Off North Road

Unsolved case

By Russell Hoxsie - June 29, 2006

Ten or more years ago I wrote a piece for Nancy Aronie's writing workshop about a lie I had once told. It was a bit of exaggeration to say I had lied but true in basic fact. I had lost my temper with my younger brother who locked me out of our basement. Trying to force an entry I kicked a hole in the bottom of the door and told our parents nothing. They assumed we had rats and baited for them unsuccessfully for weeks. Thirty-five years later, feeling safe in the passage of time, I came clean to the whole story. The shadow of guilt was erased not only for not owning up to the damaged door, but for the implicit involvement in the cover-up by my kid brother who kept the secret.

Another story which is destined to become family myth has come to light which reminds me of the other but in quite a different fashion. My cousin Bob Glidden and his wife Carol live in a small town in central Massachusetts, New Braintree. It is near Hardwick, Barre, and Wheelright. None of these communities is bigger than the minute it takes to traverse most of the Main Streets. These are places of earnest hard-working folks, most of whom have lived there for at least a couple of generations. Our grandparents lived their lives not far away in Gilbertville. Barre was a frequent place of our childhood visits with Bob and his sister Marion where they grew up.

Last month a clipping from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette filtered its way down through the family to me in Chilmark via the Gliddens and my sister's family. Written by Kim Ring, the piece was headlined by "Bottle is back after 32 years," and "Thief apologizes to ex-police chief." That's news for any family who is starred not only with their town's ex-chief of police, cousin Bob, but also town clerk of 32 year's service, his wife Carol.

This unlikely story began in July 1974 when Bob Glidden Jr. apparently caught sight of a stranger pulling away from his family home in a small car, having snatched a huge, much prized green bottle which his mother had received as a gift. It had resided on the front lawn surrounded by lovingly planted flowers to set off a well-tended yard. The younger man had chased the thief, a young woman, all the way to Worcester without catching her. No traces were turned up to identify the nefarious one over several months. In fact the theft went unsolved.

As my cousin noted on retirement from the force, "It was my only unsolved case." Knowing Bob, I am sure this unfinished business was a thorn in his side for many years. More irritating probably must have been the knowledge that several other items had gone missing over the years from their property, which was on a lonely country road, albeit pretty well traveled. Bob has been a successful landscaper although he claims now to be retired but continues to house a barn full of equipment, large and small. I often think of his living one grand hard-working life with as many toys to play with as you can imagine. He may take a different view but I know he and Carol would take the loss of that green bottle as a personal loss of high import.

This situation all changed one day recently when a guilt-ridden middle-aged woman appeared at the Gliddens' door. She gave Carol a heart-rending apology for her wanton ways and theft of the bottle. According to Carol, she said, "[I] never had any joy from the bottle ... and was heavy of heart." She recounted "a troubled past, problems with alcohol and bad decisions." Now at around 50 years old, she said she was "on a better path and wanted to make peace."

Bob searched 20 years of records upstairs in the Town Hall where they had been stored to make way for computers and found the bottle had been stolen on July 28, 1974, and returned May 28, 2006, ... undamaged and just as he had remembered it. The return of the bottle became the subject of more family conjecture. Was it worth a lot of money after all this time missing? He had paid 35 dollars for it in 1974 at an antiques store. "I'd like to know what it was used for," Mrs. Glidden said. "Someone said it was probably chemicals, but I'd like it to be a wine bottle."

"She may be right," the Telegram's Kim Ring continues, "A bottle much like it is on sale on e-Bay and listed as a demijohn or wine carboy. That bottle comes with a wicker basket made to fit around it and bidding was at $109 last night with one day to go."

Ring continues, "According to the Web site://www.oldandsold.com/. (The) Most difficult of all the hand-blown bottles to fashion was the large green carboy. It was made to hold vinegar, cider, and - it's been said - applejack." The bottle is likely 100 years old.

I am grateful to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and Kim Ring for many of the details of the Gliddens' unique experience. I hope the bottle thief's redemption is proper reward for her apparent monumental change of heart and the bottle's return. For all breaks in behavior there is a price to be paid; if not in dollars or confinement in jail, perhaps the greatest is guilt, which silently works its decay.