I felt a little ashamed that I hurt over the things that were taken, because they were just things. They were things my grandmother wore, but they were not more important than a life. I also knew good and well that my father was sleeping just one room over and down the hall, behind a closed door. He was older and his post-polio syndrome frequently caused him discomfort. He took a nap daily which helped. He had a noise maker–at least that’s what he called it. And when he took a nap he turned it on to drown out the noise of the house, and the sounds of the rest of us coming and going.
It was chilling news when mother told me that the robbers climbed up the hill, through the thickness of the trees, around the side of the house where the woodchips led to a side door, and came right into the house. She could tell because footprints were embedded in the wood chipped path and the side doors had been left open. The entire time the robbers searched the house, my father was sleeping. Their footsteps went everywhere, into the bedrooms, eyes searching the bookshelves, pulling things down, grabbing and taking as they went through the house.
Words were not easy. I heard the fear in her voice. We couldn’t help but envision scenarios that could have happened, but did not. I thought about the mercy of timing and luck, that their steps did not lead to my father. Grateful, but also terrified of the images that could have been.
Today, I am wearing my grandmother’s initial ring. A little gold ring she was given as a young girl with the letter E engraved in cursive. E for Eva. I am also wearing her wedding band. A slender ring of gold. and I feel connected to her when I wear these things.
In my parents’ bedroom there was a dresser with a marble top. There was an old, blue glass stand placed on the left corner of that marble topped dresser. Mother put almost all of her jewelry in it. Strings of pearls tumbled out and down onto the marble. Rings settled into the center. A lady’s gold watch, pins, and some costume jewelry too. As a child I could have spent hours looking at these colors and finishes, and the way they caught the light. A sky blue glass stand, with pearls and fine things tumbling down into the swirls in the marble that in just the right light made the darker swirls look like liquid.
When I graduated college mother walked up to me after the ceremony. We were all standing in the parking lot. She handed me a little velvet box and said “Because I know how you have loved it.” I opened the box and found my grandmother’s initial ring tucked into the velvet, gleaming with the letter E. I put it on right there.
I am reminded as I write this that there was another time things were taken. I was seven years old. My father bought a cross for me as a Christmas gift. A necklace. I was so excited that I wore it to bed that night. It was taken off of me before the sun came up. They didn’t neglect to take the unwrapped gifts that were left on the living room floor, either. All stolen in the night. When I woke up I felt for the cross and it was gone. I remember sitting up in my bed, the sun rising over the trees. I looked at the nightstand, at the dark wood of the closet doors, on the floor, and nothing. Nothing. I went downstairs and more things were gone. I yelled for Daddy and he came around the corner. We noticed that our TV was gone. There we were, looking for things that we knew just where we had put them. I learned it’s like that when things are taken. You look. You doubt what you knew positively you had done. You doubt the way you shut that door, you doubt where you had put something at the same time knowing good and well that you did shut the door. You did put the box right there. And Oh God it hits you that someone else was right where you are standing. The look on my father’s face as he realized all of this, that someone had stolen in, quietly, to take things. How special it was to finally have a Christmas like that. And taken. Gone.
My mother was the one to find this house. She had to have it. She said it was a perfect hiding place under the shelter of trees. We loved the woods. It became a relationship. The woods gave us intangible and important things. She and Dad slowly patched the house together until, after a long time, it was a place of beauty.
I couldn’t help but wonder about these takers of other people’s things. Why intrude upon another life with such malicious intent? They see the things, but they don’t see the struggle, the work, the dreaming that created them. They weren’t there when we attached our emotions to these simple things. Did they ever feel cheated? Did they ever want to change someone else? Create insecurity? They take, they shock, they surprise, they rattle the dust from someone else’s foundation. Take a thing, take a life and feel better? Is that how it goes? Did something happen to make them so angry that they take from people they have never known? Did they wear shoes to make footsteps light or were they brazen enough to wear work boots that would announce their intrusion?
When mother told me that someone came up through the woods, along the wood- chipped path to enter our house that took patient years to love into something we could belong to, she said that her jewelry was gone. If you have ever been robbed, or loved someone who has been robbed, you know all of the violation and fear that strikes you–right away. I don’t know how else to explain it to you.
Of course, my father. I could see him in my mind, in his TV room, lying on the couch, and his noise maker covering up the sounds of their footsteps climbing the stairs of the old house. The old wooden stairs creaked and the banister, as solid as it was, had its own sound of belonging. A man who served his country. He was older now, not like when I was seven and the robbers stole in to take our Christmas things, when he was hale and strong. They walked to that same dresser where the marble top gleamed, and the blue glass held colors and gems and pearls tumbling down into a beautiful display. They took it all. When mother told me about it her voice was full of the void, the knowledge of lost things. I heard breaks in her sentences, and those breaks held back tears. Yet how grateful she was that they never discovered my father.
Mother had driven into the long gravel driveway. And always, when the wheels first contact the gravel as the car comes around the corner, making the transition from smooth blacktop of the paved road to the long gravel driveway, there is a noticeable change in sound. Gravel is louder than the smooth, near silence of wheels on blacktop. The garage door opened, and it is heavy and makes a sound of its own. The door to the basement opened, and the old wooden door at the top of those stairs doesn’t fit exactly to its frame and that makes a little noise, and let me mention that my mother was wearing her mother’s wedding ring that day, the robbers ran. Back down into the woods, leaving a second load of valuables on the couch. The wooden carved swans, the old cricket boxes, stain glass lamps, and more all piled up on the couch. My father was still sleeping. Never waking against the noise. Never encountering those who came to take things that were never theirs.
Not long ago my mother said, “Well it’s time you have this,” and she handed me her mother’s thin gold wedding band. “It was my mother’s and she always told me that she really wore it for good luck. I wore it always when I felt I needed a dose of good luck. I wore it the day the rest of the things were taken. When they missed your father. It should be yours now.”