"Ashimoto kara tori ga tatsu yo."

—Japanese expression for the unexpected

*

"Mukashi, mukashi," (a long, long time ago…") my Oji-chan (grandfather) shared with me: "Heaven made the Japanese crane a holy creature, possessing mystical qualities of peace and good fortune. This crane is called the tancho and is said to live for 1,000 years.

"According to the legend, anyone who folds 1,000 paper origami cranes is granted a wish by the crane."

I asked what the wish could be, more than 50 years ago.

Oji-chan replied, "It could be a long life, recovery from illness or even forgiveness." His statement would prove to be prophetic…

Over the ensuing years, I discovered that 1,000 paper cranes are often given as a traditional wedding gift … wishing 1,000 years of happiness and prosperity. Gifted to a new baby, the 1,000 paper cranes symbolize a long life and good luck.

Years passed eventfully in Laguna; Oji-chan had died, and my father was less active with the family nursery business. Not forgetting my conversations with grandfather, I always instructed our managers (Carole Ralph at the time) to display bronze crane statues. Of course they were for sale, but in a manner I was honoring my grandfather's memory.

A week before Christmas in 1996, Carole arrived at work to find that the gate beneath the entry Torii had been pried open and thrown onto the sidewalk. Carefully checking the property, she found that grandfather's two bronze cranes were missing. A third small statue (my memory now escapes what it was) was found in the back alley.

Less than three weeks later, the Laguna Beach Police Department received a tip from a citizen that an acquaintance admitted to the theft of "metal swans" from Laguna Nursery. During the arrest, the police discovered a bindle of methamphetamine in the defendant's wallet.

The crane thief appeared at several court hearings until August 1997, when he failed to appear in court. The court issued a warrant for his arrest. Life moved on.

Five weeks ago, Dan Hess, a senior Orange County deputy district attorney, contacted me. He asked if we could discuss a crime that occurred 15 years ago.

Apparently the defendant had moved to Florida, and the outstanding warrant prevented him from obtaining a boating license. In January, he returned to Orange County to clean up his legal issues.

The district attorney, realizing that police officers had retired and witnesses had moved on, would have difficulty proving the case after so many years. To avoid additional jail time, the defendant entered a plea of guilty to possession of methamphetamine and grand theft. He also needed to pay all restitution, plus interest. In exchange, he avoided additional jail time.

"The defense and the D.A. agreed that if we could locate the owners of the property, the restitution would be given to them; if not, the money would go to the victim's emergency fund," he said.

I thought again about Oji-chan, the crane granting forgiveness, and the defendant cleaning up his life and finding gainful employment. I also considered the many holes in my own personal life.

A little more than a week ago, the judge ordered that the restitution be paid to the victim's emergency fund.

I know that somewhere, both my grandfather and the crane understand.

STEVE KAWARATANI can be reached at (949) 497-8168 or plantman2@mac.com.