpop must have decided she wanted her ring back. She had put a flea in my ear, urging me to move the ring, and then snatched it away into whatever dimension she now inhabits.

I hope she's happy.

And I hope she leaves the rest of my bijoux alone.

Magda Krance is a writer living in Chicago.