FARMINGTON – As Michael Thomas Boyd was clearing a fallen tree from his property on Route OO near Farmington one day last spring, he remembers a car pulling up in the driveway.
The driver of the car was Debbie Oliver of Farmington.
Boyd said Oliver began the conversation by saying he may think her request to be odd – but she lived in the house as a child.
“She told me a few things about the home,” Boyd said, answering questions he had about certain features on the property.
After a few moments of small talk, Boyd said Oliver told him a story about an event that occurred when she was a child.
The year was 1969. Oliver’s father, Chief Master Sergeant Grover Leon Colyott, was stationed in Germany while serving with the United States Air Force.
His wife, Betty, was living in Kansas City with their five children – awaiting his return after a scheduled retirement from the military.
“I was born in Germany,” Oliver said. “My dad was transferred to Omaha, Nebraska, then North Dakota and then back to Germany. We lived in Kansas City next door to my mom’s twin sister.
But, just months before Colyott was to retire, he was killed in an automobile accident on the Autobahn in Germany.
Oliver was five years old at the time. She remembers those days like it was yesterday.
“He was killed on their wedding anniversary,” Oliver said.
Her mother would make the decision to move closer to family and would find a home on 13 acres on Route OO – plenty of space for Oliver and her siblings to enjoy.
While Oliver says she has few memories of her father, one event that occurred in the months after his death stayed with her for 45 years.
Oliver said she remembers playing with a copy of her father’s dog tags that each of the children received after his death.
In particular, she can remember holding onto the tags as she slid them through the heating vent in the home, letting the tags dangle.
In an instant, the tags were gone – a memento of her father lost forever, Oliver would believe.
“I remember I was so upset with myself,” Oliver said. “I know I was just a child. But those dog tags were precious … and gone.”
For years, Oliver said, the idea of what she lost that day would never leave her mind.
“We were just kids,” she said. “But, it still didn’t keep me from thinking about what happened and how I wished that had never occurred.”
The family would eventually move from the home to the Arcadia Valley area. The land the family lived on would be divided up and sold, while the home remained.
Oliver would move back to Farmington to work as an elementary teacher – and the memory of a child’s play would come to her each time she drove by her former home.
“I would think about those dog tags every time and how I lost them,” she said.
Most recently, Oliver noticed a “For Sale” sign in the yard of the home. On that day last spring, Oliver saw Boyd in the driveway – and found herself making a decision she would never forget.
“I pulled up into the driveway and asked if he had bought the home and he said he had,” Oliver remembered. “He asked if I wanted to see the inside. It was just like stepping back 45 years when I walked in,”
Oliver said she could not shake the urging of telling Boyd the story of those dog tags – but was worried what he might think of her.
“When she told me her dad was killed, it just hit me,” Boyd said. “I said we’ll go see if (the dog tags) are still in there.
“I told her I’m going to get those dog tags for you if they are there.”
Boyd told her he knew the exact location of the vent Oliver was describing – a large vent located between two doors leading to the bedrooms on an upper floor of the home.
The search started at the area where the tags were first dangled and lost – with no luck.
But, it seemed Boyd was as determined as Oliver to find this lost treasure.
Since the tags were dropped from an upper floor of the home, Boyd discovered the ductwork leading from vent to the furnace.
In the closet on the second floor was a section of the ductwork. Oliver said he began tugging back and forth to take it apart – something she told him was not necessary, but he insisted it was important to look.
“After he got it apart, he ran to get a flashlight,” Oliver said.
Boyd said he saw what appeared to be a chain, but could not be certain. He then handed the flashlight for Oliver to take a look. Shining the light down through the dark pipe, Oliver noticed something that caught her eye.
“I told him, ‘I see something!’” she said.
Boyd would have to take the ductwork apart from the bottom in order to reach the tags.
Forty-five years later, Oliver would have in her hands the same tags held by a five-year-old girl.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “They were there all this time – now, covered in years of dust.”
The timing of the discovery was something Oliver believes was meant to be – the home recently purchased, the buyer where she could see him in the yard, his willingness to listen and help.
After the tags were cleaned, it was discovered the set was the one made for her brother. Oliver said she could not wait to share the news with her family.
“I always knew they were there,” she said. “I just never imagined I’d get them back.”
Shawnna Robinson is the managing editor for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or firstname.lastname@example.org