Curious case of the missing box solved 17 years later

2015-08-13 20:43
Jeanette Smith and her son Westin. (Union Tribune)

Jeanette Smith and her son Westin. (Union Tribune)

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Durban - It was her recent trip to South Africa to bury her mother that reminded Jeannette Smith of the importance of memories.

For 16 years, Smith - a South African who now lives in San Diego, California - has been holding on to a misplaced box of precious keepsakes.

Since her move to the US in 1999, Smith has been determined to see the box, which was mistakenly sent to her, returned to its owner.

The extraordinary tale binds two former Durban women, separated by decades and thousands of kilometres.

As a young girl, Smith, 50, grew up in Montclair and attended Mowat Park High School where she later became the head girl. Furthering her studies, she decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Natal, now University of KwaZulu-Natal.

"I backpacked through the United States in 1996 before moving there permanently," said Smith who lives in San Diego, with her son Westin, 6, and her husband, Brad.  

'One of my boxes must have been switched'

The stay-at-home mom said she shipped her belongings to the US in 1999 and when her possessions arrived in California, she counted all 30 boxes and was happy that she had everything. Or so she thought.  

"When I unpacked the boxes, I discovered that one of my boxes must have been switched with someone else's.

"My coin collection and art that I did since I was a child, was missing and instead, I had someone else's photos, journals and other memorabilia," said Smith.

She said she sifted through the box and tried to track down a Trudy, whom she assumed was the owner of the box.

"There was a last name of Trudy [Hatfield] that was in a few postcards that had been sent to a Durban address. I tried sending a letter to the Durban address, but I got no response.

"I tried other means to search for a 'Trudy Hatfield' from South Africa, but never found her."

Smith said she guarded the box as if it were her own.

"I was unable to throw this box of precious mementos away and so it came along with me when I moved three times.

"I guess if I wasn't a sentimental soul... I would have ditched the nearly 20kg box, but I kept holding out hoping that one day I would find her."

Seventeen years later, in May 2015, Smith received news that her mother had passed away in South Africa.

'I contacted some local news channels for help'

She travelled to South Africa and was reminded of the importance of memories.

"I miss my mother terribly. The precious photos of her and the times we spent together mean so much to me... it is all I have left and they trace years of memories we made together, both in South Africa and when she came... to the USA to visit us.

"While battling with this grief - it was painful going through precious memories by looking through family photos - my conscious was once again pricked to solve this mystery and reunite someone else's precious memories and photos with them."

Smith said that is when she decided to try and use the advantage of social media and the power of television.  

"I contacted some local news channels for help. Channel 8 News in San Diego took on the story and within minutes of it being aired, Trudy Scott [not Hatfield] had been found. It really is a small world after all," said Smith.  

She said she found Scott, 54, to be a lovely lady and discovered that she was the author of Anxiety and Nutrition, a book published in 2011.

"Some people who had attended a summit of hers in San Diego saw the story. The news anchor also had tennis lessons with Trudy's brother, Crombie Hatfield, so she solved the mystery first."

Smith said she chatted with Scott on the phone and realised that the pair had amazing similarities.

"We both studied at the University of Natal in South Africa and we both have a Computer Science degree. We both emigrated from Durban, SA, to California, USA, and we both worked initially in the computer field.

"We both left that career to do something we felt more passionate about. We are both adventurers who have travelled through Europe and other parts of the world... and we both have been keen photographers who love our pictures.

"I am so glad that after 17 years, this precious box of mementos is about to be reunited with her - and I have a new friend," said Smith.

Read more on:    durban  |  us  |  good news

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