Like most families, my family had a few oddball rules. I’m not talking about typical stuff like “don’t hit your sister” or “wash your hands before dinner”. I’m talking about Cofer family specific stuff like “we only go to the Chinese restaurant on Friday nights” and “no talking while Dallas is on”.
One of my family’s strangest rules was “we don’t go to Six Flags as a family unit”. Six Flags Over Georgia is, of course, an amusement park. I was welcome to go any time with the Cub Scouts, and my sister and I were allowed to go together with the church youth group. We just weren’t allowed to go as a complete nuclear family. And that’s because the two times we went as a family our house was broken into!
The second time was pretty straightforward: a “friend” of mine smashed a pane of glass in a French door and let himself in. He made off with all my computer software and cassette tapes, which was odd because we spent 75% of our time together making illegal copies of the same. A few days later, some of my other friends found my (empty) cassette carrying case in the woods behind my “friend’s” house. They brought it to me, and my mom called the cops. My “friend” admitted breaking in, mostly due to a fairly severe cut he’d gotten under his arm from reaching though the broken pane of glass to unlock the door (he had hemophilia or type 1 diabetes, I can’t remember which, and his mom freaked out when he came home with the cut; as soon as the cops showed up at her door she put two and two together and he confessed).
The first break-in, however, was much stranger. My folks decided that the exterior of the house needed painting, so my mom called in a bunch of crews for estimates. She ended up going with a gang of clean cut, professionally attired, church-going dudes. They came out for the first day or two with no problems.
And then we went to Six Flags.
We came home that night, and there were no broken panes of glass or jimmied door locks. Everything seemed perfectly normal. But a day or two later my dad had to go out of town on a business trip, and wanted his pocket watch to go with a suit he was planning to wear. It was a Hamilton railroad watch, certainly not a Franck Muller or even a Rolex, but somewhat pricey all the same. More importantly, it had belonged to his father, and had immense emotional value. And he couldn’t find it anywhere. He didn’t have time to deal with it then, so he went ahead and took his trip.
I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I remember my sister was too small for even most kiddie rides at Six Flags, and my grandmother pushed her around in a stroller most of the day. More germane to this story, I was young enough that dad going out of town meant that mom would let me sleep in the bed with her and it wasn’t weird yet.
And that’s where I was the night or so after my dad left. Mom was downstairs talking on the phone and smoking at the hearth, while I was sitting in her bed, in dad’s spot, reading a book (possibly this book, one of my childhood faves). Suddenly, there was a strange sound…
THUNK! THUNK! THUNK! THUNK!
I had no idea what was going on, but it sounded pretty close. I got out of bed and dropped to my knees to peek out the window. And what did I see? One of the painters, supporting the end of their extension ladder! He had the ladder propped up against the side of the house and appeared to be looking up at someone on the ladder. But I couldn’t see who, thanks to a beam that jutted out of the Tudor style home. All I knew was that whoever was on the ladder was headed towards one of the bedroom windows… the room I was in at the time!
I freaked. I turned on every light I could find in the room and ran downstairs screaming. However, unlike my previous story, my mom believed me this time. She’d heard the sounds too. We found a couple of flash lights and went outside, but nothing seemed amiss. We were both pretty scared though, so she called the police. She made me tell the officer what I saw, and it seemed like a pretty outrageous story until my mom said something like, “I don’t know what he saw, but I heard the noises myself”. She mentioned the pocket watch and the painters, and the cop promised to look in to it.
As I’ve always heard it, the police questioned the painters, and none of them admitted to anything. And since there was no evidence one way or the other, the police called my mom and said that there was little they could do. I mean, they could have dusted my parent’s bedroom for prints, but since the painters had been inside the house raising and lowering windows and painting trim their prints would have been inside anyway. And so nothing happened. The painters finished their job and went on their way.
But then the strangest thing happened. One of the little “chores” I used to do as a kid was to get the newspaper when we came home from running errands. My mom would stop the car at the top of the hill at our driveway, and I’d get out, run to the paperbox and retrieve that day’s Atlanta Journal and Gwinnett Daily News.
But one day, a couple of weeks after the painters had left, I found an odd envelope in the paperbox. I gave it to my Mom, who opened it, to find the watch and a letter inside. The letter apologized for the theft, and explained that a young member of the church had fallen ill, and the watch was stolen as a “love offering” for her care. The author (the letter was not signed) said that he’d given it to the church and had second thoughts. He spoke with the pastor and got the watch back. And now we had it back.