Nothing like a burglary to get you focused on home security.
At least that was the case with my father.
We came home one night when I was a teenager to find our TV missing, the shower steamed up and the cottage cheese inexplicably swimming in steak sauce. That got my dad thinking of ways to make our home less inviting to thieves in need of a bath who had a weakness for weird food combinations.
Which led, ultimately, to a ridiculous purchase: A 1,000-pound safe with a door like a bank vault.
Naturally, my dad didn’t go to a safe store and buy a new one. The man was an incurable bargain hunter. He routinely arrived home with curiosities, boasting he’d gotten them “for a song.”
For years my father drove around with a hand-painted duck decoy on the back seat of his car, as he searched for a replacement part.
“These things are worth lots of money,” he said upon his return from a Maryland antique store with the wooden bird.
“It’s missing a beak,” we pointed out.
He shrugged, insisting that beaks were everywhere and as soon as he found a match, he’d glue it on and the decoy would be restored to its glory.
But back to the safe. Dad bought it from a second-hand store and paid moving guys to hump the massive six-foot-tall metal box into our basement.
If memory serves, this is what came next:
My mother watched, skeptical.
“It’s worth a lot of money,” Dad assured her. “And it’s fireproof.”
Best of all, the owner had parted with it for a surprisingly small sum.
My father immediately set about gathering all of his important papers – his insurance policy, high school diploma, Merchant Marine union cards, grocery store coupons, car titles and “rare” coins – arranging them neatly on the safe’s shelves.
“Where do you keep your jewelry?” he asked my mother.
”What jewelry?” she shot back before adding, “In my lingerie drawer, where else?”
“Well, that’s not a good place for valuables,” Dad lectured. “You’re lucky the TV thief didn’t make off with your stuff. From now on, keep your jewelry in the safe.”
Shaking her head in resignation, my mother added a few velvet boxes to the mix and my father closed the door and spun the combination lock.
You could hear the heavy bolts slide into place.
It immediately became clear why the safe had been so inexpensive. The lock didn’t work. Rather it worked, but the combination that came with it didn’t.
Holding the paper in one hand, Dad played and played with the numbers. Right. Left. Backwards. Random. Nothing.
I tried. My brother tried. My dad’s best friend, a state trooper with some experience in safe-cracking even gave it a go.
It was going to take dynamite to open.
“Well, everything’s safe in there,” my father said cheerfully, patting the gray box. “And if there’s a fire, we won’t lose a thing.”
A few weeks later, my father tried the combination for the 1,000th time and the capricious lock opened.
Dad was triumphant.
My mother grabbed her jewelry and put the boxes back with her slips and bras.
Dad, on the other hand, added even more valuables, but reluctantly taped a hand-lettered sign on the safe: “Do Not Close Door.”
When my kids were young, they loved to poke through the safe with their grandfather, sifting through his treasures. A small commemorative Buzz Aldrin coin, cancelled stamps bearing obscure monarchs’ faces, a picture of my dad on the pitcher’s mound in high school, a binder full of my grandfather’s awful poetry, tarnished cuff links, deceased dogs’ collars.
A duck decoy without a nose.
Each time, my dad admonished the kids to never, ever close the door.
When my parents died, my brother and I went through the old house deciding what to keep, what to donate, what to sell.
I took the beakless mallard.
My brother took the safe.
Hey, it’s worth a lot of money. As long as you don’t close the door.