It happened one summer night several years ago. After work, my husband and I hastily got ready to attend a recital in the early evening. We left the house in a hurry, not wanting to be late.

It was still early, just getting dark, when we returned home. The house smelled warmly of the pie I had made earlier in the day. We didn’t notice anything unusual until I went upstairs to get ready for bed, where I noted that our bedroom door was open, but I was sure we had left it closed. Next I noticed my top bureau drawer was pulled out and some clothes had obviously been handled and thrown back in a heap. I saw that my jewelry box and a music box were missing, and the top of the bureau was swept clean of other such treasures. The bed was turned down roughly, and my pillowcase was missing.

It became obvious to me that a thief had been in our house and had used the pillowcase, right off the bed where we slept, to carry the bounty he was stealing.

We went into other rooms and found a broken upstairs window. A piece of brick lay on the floor among the glass shards. Downstairs, two closets had been ransacked. With dread, I looked at the so-called safe, a small insulated box, where I kept my two most precious pieces of jewelry. Sure enough, the hinge on the box was broken, papers were strewn around, and the jewelry was gone.

We called the police and waited for a while, still finding out that more items were gone. We wondered if the perpetrator was still somewhere in our home, and wished we could put this behind us and get some sleep. It had been a long enough day without this disturbing climax.

Finally the sheriff’s deputy came. He noticed the aroma of the pie, and seeing it, he commented, “The thief wasn’t a teenager or young guy, because he would not have passed up that pie!”

He took down our story and looked for fingerprints, but found no good ones. He said when a burglar intends to break into a house, it is not an uncommon practice to break a window to see if there is any response — human or dog.  Hearing none in this case, so assuming correctly that no one was at home, the thief quickly found that in our haste we had neglected to lock the back door. To use a pillowcase is fairly common. He went to closets, and opened bureau drawers. The deputy said top bureau drawers are where people often keep valuables. It might be wise to change that habit.

Folks feel extremely violated when a thief enters their home. Home is our trusted place of peace and safety, and our haven for privacy. If he paws through our clothes, and handles the pillow on which we rest our heads, his hands have defiled our most personal belongings, and he has taken precious items.

Our monetary losses were not great, and we did have insurance. But the emotional or sentimental toll was huge. One piece of jewelry was a string of real pearls that my brother had brought back from Japan, where he had been stationed in the late 1940s. It had been a beautiful gift for me, and I loved it. Each of my three daughters had worn the pearls at their wedding.

The other piece seemed irreplaceable. My mother’s engagement ring was an opal, with a small pearl on either side of the unique stone. Opal varies a lot in color; this one had a beautiful blue side. On her deathbed she had given me the ring — one of her most precious possessions — and now I had lost it.

Several weeks later I received a telephone call from someone in the court system saying they had caught the thief, who had admitted our house was one of those he burgled. I asked if anything of mine had been found. The answer was no, as expected.

While nothing can truly compensate for a sentimental loss such as mine, my six children put their heads together, and their money, and figured out a way to make it up to me. My daughters had worn not only the pearls but also the ring at their weddings. One of the wedding photos showed the ring very clearly. They took the photo to a jeweler and had a ring almost identical created for me and gave it to me for Christmas. That may have been the first time my children saw me cry.

Fast-forward now to my 80th birthday. They joked that I’d need a box of tissues handy when I opened my present from them. You guessed it — it was a beautiful pearl necklace!

This experience had a devastating down side, and brought sadness, but there was definitely a happy side, too.  I learned a lesson about top bureau drawers, and also closet “safes.” (Take a short hike to your friendly neighborhood bank, and rent a really safe box.)

More important, I realized that thoughtful and loving people are more valuable than any jewels, and the love of my children is more precious than opals or pearls.

Mavis J. Longfellow and her husband Lawrence were the original owners of Longfellow’s Greenhouses in Manchester.

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