STOLEN: a Vancouver family’s box of love

Inside were 32 years’ worth of letters, cards and poems chronicling trials and triumphs

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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For 32 years, Steve and Leslie Rainey preserved proof that life is full of trials and troubles — and kindness and support.

For 32 years, they saved their love letters and Christmas cards, homespun poems and family greetings. Scant communications from a grown daughter who barely keeps in touch. Cousins’ messages of good cheer for a mother in despair.

For 32 years, the Raineys collected all this written history of their life and their love. A few years ago, it all went into an ornate, handcrafted box that occupied a hallowed place in the great room of the Rainey home on Southeast Evergreen Highway.

On Sunday, Aug. 28, the box was stolen — along with Leslie Rainey’s mother’s wedding band and her grandfather’s gold pocket watch, some jewelry and a radio.

The radio isn’t a big deal. The jewelry is unfortunate. The wedding band and pocket watch are definitely mourned.

The stolen box of love is what really hurts, Leslie said.

“That is something that’s irreplaceable,” she said. “All the heartaches, all the triumphs. That box is full of our story.”

The Raineys are hoping against hope that someone will call Officer Dustin Goudschaal of the Vancouver Police Department at 360-487-7400, ext. 3125, with information about the box — or that it’ll just show up on their doorstep.

Targeted?

Steve Rainey said the couple were home all day on the 28th until finishing up some yard work at around 2:30 in the afternoon. They then went into Portland, came home at around 7 p.m. and found that their garage door had been pried open. But whoever had been inside the house skipped past all sorts of easily grabbable goodies on the first floor — laptop computers and such, Steve said — and headed for the second floor.

“They didn’t trash the house, which was nice,” said Leslie.

Then she realized what was gone: “I walked into the great room and scanned the place, and there was that blank spot where the box should have been,” she said. Also gone were Leslie’s jewelry and radio from the bedroom. That makes the Raineys think their home was targeted by someone who already knew its contents.

Leslie said the home has been on the market recently, so visitors have been coming through.

History box

“We’ve had some ups and downs, and these love letters have meant a huge amount to her,” Steve said of his wife. “She is devastated at this loss.”

During their first decade together, there was lots of letter writing, he said; then, over the past 15 years, there’s been a lot more.

“We’ve had some family challenges that have been significant,” he said, “and there have been lots of words from the heart. Some things have been in a sort of poetry format. Sometimes they’re to bring my wife up when she’s had a hard time.”

Leslie explained that Rainey family history includes an adoption, raising a blind child and then watching that adult child more or less withdraw from the family. That’s been heartbreaking, she said, and the few letters from that daughter are the most special souvenirs inside that special box.

“When I was in despair about four years ago,” Leslie said, “a great niece called every member of our family and had them all write letters to me. All those letters were together inside the box.”

The box was a gift from a client of her interior design business, and valued at around $800, Steve said — but the contents are beyond any dollar value.

“I always told my nieces and children about the box. I told them, someday when we’re not here this is going to reveal a lot about the love we had that kept us together through the ups and downs of life,” Leslie said. “It’s a love box.”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.