26 September 2020

Stolen Bicycle

Honestly, this could have happened any time in the early sixties, but based on what I can recall I believe it must have been right in here in 1961—nearly sixty years ago—that it happened. It was beginning to get dark early (as I remember it), possibly not long after Daylight Saving Time had ended. My brother had been out riding, and he’d left his bicycle at the edge of our property, alongside a little access road by the gravel pit that served some residences behind us. My father told him to bring it back to the house before the sun set.

My brother headed out, a little annoyed—and then came back without the bicycle, looking worried. It wasn’t where he’d left it. My brother was forgetful at the best of times, so we took a quick look around the yard to see if it was anywhere to be found, and my father went out with a flashlight (the sun had set by then) to look along the bank by the access road and where the property fronted Fourth Plain. The bicycle was gone. Apparently.

We had nearly an acre of yard planted with a variety of shrubs and trees that might obscure a bicycle, especially in the dusk, so I, at least, was not convinced. But it didn’t turn up in the daylight either, so my mother called the police to report it stolen. We had followed the instructions given in a police handout on protecting bicycles, which included placing our name and address on the bicycle in a hidden place, and we informed the police of this, as instructed. The officer said that there was not much chance of our ever seeing the bicycle again, but we could check in from time to time to see if a matching bicycle had turned up in their collection of the lost and stolen. No, they had no matching bicycle at this time.

It was a considerable blow to my brother, who used the bicycle constantly to get around, and it shook me up too. I mean, despite our parents’ constant reminders of theft and accident, nothing of the sort had ever happened to us here. I suppose our parents had in mind the extensive vandalizing of the house before we had moved in, but I always took that as a consequence of its being vacant at the time, not as an augur of the future. The thought that somebody had simply come onto our property and walked off with (or maybe ridden away on) my brother’s bike was disquieting. Maybe even shocking. Powerlessness, outrage, violation—all that was stirred together in my emotional cauldron. But there didn’t seem to be anything to be done about it. My parents dutifully called in to the police over a period of weeks, but each time were informed that nothing matching the description had turned up. They did send us another copy of their brochure on protecting bicycles from theft, but that wasn’t much help. And my brother had a birthday coming up, and he had almost outgrown the bicycle anyway, so through some combination of present and labor he ended up with a new and improved replacement. And life went on.

I might not remember the event at all, traumatic as it was, were it not for the sequel. My parents though eccentric were always active in school events, and a year or two later my father was the parent designated to assist on a school field trip involving my youngest brother—not the one with the missing bicycle. His class was touring our emergency facilities in Vancouver. The fire department put on a demonstration for them, and my brother recalled watching them with considerable interest as they set a house on fire, but was disappointed that they had to leave before the firemen could put it out. As the class toured the police station they passed a rack of recovered bicycles, and one of them looked oddly familiar to my father. He didn’t do anything at that moment, being involved in keeping an eye on a couple dozen small children, but after the field trip was over he went back to the station.

The bicycle he had seen was in fact my brother’s. It still had his name clearly printed on it, as well as the address located in a concealed place. The police were quite happy to return it to us, and we were fairly happy to get it back, though by this time it was superfluous. How had the police recovered it? we wanted to know. It had been found, abandoned, presumably after somebody had stolen it. Since nobody had reported its loss or claimed it, they’d kept it for use in a program that loaned out bicycles to kids who might otherwise be tempted to steal one. Where had it been found? Just off Fourth Plain, on an access road by a gravel pit.

Yes, that’s right. The police had stolen my brother’s bicycle. They had taken it from our yard, they had repeatedly denied having it in their possession, and they put us through all the trauma of violation and loss.

My father, predictably, found the whole thing amusing. It fit with his notions of how people in authority were wont to behave. I drew a somewhat different conclusion from the affair.

Police steal for no reason, and then lie about it.

I don’t now remember what we did with the bicycle; we didn’t really have a use for it any longer. Possibly we passed it on to somebody else who could use it. Maybe we should have let the police keep it for use in their anti-theft program. At least it was probably doing somebody some good there.

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