The Purloined Silver
by Jean Blasiar
It happened last Thanksgiving, a Thanksgiving never to forget. The Carducci family sat down to a beautifully set table at their momma’s house. The women (three sisters: Marilyn, Jeannie and Donna) were the first to notice the new sterling silver place setting including butter knives at each one’s place. Each women thought that one of the others had loaned momma her silver for the occasion.
Marilyn, the oldest, looked at her two sisters seated at the table on either side of their mother. Each of them shook her head ‘No’ at the question, ‘Yours?’ that Marilyn posed quietly as she picked up a fork and looked from one to the other sister for confirmation.
Jeannie mouthed, “I wish. I want dibs.”
Momma said what she always said at the table or not at the table, “Eat!”
After dinner the traditional bouche noel log arrived on momma’s chipped plates with yet another Gorham silver fork and spoon. Matty, mom’s faithful helper in the kitchen, avoided looking at anyone’s eyes when she served the dessert.
Before coffee but after the kids left the table to go down to the playground, Marilyn made her way into the kitchen. “Okay, Maddy,” she said, making sure that the swinging door had closed, “where did this silver come from?”
“I know nothing.”
“Come on, Maddy. You must have asked.”
“Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”
“Don’t tell what I don’t know. You want coffee?” Not once did Maddy look at Marilyn when she served the coffee. A dead give-away.
While they dawdled over coffee and dessert, each woman lovingly fingered a fork or a spoon, fondling the fine silver in her hand. As was the custom after dinner at momma’s, the women in the family cleared the table and momma joined the men in the den for football.
The buzz in the kitchen was all about the silver. “I’d sell my fur coat for this,” said Donna holding up a knife. “I say we draw now for who gets it when momma…”
“Don’t say it!” Marilyn blessed herself. “It’s going back. It isn’t ours.”
Jeannie pointed to the highly polished, now hand washed silver service lined up on the counter. “Going back where?’ she asked. “What did Maddy say?”
“Playing dumb,” Marilyn said. “She left after serving the coffee.”
Marilyn located the silver chest in one of the bottom kitchen drawers, way in the back. The remaining silver service in the chest added up to twelve place settings plus accessory pieces including a gravy ladle, a serving knife and fork, slotted spoon, even twelve fish knives.
“Fish knives?” Marilyn said, shocked. “Who has fish knives?”
“Maybe momma treated herself,” Donna commented. “Or maybe she won it.”
“She’d be bragging about that,” Marilyn said. “I have this bad feeling like maybe she…”
“No! She wouldn’t. She’d have gone to confession and the priest would have told her to return it.”
The women in the kitchen looked at each other. “Mrs. Miller!” they said simultaneously.
Mrs. Miller, momma’s dearest friend, had been diagnosed with dementia but still lived at home with the help of a live-in couple. Momma Carducci visited Mrs. Miller three times a week allowing the couple some time off. When Momma visited, she brought home made cake, lasagna and Mrs. Miller’s favorite, minestrone. It was a blessing, they said, that Mrs. Miller still recognized Mrs. Carducci.
“Does Mrs. Miller have family?” Jeannie whispered.
“Lots of family.” Marilyn said. Marilyn, being the oldest and closest to momma, would know any or all of momma’s friends. “Put that ladle back, Jeannie.”
“If she has family, why aren’t they taking care of her?”
“Oh, they think they are,” Marilyn said. “They pay for the couple who lives in.”
“Really. How generous of them.”
“We have to give this back,” Marilyn said, “before they find out.”
“First we have to find out what momma says about how she has it.”
The two sisters looked to Marilyn who knew all along that confronting their mother would be left to her. Resolutely Marilyn braced herself and hit the swinging door leading to the dining/living room where the men and momma were watching football. As Marilyn entered the room, she heard her mother shout, “Get him, you idiot!”
“Momma, can I see you in the kitchen?”
At the commercial Mrs. Carducci heaved herself out of her recliner, gave Marilyn a dirty look and a mumbled Italian epithet as she trudged along to the kitchen, slapping the swinging door ahead of her. The ladies in the kitchen hardly waited for the door to close before pouncing.
“Where did you get this silver?” from Jeannie unable to hold it in any longer.
“It’s mine.” Mrs. Carducci grabbed the ladle out of Jeannie’s hand. “Take a long walk or something.”
Trying to remain pleasant, Marilyn came up to her mother, put an arm around her shoulder, and asked quietly, “Is this Mrs. Miller’s silver, momma?”
“She don’t need,” Mrs. Carducci said, confirming Marilyn’s worst fear.
“That isn’t the question, momma. You can’t just…”
“Nobody comes any more.”
“That’s doesn’t mean that you can take…”
“She say, take. So I take! She don’t want them to have.”
“Who doesn’t she want to have the silver? Her family?”
Mrs. Carducci made a derogatory gesture flipping her fingers under her chin, a gesture which the grandchildren were warned never, ever to repeat.
Jeannie said, “Are they stealing from Mrs. Miller?”
“I don’t say nothing.”
“Mrs. Miller’s children are going to want this silver when something happens to her.”
“She give to me.”
“Gave to you?”
“She say, ‘Take’. I take.”
And with that, Mrs. Carducci slammed the swinging door open and left the kitchen. Subject closed.
The three daughters looked at each other. Marilyn finally said. “Get a bag for the chest. We’re taking it back.” Then she opened the swinging door far enough to call to her mother, “We’re going for a walk, momma.”
The response came back, “Good!”
Marilyn drove. Jeannie sat shotgun. In the back seat Donna hunched over the front so she didn’t miss a word.
Mrs. Miller lived three short blocks up Avian Way, a route Mrs. Carducci traveled in her old Chevy three times a week with her home-made soups, lasagna and cakes.
“Stop the car! STOP!” Donna screamed suddenly.
Marilyn’s tires squealed in an abrupt stop. “What? What did I hit?”
“Duck down!” Donna said.
What Marilyn in the front seat and Jeannie beside her had not seen was a man and a woman carrying things out of Mrs. Miller’s house. Jeannie looked up just far enough to see them getting into the van parked in the driveway.
“They’re getting away. Follow ‘em.”
“Wait a minute,” Marilyn said. “Who’s going to stay with Mrs. Miller?”
“Let me out,” Donna said reaching for the back door. “I’ll stay.”
Marilyn and Jennie both thanked Donna, let her out at the curb and drove off without checking if the door to Mrs. Miller’s house was unlocked. “Wait, Donna!” Marilyn called, stopping the car again. “Take this.” Jeannie picked up the silver chest off the front seat and handed it off to Donna out the front window. Jeannie turned to Marilyn. “Should she call the police?” she asked.
“Yes,” Marilyn said. “They took off and left poor Mrs. Miller alone.”
Donna said, “That’s what I’m supposed to tell the police? Is that a crime?”
“I’m going to lose them.” Then Marilyn, who couldn’t seem to get control of her car without screeching away from the curb one more time, took off down the street after the van.
Donna proceeded to the house which she discovered was locked. In an attempt to get to the back, as the designated intruder, she walked right into a drainage ditch which was covered with leaves and branches, a mass of tangled dead wood and high grass on the side of the house. The now screaming woman reached for a branch as she fell into the culvert dropping the silver chest, spilling its contents in the ditch, and breaking off the branch she was clutching in an attempt to crawl her way out.
A male voice next door cried out of an upstairs window, “Ethel, get my gun!”
“Oh my God, don’t shoot!” Donna cried.
After reaching the top of the ditch, covered with mud and leaves and what she thought might be dog poo (the smell was horrific), Donna immediately put her hands in the air. “Don’t shoot!” she cried again to whoever it was that she couldn’t see next door.
“I got you in my scope, lady,” the voice next door shouted. “The police are on their way.”
“Oh… good,” Donna sighed. “I think.”
Donna sat down on the grass on the other side of the ditch, hands still in the air, and waited.
Within minutes a car pulled up in front. It sounded like two people running. Donna didn’t know whether to call out and reveal herself or let them find her as she was, hands in the air, when she heard screams. Marilyn and Jeannie fell into the same ditch in the side yard as Donna had.
“Shit!” Marilyn screamed.
“Dog shit!” Jeannie yelled, “Donna, where are you?”
“I’m back here but the man next door has a gun on me and I can’t put my hands down until the police get here.”
“We need help getting out of this ditch. My new shoes!”
“My God, Ethel, there’s a gang of ‘em,” came from the guy next door. Stay where you are. Nobody move! I got a permit for this shotgun. It makes a big hole in whatever I hit.”
Donna heard whimpering from the bottom of the ditch. “It’s Thanksgiving, Mister,” she pleaded. “Are you a Christian?”
“No! I’m an atheist. And I ain’t thankful for nuthin I can’t hit with my gun.”
Donna cried, “My arms are hurting.”
Suddenly, two policemen sneaked up on Marilyn and Jeannie with their guns drawn.
“Don’t shoot!” both women shouted.
“Put down your guns,” one of the policemen shouted.
“What guns? Tell the gun happy guy next door to put down his.”
“Put down your gun!”
“Yes, sir, Captain. I put ‘er down. This gang was trying to break in and steal from a poor defenseless woman.”
“We’ll take care of it, sir. Do not pick up your gun again. Is that clear? Or do we need to come over and arrest you?”
“It’s on the floor…sir. I got a permit.”
“Can I put my arms down now?”
“Come out slowly where we can see you.”
Slowly, Donna emerged from the yard with her arms in the air but she slipped on the muddy ground and once again she fell unceremoniously into the ditch on top of Marilyn and Jeannie.
“Get off me, Donna! Get her off me.”
During the next ten minutes as the sun was setting, It took both of the policemen to extricate the women from the ditch. Marilyn never stopped talking the entire time they were being hauled out. One of the policemen gave an ungentlemanly “Whoa” while trying to pull Jeannie out of what was undoubtedly dog excrement.
By the time all three women were sitting on the ground in the patio, the sun was setting.
“Go on in,” Marilyn said to the policemen who pulled her out. “Make sure Mrs. Miller’s all right. She’s probably terrified with all this commotion in her yard.”
The policemen tried the back patio door, which was locked. He went around the side, avoiding the ditch, to the front of the house.
Meanwhile, Jeannie never stopped complaining that she lost a shoe in the ditch. Donna never stopped crying. Marilyn never stopped trying to tell the other officer, the one with the gun pointed at them, about what happened, starting with Thanksgiving dinner at their mother’s house while a helicopter circled overhead, and a huge crowd gathered in front of the house. The guy next door joined the crowd in the front and could be heard telling anyone who would listen how he had corralled the gang until the police arrived.
Minutes later the policeman who had gone around to the front of the house opened the patio door from the inside and informed the three women on the ground that there was nobody home. Nobody. No caretakers. No bedridden woman.
Neither one of the policemen wanted Marilyn, Jeannie or Donna inside their police car in their condition. When it was discovered that the women had been having dinner at their mother’s house three blocks away, it was decided to have them leave their car where it was and walk to their mother’s house with the police car following.
It was a funny sight to witness. Three women covered in mud and leaves and twigs, one hobbling on one shoe, the other two too mortified to look anywhere but down for three blocks with a police car following and a helicopter circling overhead.
Mrs. Carducci refused to let her daughters in when she answered the door. She made her sons-in-law hose down their wives in the side yard. Then the dripping women were handed towels and allowed to enter the house. The women hurried upstairs and scrounged around for something of their mother’s that they could wear to sit in the dining room and start the story over again from the beginning for the police.
During the re-telling of the story, the phone rang. Mrs. Carducci told everyone to sit still. She’d get it. Marilyn was just getting to the part where she and Jennie followed the van down the street to the freeway where they lost it in a sudden exit, but Jeannie managed to get the license number.
“Where is it?” one of the policemen wanted to know.
Marilyn looked at Jeannie who suddenly remembered that she put the piece of paper with the number in her skirt pocket which was now running in the washing machine. They would have to turn off the machine and dig it out.
As Marilyn and Jeannie were elbow high in soap suds, one of the policemen came into the laundry room and told them to come back into the dining room where everyone was seated around the table. Momma was off the phone. It seemed that the call was from the live-in couple. They took Mrs. Miller to the hospital emergency because she was complaining of chest pains. She was now doing fine and she liked the doctor’s suggestion that she move into a convalescent hospital where she would have twenty four hour care and meet lots of people her own age. The couple was calling to ask Mrs. Carducci if she would go by the house and let the dog out until the couple returned.
“Did you?” Mrs. Carducci asked Marilyn, Jeannie and Donna.
“Did we what?”
“Did you let the dog out?”
“We’ll do it on our way back to the station,” one of the policemen said as he stood up. “Since there doesn’t seem to be any robbery, we’ll be going.”
But before they left, the other policeman suddenly remembered, “What happened to the silver?”
Marilyn and Jeannie looked at Donna. “It’s still in the ditch, I guess.”
“Now that’s a problem.” He turned to the spouses.
“Gentlemen, tomorrow morning you need to take shovels over to that house and dig up what the women were trying to return. No good deed goes undone. You got that?”
Jeannie added, “And find my shoe.”
The three spouses looked at each other and nodded. “Black Friday in more ways than one,” one of them commented.
And once more, the policemen started to leave. “Oh, and before you start reclaiming what wasn’t yours in the first place, if I got the story straight, go next door and let Shotgun Sam know what you’re doing.”
Marilyn was shocked. “You mean tell him the whole story?” she said.
“That would be advisable,” the policeman said. “On the other hand, we better stop by and remind him that you’ll be coming by in the morning to dig out what you lost. He needs reminding that self defense only pertains to himself, his family and his property. You have a nice rest of Thanksgiving, folks.”
For a long time no one said a word not even when the kids came running in from the playground all excited.
“What did the policemen want?” they wanted to know. “Mom, what’s that you’re wearing?”
Then the women and their spouses, even Mrs. Carducci, broke up. “The Purloined Silver” was indeed a Thanksgiving story to remember and retell year after year after year after year.
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Jean Blasiar is a published author with 12 books for middle grades, playwright (one of her plays was optioned by 20th Century Fox for a pilot), and theatrical producer. Please visit her website, www.jeanblasiar.com, for a complete listing of her books, plays and productions.