My mother came from New Orleans and my father from Illinois. When they retired in the early 1980s, both of them wanted someplace neither too hot nor too cold and near the mountains.
Polk County, N.C., filled the bill. They bought an old cabin and lived in it six months of the year with a wood burning stove, no electricity, a spring in the back and a composting toilet.
The winters never bothered them as much as the gnats during the summer. Eventually, my mother, who was an avid reader, wanted to be able to read with something better than a kerosene lantern. After roughing it for 10 years, they built a “modern” house and lived there permanently.
The place has been mostly empty now since my parent’s deaths several years ago, but the family on the neighboring mountain looks after it. The recent news that we had been burglarized was a major blow. One of us “kids” (all three of us are in our 60s) was going to have to go there to file a police report and assess the loss. I elected myself.
Why not? I had some free time and my dogs needed a romp in the woods. I left Monday morning and stayed through Thursday. Exhausted, I told my patient blog editor at The Washington Post, Kathy Orton, that I was no good to write this week. Well, it’s 4:30 Friday morning and I can’t sleep. Being a crime victim makes a person toss and turn. Being a crime victim makes a person think about how to prevent this in the future.
In the last two months, I have been a crime victim three times. In November, I planted some trees at my house, and in May, most of them were taken right out of the ground. Then someone stole the GPS out of my (unlocked) car. And now my parents’ empty house was burglarized. It is demoralizing.
Luckily the burglar who broke into the house performed a surgical strike. He or she didn’t toss any boxes upside-down and didn’t commit any acts of vandalism. We lost some small things — the rack of spare keys in the coat closet, two chain saws and a banged-up 12-year-old pickup truck. My brother-in-law remarked “chain saws and an old pickup truck? Only in North Carolina!”
Polk County, North Carolina is not the crime capital of the U.S. The police department is well staffed, though, and an officer was on the scene right away after the neighbors called to report the crime. When I arrived, another officer came and we looked the place over. The detective who gathers evidence couldn’t get there till Wednesday, though. In the meantime, I had the locks changed and disabled the garage doors so they cannot be opened from the outside, with or without a key.
When the detective arrived, he showed me how the burglar entered the house. There are two sets of French doors that open onto the outside. He slipped his credit card between the doors, pressed the lock, and within 15 seconds, the door popped open.
All the brand new locks and keys I made the previous day were a waste. The burglar had taken all the keys from the rack but didn’t need more than a credit card (or a thin flexible piece of plastic) to get back into the house.
Before I left, I created a locked closet with a hasp and a padlock for a few other tools and chained off the driveway to the property. I departed with a heavy heart.
In my new house, how am I going to prevent similar crimes? I want a French door that opens onto the back patio. I suppose they make effective deadbolts. Some of my windows will be big enough that a person could fit through them.
Because I am tempted to landscape with big foundation bushes and clusters of trees, I’m going to have to make sure that the landscaping doesn’t obscure a view of these windows and doors. But the best insurance is probably befriending the neighbors. While they are closer than the next mountain, most of them, like all urban folks, are gone during the day. Still, a close-knit neighborhood is my best defense.
Thank goodness for my dogs!
Mary McCutcheon is a retired professor of anthropology at George Mason University. This is her story of transforming her house from something she doesn’t want into something she does.