Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bad News/ Good News

Yesterday morning when I went outside to go to work, I discovered my car had been broken into. This happens at least once a year like a Halloween prank. I still drive the same clunky station wagon I used to carpool the kids. This poor old car has spent its life idling in front of elementary schools, junior highs, high schools, and parked a few blocks away in a university parking lot. Then maybe once a year some kids break into it, scramble for the pocket change I keep on the dash, and play with the cigarette lighter. Big deal.

But when I got to work, my grade book was missing. Teachers have nightmares about losing their gradebooks, especially after midterm. This was gritty. I ransacked my office. No luck. What if my grade book had fallen out of my backpack? What if it were LOST?

I left work early at 2 and went home to search for the grade book only to find that my house had been burglarized. I didn't catch on right away. When I walked through the dining room, I noticed some papers out of place on the floor. I sat down in the den to contemplate my grade book search strategy and pet the dog. As I absently gazed through the French doors at the Easter basket green grass in the back yard, I noticed a small basket from my son's room -- a basket that held Mardi Gras beads, a whistle, pocket change -- overturned on a corner of the deck. When the dog and I went outside to investigate, we found the basket's contents (minus the pocket change) spilled down the brick walk that led back to the street.

Hal, the policeman who came to fill out the report, is a former student, so he, my husband, and I had a fairly good time for the hour Hal was there. When you live in Mayberry, there's always a lot to catch up on. The whole town knows the usual suspects, the guys who make it a habit to steal from the elderly, run home-repair cons, or cook meth., and Hal caught us up to date on prosecutions and sentencings, matters of public record. Walking from room to room to see what was missing was like Santa Claus in reverse. Someone unseen had been in our house, and it was our job to discover what prizes had been taken, not left.

Well, if the truth be known, we don't own many prizes. There was very little missing. Some pocket change. A gold watch my husband received for his 16th birthday. The thieves had been very neat. Just a few drawers tossed about, their contents strewn. No windows broken.

Most people have asked "Don't you feel violated?" I spent several hours alone in the house last night and it felt about the same as usual. The dog barked several times, but he didn't seem particularly spooked. He probably wagged his tail and begged to be petted and made a nuisance of himself while the uninvited guests were there.

This morning I had to get up very early. My son was coming by before 6, headed for a conference in Birmingham. I walked around the house, sipping a cup of coffee and looking at my souvenirs, trying to decide what I would miss, what I would have a hard time replacing. Not much.

I would miss the framed letter Harper Lee wrote my seventeen-year-old daughter when my daughter won the first Harper Lee essay contest. "'Ignorant people can always find someone to hate'" Harper Lee quoted from the essay "are words I wish I had written myself," she wrote.

Red, our talented cousin whose work is in the Smithsonian, painted a mixed media portrait of Scout from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, looking like my daughter. Or maybe it's my daughter looking like Scout. The portrait has a page ripped from the novel glued to it, and there is a rusty iron mockingbird with the word SIN stamped into it affixed to the top. The entire piece was done on a cigar box like the one in which Jem and Scout kept the treasures Boo Radley left for them in the tree. I would miss that, too.

This is the first time in my life anyone has ever actually come inside my home with the purpose of stealing anything. I've always felt most people could take one look and realize there are greener pastures than this.

I found my grade book in my dimly lit dining room where it had fallen out of my backpack and hidden itself behind a chair.

This was not the worst day of my life.

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