By Shaindle Schmuckler | shaindle@atljewishtimes.com

I was, still am, a neat freak.

I am not obsessive about being neat but pretty darn close. My brain is filled with the type of clutter I can’t tidy up the way I can my surroundings. I actually cannot think in a cluttered space.

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler

That’s how I knew our apartment had been robbed.

When my family moved to a brand-new apartment building on the upper edge of the Bronx and lower edge of Yonkers, it boasted a large, airy apartment on the top floor. I was granted every teenager’s dream: my own room. White contemporary furniture, a corner desk, which I used mostly to store my precious items of interest, and a trundle bed, which, when opened, butted up against my dressers. It was a small room, but it was mine.

My two sisters shared a spacious second bedroom. When my sisters and I realized we did not like being separated, we moved the bottom of my trundle into their room, and we were happy as clams. Eventually, I did move back to my own room.

My sisters and I all have June birthdays. We always received lots of birthday cards from family and friends. Cards were proudly displayed unless they had cash or checks enclosed. I kept my money inside each card, inside the original envelope, so I could send thank-you notes. These cards were kept in alphabetical order. Did I mention I like things in order?

One day I arrived home from school, ready to begin the arduous task of creatively saying thank you over and over again. When I opened my dresser drawer, all was as I’d organized it. I brought all the envelopes to the kitchen table (remember, my desk was filled with memorabilia). I had my ink pen and stamps. I was ready. I opened the first envelope to take out the birthday card, only to discover it was empty. I opened a second and third envelope, all empty. I started to shake with dread. What could have happened to all my money, with which I hoped to buy clothes for summer camp?

Mom (z”l) came home with her cart filled with groceries. She started unloading the groceries until she heard me, in a near-hysterical voice, ask her where my money was. She left the groceries on the table and hurried to her bedroom, with me close behind. All her good jewelry was gone; all the costume jewelry was untouched. She instructed me to check my jewelry box. My graduation charm bracelet was gone. When my sisters arrived home from school, Mom had them repeat this exercise, and to their horror, the few good jewelry pieces they had were gone.

We’d been robbed.

But when? How? The door was intact; the windows had not been touched. Could the robbers have come from the roof? But how? We were all emotional wrecks. The police claimed they did not know when or how this robbery took place. Unbeknownst to us, they had a suspect in mind.

A number of families in our building had experienced this same type of home invasion. We were all shocked at how neatly we were robbed. Nothing, and I mean nothing, seemed out of place. The robbers must have had a lot of time to move around quiet as a mice.

When the superintendent of our building was arrested, he no longer had any of the jewelry or money he had stolen. Everything was gone forever.

Or so we thought.

Many years went by. My parents retired to Del Ray Beach, Fla. They often took weekend vacations with friends at a Miami hotel. On one of these weekends, Mom met a friendly lady with whom she was chatting about this and that when Mom noticed her necklace. “Beautiful,” Mom said. “May I see it?”

Mom turned it over and read the following: “To Paula, love Hymie,” with a date. “Is your name Paula too? My name is Paula.”

No, the woman said, it’s an antique, been in the family forever.

“Oh, no it’s not. It is my necklace,” Mom screamed. “Give it back to me. It was stolen from me.”

The woman took off, and Mom ran to the desk to have the police alerted. By the time the police came, the woman and her husband were gone.

My poor mom was robbed twice.

Mom was a strong lady. She survived much worse in her lifetime. But seeing her necklace worn by a stranger was almost more than she could bear.