CONCORD -- The sign in front of Frank and Janet Rossini's house, though small and simple, is easy to see. It is difficult to read:
"Will the person who took our statues please return them. They were made by our daughter who was killed. They have a special place in our hearts."
Carolyn Duff, 54, was killed in September 2011 while riding her motorcycle near her home in Lakeland, Fla. She left behind a husband and three children. She also left a couple of keepsakes that are especially meaningful to the Rossinis -- a pair of 18-inch-tall ceramic gnomes she made when she was a young girl, at a time when Frank and his first wife were running a ceramics business out of their garage.
The gnomes have white beards and colorful clothing "sort of like the little elves in Snow White," Frank Rossini said. One is pushing a wheelbarrow. Carolyn's name is written on the bottom of both pieces.
Until early November, they were featured in the immaculately manicured front yard of the Olive Drive home that Frank, 85, had custom built in 1957.
On Nov. 2, as Frank was backing his car out of the garage, he called out to Janet to make sure he didn't hit one of the gnomes.
"And I look, and I said, 'It's not even here,' " said Janet, who was Carolyn's stepmother. "Then I said, 'They're both gone.'"
"The first thing that entered my mind was that Carolyn would be sad," Frank said. "Then I thought, oh my goodness, I can't believe they're gone. But reality set in, and a period of sadness."
At the urging of Carolyn's five surviving siblings, Rossini placed the sign in the yard. Curiosity aside, it has drawn no response. Rossini didn't report the theft to Concord police.
"I didn't think it would do much good," he said. "Someone told me they're probably in a flea market."
Janet heard an interesting theory from one of her grandsons.
"He was telling us that there's a group of people who take gnomes out of people's yards and travel with them all over the world," she said. "A year later they return them with an album of pictures of the gnome taken in front of famous places. So I don't know if they were taken and in a year from now they'll be returned to us."
The Rossinis have other keepsakes to remind them of Carolyn. Frank built a small memory garden in his backyard which includes an urn that once contained her ashes, and pieces from her lighthouse collection. When a breeze kicks up, chimes Carolyn owned can be heard from the adjacent patio.
"I come out here occasionally and sit and meditate," Frank said.
The Rossinis also have vases that Carolyn made, and Janet has a personalized coffee cup. Etched on the bottom: "Some things never change, like my love for you."
Frank Rossini described his daughter, who graduated from Clayton Valley High School, as "the jolliest person you ever wanted to meet. Whenever she entered a room, the whole room lighted up."
Those qualities run in the family, Janet Rossini said.
"She and her father were joined at the hip," Janet said. "Her favorite saying was, 'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.' She used to call him every morning on her way to work."
One of the gnomes used to be part of the Rossinis' indoor Christmas display, standing next to the train that would chug around the tree. There hasn't been a tree since Carolyn died.
"I probably should put one up," Frank said, "but I don't have it in me."
The gnomes' return would lift Frank's spirits at a time when the reality of his daughter's passing is "beginning to really take effect."
"It would remind me that there are still compassionate people in this world," he said.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.