• Cherie Calletta

Life, loss, thefts, Dremels, renovations & restorations


Someone stole the writer's Dremel. (Courtesy Photo)

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” – from “One Art,” by Elizabeth Bishop


The Dremel I ordered last week came in the mail today. It’s my second one. No, the first one didn’t break. It was stolen.


A Dremel is a very handy little gadget; it’s a sort of reduced-calorie, low-fat power drill for the not terribly carpentry-savvy masses. I’d been detailing—or trying to—the elements for the gas stove burners, which consist of a few pieces of metal that get grungy. I realized that if I still had the Dremel, problem solved. Alas, no Dremel. Until today.


I bought my first Dremel years ago when I was working on DIY jobs for a house I’d bought in North Carolina.


Then I sold that house and moved back to New Jersey. I also sold the electric compound miter saw. I kept the Dremel.


I learned a lot from those years of Do-It-Yourself. I learned that you do not saw sheetrock; you score it and “rip” it.


It’s more like snapping a saltine cracker in half along the perforated line than filing your fingernails (or sawing a piece of wood). When it breaks just right, it’s amazingly satisfying.


Much to my delight I also discovered that there is a lot of overlap with sewing or quilting and carpentry.


“Ease” in sewing is called “tolerance” in carpentry; the straight of grain applies to both fabric and to wood grain, and Lord help you if you are laying tiles and you haven’t snapped good plumb lines, which are analogous to a seam guide. If you quilt, you get the principles of laying tile. Seam allowances are like grout lines.


But the most useful thing I learned in those years was how to use the phone.


Now when something like that needs doing, for the sake of all that is holy, call someone! Call in the experts! Get them to do it!


I gained tremendous respect for carpenters, plumbers, tile artists, electricians and painters from those days of DIY in Carolina.


But I had kept the Dremel. You never know when you’re going to need a Munchkin version of a power drill.


Years ago, my dad had mentioned Dremels and he’d told me that he was thinking of buying one. Dental technicians use a desk-mounted drill that has attachments very much like the ones made for the Dremel. Evidently, he had a case that required an angle not easily accomplished by the desk-mounted drill, so he thought he’d buy a Dremel.


I said, no need: believe it or not, your English teacher, sometime-college instructor daughter has one. Just keep it. Happy Dremelling!


When I entered the family home after both my parents were no longer living there, I started to clear it out. I took photos, anything sentimental, and whatever I found useful.


I noticed that all the dental technician equipment had mysteriously disappeared. Vanished, with no explanation. The outlines from where those machines had sat for more than 50 years were still imprinted on the Formica countertops.


Other things were also missing. My mother’s diamond wedding band: gone. Hand tools and other shop type equipment: gone. A vintage typewriter I’d given my dad: gone. Other jewelry and household items: gone. The house had been “pre-cleared” by an unknown person or persons who had to have been well known to my mother because there was never a report of a breaking and entering. And believe me, I’d have been the first one she’d have called.


Diamond jewelry has some resale value, and household items have their uses. Infuriating but logical. The truly mysterious thing was the missing dental lab equipment.


There aren’t too many people who even know what those machines were for, and certainly most people do not even know how to use them or know where they might possibly be resold. I can’t imagine that they had great resale value. Replacement value, yes. Replacement value might have run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Somebody “made out like a bandit” quite literally.


Someone who knew what they were, knew how to use them and had a practical use for them was most likely the one who entered the house and just helped themselves.


That same someone took great advantage of an elderly widow with dementia, who didn’t know what she had in the house or what it was worth.


Then I looked for the Dremel, the first one I’d bought.


Also gone. Even that was gone.


There is surely a special and rather uncomfortably warm place in the hereafter for anyone who would take advantage of an elderly widow who in her later years was, to put it broadly, “a bit confused.” And yet that’s exactly what happened. Since I was executor, any sales, gifts or dispositions of estate property was supposed to go through me, and yet… no such luck. No such respect, rather.


This week I bought myself a new Dremel.


I will probably use it to detail the grill elements on the stove. I can’t get back the thousands of dollars of specialty equipment, but I could buy another Dremel, so I did. They’re not that expensive and can be a nifty tool for the workbox.


“Lose something every day,” said Elizabeth Bishop. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”


Sometimes we don’t have the choice.


One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that others have the same sense of ethics that we ourselves have. Gentle Reader, do not be deceived: the world is full of vicious, dishonest, conniving people who would rip off a 90-year-old relative if given half the chance. Just because you would never do a thing is no guarantee than someone else might not do it. Expect anything, from anyone, and you won’t be disappointed.


I’m just glad I’m not that person or persons, because as the old timers used to say, “There is a God.”



Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph High School in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002, where she and her husband make their home.