Memento stolen by burglars
Abraham Leef knew what had happened before he even got out of his car when he arrived at his Mangataipa home, west of Mangamuka Bridge, after visiting a daughter in Hamilton. A back door was wide open, and he knew he had been burgled.
"I just slumped over the steering wheel. I felt like crying," he said.
Almost three weeks later Mr Leef was still struggling to come to terms with what had happened. He was angry, and determined to do all he could to see the burglars held accountable, but had also been deeply hurt.
Two boys, aged 13 and 14, have admitted the burglary. Along with four litres of home-brewed whisky (which one of the boys arrived at a neighbouring address with on the night of January 6, saying he had received it as a Christmas gift, and was duly drunk), they took canned food, meat and a magnum of wine, the latter a retirement gift for Mr Leef from Villa Maria Estate in Auckland.
He had been turning the bottle once a week for 15 years, and had been planning to open it for his 80th birthday in June.
The boys have denied taking the wine, but they looted the wardrobe it was stored in, and every other wardrobe in the house, and Mr Leef has no doubt that they know where it is or what became of it. And the loss of that bottle weighs heaviest of all.
He and his wife Ani, who died in late 2004, had agreed that it should be kept for a special occasion. What they could not agree on was just how special the occasion needed to be.
Christmas wasn't special enough. Nor were wedding anniversaries. And now Mr Leef deeply regrets that his much-loved wife will never share it.
For all the sorrow that the two boys have caused their victim, he said last week that he was determined that they would face the youth justice system, but that does not hold great promise for recompense, financial or emotional.
The younger boy, who Mr Leef described as the "leader of the pack," was supposed to be in the constant care of his mother, but she had gone to Wellington and left him at home. The justice process could not begin without her.
This week Mr Leef will be taking legal advice of his own.
"I'm not going to let it go," he said, although he still wasn't entirely sure how the community of Mangataipa might take that. He had called a community meeting, "to see if anyone still likes me," after he reported the burglary to the police, and had been gratified by a generally positive response, with the notable exception of the mother of the main offender. That had not surprised him.
"It's the parents who are to blame for this sort of behaviour," he said.
"Kids these days are being raised in a totally different way to how we were brought up. This boy's 13 and he's left school. What's he going to do with his life? I told him he's never going to get a job. They don't do anything. They don't even play sport."
He had plenty to do when he was their age, growing up at Panguru, from tending gardens to chopping firewood for the kitchen and milking cows. Rugby trips to Kaitaia and Whangarei were keenly anticipated, and the only acceptable excuse for getting out of milking, "but it had to be a rep game".
He was brought up to work hard and to respect others, qualities he believed the two burglars had no knowledge of. They had known he was away when they broke into his house, and had even cooked themselves a meal of steak and chops, stolen from the freezer, while they were there.
Now he was considering selling the house, the last home he shared with his wife, a decision that would be made all the more difficult by virtue of the fact that he had chosen the site. Mrs Leef had wanted to be on the main road, but that hadn't appealed to her husband, who spent more than 30 years of his working life driving trucks. If he does decide he can't live there any longer he won't be going far - a little closer to Mangamuka Bridge - but alongside the road he was so keen to avoid 15 years ago.
Whether or not that comes to pass may depend upon how the community and the justice system respond to what he sees as a huge breach of trust, an offence that has wounded him so deeply that now he doesn't set foot outside the house, even for a moment, without locking every door behind him.