One afternoon a few years back, I took my hub’s watch to Zamora Jewelers for some minor repair. I handed it over to Betty and explained what I needed. Betty took it to Mike, who was sitting as always behind the counter at his work bench. Mike picked up his ever present jeweler’s loupe and took a look.
I was browsing the jewelry case, when I heard him. “Oops,” he said.
I looked up and saw him looking sheepish as Betty gazed on.
“I broke it,” he said.
“Oh,” I managed. “Can it be fixed?”
Mike didn’t say anything, just grinned a little. Betty shot him a mild look of disapproval.
“He’s kidding,” she said. Then, “Mike?”
Mike looked at me, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. The watch would be ready the next day.
I learned a few days ago that Zamora’s is in its final days, the inventory discounted at 40 percent until the little shop in the Sea Towne Shopping Center is cleared. I was saddened, but not surprised. I knew Mike’s health had been declining - though I had no idea he is 91 years old. He’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s some time ago, and recently suffered a fall that left him with a broken neck and wheelchair bound. Betty is his sole caregiver.
I discovered Zamora’s not long after moving here, and frequently stopped in to browse the abundance of jewelry, gifts and knick knacks. I bought a heart-shaped crystal ring and a pair of blue topaz earrings dangling from the finest of chains. I took our watches in to be repaired or for new batteries, handed my rings over to Mike to inspect for loose stones and worn prongs. For a time, there were wine walks at Sea Towne and there was always a line outside Zamora’s as we waited our turn to go inside for a taste of vino and a visit with Betty and Mike. That’s was what made Zamora’s different from just any other shop. It was never all business, it was being part of the community, catching up on the latest news, sharing a little of our lives. And yet, it was only after I learned that they would soon be gone that I really started getting to know Betty and Mike. Isn’t that always the way?
Betty and Mike met in 1963 when Betty, fresh out of high school and looking for a job, found one with Mike in the little jewelry nook he operated in the Thrifty Drug in North Bend. She was 18 or so; he was 19 years her senior - and married. As Mike’s business grew, he moved to bigger and bigger shops, Betty always following. Mike divorced and remarried and divorced again. And there was Betty, ever the dedicated employee. Then the mills shut down and on they went to Portland, where they made city friends and went out on the town. And finally, yes finally, 11 years after Betty “fell” into the jewelry business, the couple traveled to Reno for a marriage license and said their “I dos” in Lake Tahoe. They returned to the jewelry business in Portland, but Betty, who was born and raised in North Bend, just couldn’t get comfortable in the tropics of Oregon’s biggest city. “I couldn’t take the heat in Portland,” she said. “It was too hot for me.” And that’s how, in 1976, Newport landed Zamora Jewelers.
After I heard Betty and Mike were closing up shop, I stopped by, hoping to find one last piece of jewelry, but mostly just to say how much they would be missed. Betty was at her usual spot by the register. We chatted a moment and then Betty made sure I knew Mike was there, too, watching the comings and goings from his wheelchair behind the counter.
His memory is very short, these days. “You tell him one thing and the next second it’s gone,” Betty said.
But he’s still a joker.
“Since he doesn’t wait on people anymore, he doesn’t know who anyone is,” Betty said. “And he knows he doesn’t know who it is, so when people come in, he’ll just pick out a name, like, ‘Hello Mable.’”
I’m sure that afternoon when I visited Mike had no clue who I was. But I caught his eye, he called out hello, and gave me that warm smile of his. And sure enough that mischievous twinkle was still there.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.