II. The History
I walked into the Sheriff’s office and a tall deputy nodded at me. “Mr. Horndecker, I presume?”
I nodded. “Deputy Marks?”
He nodded and straightened some papers by tapping them on the desk a couple of times causing a Lebron James bobble head to bob. “First things first, let me take you back to your grandma.”
“I appreciate that,” I said looking around at the office. This was the first time I had ever set foot in a police station and I would have never thought I would be entering one under these odd circumstances. He led me through a maze of hallways to the back of the building where the jail cells were located. I walked down the hallway lined with a brick wall on one side and vertical iron bars on the other. In the very last cell, sitting by herself was my grandma. She looked so frail I wanted to give her a big bear hug except I was afraid she might break in two. Plus, the iron bars separated us.
“Grandma?” I asked.
For the first time, she noticed me. “Oh, hello Henry,” she said and smoothed her sweat pants as if I caught her at home unaware and she was trying to look presentable.
Deputy Marks unlocked the cell and opened the door for me to enter. “I will give you five minutes but I will be waiting right over there,” he pointed a few feet away at the wall. He closed the door after I entered and a chill ran up my spine. This was a most uncomfortable setting. I sat down next to grandma.
“Grandma,” I started, “I’m so confused. Did Helen put you up to this? Are you okay?” I still believed my grandma was innocent and must have naively followed her friend. I always mistrusted that Helen. Her quiet demeanor was surely a front for trouble. Surely there was some misunderstanding that we were going to laugh about later. Perhaps like an episode of The Golden Girls. There had to be some explanation.
She looked at me. “I guess it’s time to tell you the truth.” After biting her bottom lip for a few seconds, she began:
“It all started when I was 11. As you know, since you are so into all that family history stuff, we come from a very respectable lineage. It seems every branch on the family tree has done some prominent thing. If not prominent then always respectable. Right up to my father’s branch. We were that untouchable family up on the hill. So…”
“Distinguished?” I offered. I had always been proud of my family’s reputation in the community.
“Boring,” she corrected me. “There was a certain course planned out for me and it was stifling.
“One day I was in the market looking at candy. Momma had given me 10 cents for some penny candy. There was a classmate of mine that stuck a couple of pieces of candy in his pocket. He didn’t make it out of the door and the store owner stopped him, had him empty out his pockets, and chased him out of the store threatening to tell his mother. I looked down at the money in my hand and took two pieces of candy and stuck them in my pocket. I strolled out of the store expecting to be caught and punished just like that little boy. I think I wanted to be caught just so that I could change the course that was laid out for me.
“Funny thing is though, I walked out of that store and nobody stopped me. In fact, the storeowner held the door open for me as I walked out. I found that classmate of mine down at a park and offered him the candy. He threw the pieces down into the dirt saying he didn’t take charity.
“I marched back to the store and put four pieces in my pocket and bought two nickel candies just so the store owner wouldn’t get suspicious. I found a little grove of trees by the river and enjoyed my 6 pieces of candy for 10 cents. A very shrewd deal, you must say.”
I nodded in agreement. Something for nothing is always a good deal if it actually works.
“After that, I usually took a few things from here and there whenever given the chance.
Good crud! My grandmother is a kleptomaniac.
“There was such a rush at my secret form of rebellion. Everyone thought I was the good girl and yet I wasn’t. With the exception of the candy, I didn’t keep anything. There was no need because I belonged to the family up on the hill. I would take something from someone and place it somewhere else. It was a fun game.”
“Probably not for everyone,” I said. “The people whose stuff you ‘misplaced’ probably didn’t enjoy the game.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “No harm was ever done.”
I tucked my lower lip in and slowly exhaled.
“When I married your grandpa I figured it was time to put away silly notions and childish games. And so I stopped. It was too bad though, through your grandpa’s career we were invited into some very nice homes filled with all of the fanciest little trinkets. It would have been fun to misplace some of those hoity-toity people’s stuff.”
“Grandma, weren’t those hoity-toity people your friends?”
She shrugged her shoulders again.
“We settled into quite the domestic life. First we had your uncle, then your momma, and then your aunt. All the while your grandpa rose in respectability in the community and once again my life became idyllic.
“When your aunt started school the house became so quiet. I found myself once again bored. I was a bored middle-aged housewife with no outlet. So, I fell back on my old ways and once again created excitement. By then we were moving in a much higher level of hoity-toity people and their fancy houses filled with their fancy trinkets.
“I never actually stole anything. I just moved it around. We visited Dr. Goodman’s house and I took a souvenir trinket from the shelf. A month later, we visited again and I left it into the bathroom.
“At lunch with the ladies I heard all the stories of things that went missing and then turned up again in the darndest places. My favorite was removing Christmas decorations and returning them at other holidays. The ladies all thought they were going crazy.” She smiled warmly remembering her good joke.
“I enjoyed the game immensely until one night I took a war medal from a couple. Normally, I had stitched a secret pocket in my purse to hide things just in case anyone caught on to my act. But my stitch had come apart and I didn’t fix it before dinner. The medal slipped out into the main pocket. That night your grandpa asked if I had any pills for a headache and I told him I had some in my purse. He found the medal and of course asked for some explanation.
“I couldn’t keep secrets from him…”
“Other than the fact that you enjoyed the five-fingered discount?”
“Don’t be fresh with me, young man.”
That was big talk for someone sitting on a cot in the county jail but she was still my grandma so I went silent.
“I told him the whole story. Confessed everything. The look of disappointment on his face was the worst punishment. I had let him down. He had put me on a pedestal I didn’t deserve and now I had fallen off. I tried to explain that since I returned every item it really wasn’t stealing. More like a joke.
“But he wasn’t convinced. He actually lectured me. Something about being morally wrong to make people think they were losing their minds, blah, blah, blah. And even if I did eventually return the item, I still had had it in my possession for a time. He thought it was wrong.
“We went silent and didn’t speak to each other for days. But, in the end, I decided I actually did love the old prude so I promised I would stop. Eventually he forgave me but I don’t think he ever quite trusted me again. It took years before I took a purse with me to anyone’s house again.
“You came to live with us after your folks died and that gave me enough to do and focus on. So I was content and busy again.
“I never did ‘misplace’ anything again while your grandpa was alive. After he died however…”