IT started innocently enough that August morning in 1987, when we suddenly realized we only had 26 minutes to dress and drive our East Coast house guests to California's Ontario International Airport.
After setting our alarm clock the night before to guard against just this sort of thing, we had neglected to activate the operational mechanism.
To speed things up, I opened the garage door and placed the first wave of luggage in the driveway, directly in back of our car's trunk. By the time I arrived with the second installment, however, the first load had disappeared.
My first reaction was that the luggage had been stolen and I should call the police.
Then my wife noticed what she thought was a piece of paper (it turned out to be a business card) partly hidden near a bush to the right of the garage door. On it were printed the words: ``Thank you for contributing to Leroy Boys' Home''
I immediately ran into the house and called Leroy's on the phone. When a woman answered, I told her what I thought had happened - that a gung-ho worker on one of Leroy's trucks had mistakenly made off with our guests' suitcases. When I asked if the truck could be reached by phone or citizens' band radio, the answer was no.
Although the lady I talked to was sympathetic, she did suggest that maybe someone in my family had called Leroy's and asked them to pick up a load of clothes at my address. I assured her that no one had.
All the time I was on the phone, I was looking out my kitchen window. Suddenly, I saw my wife race into the street and start waving her arms.
For reasons no one can seem to explain, the driver of the Leroy Boys' Home truck (which was identified by the large letters on its side) had doubled back into our neighborhood. When he saw my wife's frantic waving, he stopped.
Explanations were exchanged and the suitcases returned to their rightful owners.
We arrived late at Ontario Airport, but then we discovered that the American Airlines flight our guests were scheduled to take had been delayed. They would catch their flight to Boston after all.
When our college-age son arrived home from his daily feast of ``academian nuts,'' I couldn't wait to be the first to dramatize the Great Missing Luggage Caper. His response is one I will never forget.
In a first ever for him, he had cleaned out his bedroom closet the day before and discovered a bunch of clothes he no longer wanted.
Without telling anyone in the family about it, he had called Leroy Boys' Home and asked them to come the next day and pick up his donation. Then he had forgotten to place the box with the clothes in them on the curb outside our house.
My wife looked at me and I looked at her.
``I think I'll go wash the cat,'' I said.
``Good idea,'' she replied. ``Only don't forget to take off her shoes like you did the last time!''