I heard Marianne call from the bedroom, “Harold, come here. I can’t find my jewellery box!” We had just returned from a brief visit away from home, following our move half way across the country.
Our family moved to Port Alberni, Vancouver Island the summer of 1980, where I had accepted the call to be a pastor in the community. We put our home in Manitoba up for sale, and moved into the church manse next door to the church on a large, steep and wooded lot overlooking the harbour and pulp and paper mill. The highway in and out of town turned into a main street at the bottom of the church property.
By late summer we had settled into the house that was to be our home for several years, and the family next door had two girls about the same age which helped greatly in easing some of the loss they felt.
Marianne and I had close friends who lived two hours drive away near the community of Mill Bay. Their proximity was as welcome to us as Carolyn and Kathy were to Christine and Heather—friendly faces in a place far from what used to be home. One sunny week end we decided to visit our friends. We had acquired a box of pears from the trees of a generous donor and would finish the canning process upon our return. The house was locked and we set out for a brief day and a half away from home.
We returned home Saturday evening, early enough for our girls to bath and head for bed, which they did immediately on arrival. I do not remember how long we had been in the house before we discovered the break-in.
I couldn’t understand how her jewellery box could be misplaced as we had been in the house long enough to have sorted out the bedrooms. There were unpacked boxes in the basement but they did not contain any of our essentials. I was sure the red vinyl covered box would easily be found. Finding misplaced objects was my role and this would an easy find.
“Where did you last have it?” I asked.
“Right on my dresser where I always put it”, she replied—her voice beginning to take on a tone of panic. “And there are other things missing.”
“What else?” At this I too was feeling it was perhaps more than I first thought.
“My calculator.” The calculator was something of a novelty in 1980. It was not a hand-held calculator of the type you can buy cheaply in any grocery store nowadays. It was a compact battery operated calculator which printed out its results from a narrow roll of paper—ideal for a school teacher who needed to keep a record of each set of calculations. These were the years just before personal computers. It was in its own way a bit of a novelty and had been the object of a theft a couple of years earlier in the high school where Marianne taught. She had been so single minded in tracking down the theft that in the process she uncovered the cache of a small theft ring operating in the school. To her chagrin no one thanked her. The fact of an undiscovered theft ring in the local high school was an embarrassment to everyone. Now it was gone once more.
“My rings were in my jewelry box!”
“Your rings? What rings?”
“My wedding ring and engagement ring. I never take them off except this Friday. When we got the pears, I was washing and peeling them and took my rings off and put them on the edge of sink. I was afraid they might accidentally fall down the drain so I put them in the jewellery box.”
She sat on the edge of the bed and put her face into her hands. She looked up and said with a rising sound of despair, “And my charm bracelet is in there too!”
As the wife of a pastor, she did not own much jewellery—but her rings and her charm bracelet were treasures beyond monetary worth. We had exchanged wedding bands which were engraved inside with our names and then, “with love, 08-31-68”, the date of our marriage ceremony.
The solitaire engagement ring, I would know anywhere on sight. I had selected it from the Sears catalogue and paid for it by installments. When it finally arrived, I took it and studied it in every form of lighting. I presented it to Marianne the Christmas of 1967, in her parents’ home. I had informed them that we wished to be engaged and with their blessing had asked them to leave us alone in the living room for part of the evening. Once alone, I beckoned her over to the Christmas tree. Then I took out the small box from my pocket and placed the ring on her finger where the multi-coloured lights from the tree reflected spectacularly in the many facets of the single diamond on the ring. And now, it along with the wedding band was gone.
The charm bracelet was eighteen carat gold and held many little mementos. There were tiny golden wooden shoes, a testament to her parent’s homeland before immigrating to Canada. A tiny golden graduation hat, a reminder of her university graduation, dangled from the bracelet. There were two tiny rings commemorating our marriage and next to them, a tiny golden baby carriage marking the birth of our first child. There were other miniature charms marking events in her life. The bracelet and all the charms were gifts from her best friend and sister-in-law, Judi. Its loss was equally unthinkable. Her rings habitually were on her ring finger, but the bracelet rested in her jewellery box except for special occasions.
I held her for a moment then said I was going to look around. It did not take long to confirm our worst fears. In the basement I found the concrete floor covered in broken glass from the smashed window where burglars had obviously gained entrance. The window was on the side of the house next to the church’s wooded lot and completely hidden from view. It was the logical entry point. No one would have seen or heard a thing. The downstairs door was slightly ajar leading out to the overgrown slope above the busy street below—an easy and inconspicuous exit.
I returned to the bedroom and revealed my findings. We quickly took stock and noticed a hair drier also missing. My grandfather’s pocket watch had also been in the case, but I could bear its loss far better than the loss of the rings and bracelet.
I called the police and soon two uniformed RCMP officers were at our door. They filled out the appropriate forms and asked if we were insured. They said it was likely teens had committed the robbery and that the chance of recovery of our items was small. There had been a rash of break-ins and the theft of small items in the neighbourhood indicated young amateurs. They would file a report and send someone to dust the area for finger prints, but realistically we should not expect to see these items again and should file our insurance claim Monday morning.
I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I remembered that I had just cancelled the personal items portion of the insurance on our home in Manitoba and had not yet taken out a renter’s insurance policy for our belongings here in British Columbia. Not only were the items gone, they were not going to be paid for. The money was not the biggest concern, but it was injury upon injury.
We both felt devastated as well as angry and violated. Marianne felt humiliated as the one time she ever took off her rings, they were stolen. I felt negligent for not getting insurance on our home contents.
It was a sombre scene as we prepared for bed that night. I wondered how I would get myself emotionally prepared to lead worship and preach the following morning, but that was still hours and a new sunrise away. Before turning in, we prayed. I prayed for the people who committed the crime and asked that God turn the event into an occasion of redemption. I am not sure how convinced I was of this likelihood, but I asked anyway.
Marianne, characteristically, was more to the point: “Lord, all I want back is my rings and my bracelet. I don’t want anything else”. I think now of Jesus’ parable of the woman and her lost coin, and how she swept the entire house until she found it.
Worship came and went. Later Sunday afternoon, we sat at the kitchen table cutting pears and preparing them in jars for cooking. To say our mood was subdued would be like saying the Titanic suffered a mishap on its first voyage to America. We knew our problems were small in comparison to those with great losses; but like an aching tooth, when it is yours, it fills the whole world as you know it.
From outside we heard voices and then a cry of,
I recognized Heather, our five year old’s voice and feared she or her sister had perhaps hurt herself, the calls were so insistent. We quickly opened the kitchen door to the open air car port. Up the grassy slope came Carolyn the older of the two neighbour girls. She was carrying Heather under one arm. Heather in turn was clutching something red under her arm as they climbed the steps from the embankment in the front of our home.
“We found it! We found it under some leaves down at the bottom of the hill!” Heather called out. And there in her grasp was indeed the lost jewellery box. I knew that having been stolen and apparently abandoned that there was no chance our treasured items would be inside.
Afterward we retraced the path of the burglars—it was not hard as they left a trail of discarded items behind them like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. The thieves had exited the house by the downstairs doorway and instead of heading up the driveway to the street, had turned right into the wooded lot next to the house. They had paused at an abandoned picnic table and broken the box open. Marianne remembered locking it with its tiny key. Once broken open the miscreants had rifled through it, discarding some less interesting items such as necklaces, and brooches. The rings and the charm bracelet were easily visible—especially the vulnerable rings which hung on little plastic hooks attached to the lid of the box.
Next the thieves had carried the now broken jewellery case through the wooded slope and across the street next to it and had ditched the box in a wooded boulevard next to the highway out of town.
In Heather’s words, “Here is how I remember that day:
Carolyn and I were exploring in the woods, and about to go back home. Just as we were turning around to leave, out of the corner of my eye I saw a bit of red under a pile of leaves and brush. In my child's mind, someone had discarded a red hat or some other bit of dress-up. We started away down the path home, but couldn't stand the idea of leaving the red hat abandoned. So, I ran back over to just see it - and couldn't believe what I had discovered. It was Mom's jewellery box. I recognized it right away, as I had spent many hours with Mom looking over what I considered to be the precious contents of the box.
When Carolyn saw what I was holding, she immediately grabbed me under her arms and carried me back up the hill to our house. As I found out later, she was worried that the thieves might still have been in the area, and perhaps wouldn't feel too generous if they saw us taking their cache. When thinking about this now, it's amazing that a 10 year old would have that sort of insight, and concern herself with "rescuing" me as well. For all I know, they could very well have been in the area that day.
I don't remember much about coming up the hill except calling out to Mom, and when she saw what I was holding she started to weep. My first thought was that I was in trouble for going off into the woods, until she gathered me up in her arms. It wasn't until later that someone explained to me that they were tears of joy.”
Heather handed her prize to her mother who set it on the table among pear cores and peelings. Its broken latch signaled its violation as much as our eyes would have signaled ours. Marianne opened the box, wondering if there were any items left inside, but I had no expectation of what we would see.
But there still hanging improbably from their plastic hooks, were: one solitaire diamond engagement ring and one golden wedding band. And also inside among a hodge-podge of lesser items were Marianne’s gold necklace timepiece and her charm bracelet! My grandfather’s watch was gone for good and so were the twice stolen calculator and our hair drier.
We hugged, we jumped for joy, we laughed and we cried. I think I can understand Jesus words, “Come see; that which was lost is now found!”
Since then, I have seen many prayers answered and many not answered the way we wish. I have even offered some prayers which I knew beyond any shadow of doubt would be answered. But I confess freely that I had no expectation whatever that Marianne’s simple prayer, “Lord, all I want is my rings and my charm bracelet”, would be answered so concretely and dramatically. And I am glad. Had I prayed with calm assurance, I do not think I could possibly have experienced the wonder and joy I did that sunny Sunday afternoon in 1980.
Whatever happened to the boys (I presume it was boys) who committed the deed, I never learned. But some weeks later a woman came to the house with a couple of gold chains. She said her son had “found them on the sidewalk near our home”. We did not press her further on how she knew they were ours, but thanked her for their return. I believe that redemption can come in many forms and that parental discipline is certainly one of God’s most highly favoured devices. Beyond that, we were both content to release the matter to God’s grace. The lost calculator reminds me that grace means not calculating sins for or against. Some calculators are best lost and forgotten forever.
Marianne died eleven years later about the same time of year, but she had made it clear that at her death, whenever that would occur, Christine, our eldest would receive her rings, and Heather our youngest would receive the charm bracelet. The rest of her possessions could be divided as her survivors saw fit.
Christine was married in 1994 and at her engagement asked if I would have any objection to her wearing her mother’s engagement ring as her own. My delight that the prize I purchased from the Sears catalogue should be prized by my daughter is renewed every time I see it on her finger.
When Heather turned twenty, I gave her the charm bracelet as her permanent possession. Both daughters wear them with love in memory of their mother and in memory of God’s wondrous love.