THE CASE OF THE MISSING LAWN CHAIRS
By Abbie Johnson Taylor
“Somebody stole our lawn chairs!” Dad announced.
For many years during the summer months, my family attended weekly band concerts at Kendrick Park in Sheridan, Wyoming, on Tuesday evenings after dinner. We brought lawn chairs and listened to the community band playing old standards, marches, and popular songs. Afterward, we trekked to a nearby ice cream stand for dessert, leaving our lawn chairs stashed behind a tree out of the way, sure in the knowledge that they would still be there when we returned to claim them before walking home. But now, all we could do was gape at the empty spot where we expected the chairs to be.
It was the summer of 1983, and I was home from college on break between my junior and senior years. My ten-year-old cousin, Shelley, who was visiting from South Dakota with her family, had accompanied Dad and me and our Irish setter Clancy to the park. She said, “Oh, no.”
Clancy had wandered off and was sniffing something nearby, blissfully unaware of this tragedy. Dad finally said, “Well, why don’t you two start walking home? I’ll look around and see if whoever took them dumped them somewhere else. I left my New Yorker magazine in my chair, and I wasn’t finished reading it.”
With Clancy, he headed off in one direction while Shelley and I sauntered the other way toward home, which was only about a block away. While waiting to cross a busy street, Shelley suddenly cried, “Look, there are our chairs.”
“Where?” I asked, turning my head this way and that. With my limited vision, I couldn’t spot them.
“They were in the back of that pick-up that passed us. One of the guys in the cab just gave us the finger.”
“Let’s wait for Dad,” I suggested.
A few minutes later when he caught up with us, and Shelley told him what she’d seen, he said, “Well, I’ll be darned. Come on. Let’s go home. It’s safe to cross now.”
At home, we found Mother watching television in the living room. When Shelley excitedly told her what had happened, Mother asked her, “Did you see what the truck looked like?”
“Yeah, it was a green truck,” Shelley answered. “and there were two guys in the cab.”
Turning to Dad, Mother said, “Well, you should call the police. With Shelley’s description, they might be able to find the chairs.”
“Yeah,” Shelley cried, jumping up and down and clapping her hands.
Clancy, who always got excited when anyone else did, voiced his approval while dancing in circles and wagging his tail.
After shushing the dog, Dad said, “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.” He made his way to the phone in the hall.
That summer, I’d been reading an Ellery Queen murder mystery which featured some police brutality. Not having had much experience with law enforcement, I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea to call the police about stolen lawn chairs. At least we didn’t have a dead body on our hands.
But Shelley was so excited about the possibility of helping find the lawn chairs. I didn’t want her to be scared. So, I remained silent while Dad made the call.
A few minutes later, when Clancy’s barking announced the arrival of the local constabulary, Shelley and I were sitting on the couch together. She must have read my mind for she moved closer to me, giggling. “You nervous?” she asked.
I should have told her there was nothing to be nervous about. Remembering what I’d heard a thousand times on the television show, Dragnet, I should have advised her to give them just the facts.
Instead, I only laughed nervously as Dad opened the front door while Clancy continued to bark and wag his tail. Grabbing his collar, Dad said, “Let me just put him on the side porch.”
To my relief, instead of an entire crew of policemen who arrived after Ellery Queen reported a murder, there was only one detective. Instead of barking orders at people like Inspector Queen, he introduced himself and engaged us in small talk before asking about the crime.
Shelley was a trooper. She described that pick-up truck and the guys in the cab as best she could, saying, “I didn’t get the license plate number, though.”
“That’s all right,” the officer said, scribbling in his notebook. “That sounds like Ricky Rodriguez’s truck.”
Dad described the lawn chairs and said, “My New Yorker magazine was in one of them.”
“Okay,” the officer said, scribbling some more. “I’ll see what I can do. It was nice meeting you all.”
The next day, Mother received a phone call from the detective. He told her they’d found the chairs, along with other contraband, in the back of that green pick-up. Unfortunately, they needed to keep all found items for evidence, and we didn’t get the chairs back until October. But miracle of miracles, that New Yorker magazine was still folded up in one of those chairs.
Note: The above true story appears in the current issue of Magnets and Ladders, which can be read here. You’ll also find it on Beetley Pete’s blog here. I was inspired to write this piece last year while taking a memoir class from fellow author Glenda Beall, who blogs here.