My mom had taken us all to the old (and only K-Mart) for miles around
over on Garfield and Auburn Blvd.
I remember it was night. It was my turn to sit in the back of that old brown
Rambler station wagon. There were not seats back there and it seemed like
it had a paneled wood floor. The only other thing back there was a spare tire, a tire jack and two 4"x4" blocks of wood to put behind the tires when it was in park, because it would shift out of park and roll.
We didn't know there was something wrong with it, we just thought that everyone did that when they parked.
Anyway...I remember it was night time, dark outside. My mom got the things
she needed and was at the checkout with all five us fidgeting around her.
I saw a box of Juicy Fruit gum on the counter and thought it was there for anyone to have. It never even crossed my mind that you had to pay for it.
We got to the car & as my mom put in the bags in the back end, two of us took a block each and tossed them in with the bags. I climbed in and took the gum out of my pocket. Five glorious pieces all to myself! I didn't have to share, because no one knew I had it!
I opened all five pieces and began to chew...it was quite a mouthful for a four-year-old! We hadn't gone far at all before my sisters started clamouring that they smelled gum...gee...we all knew what Juicy Fruit smelled like from my mom chewing it. I never dreamed they'd be able to smell if from where I was hunkered in the dark against the back door.
As my Mom asked each of us, starting with the oldest, if we had any gum, I hurriedly stashed my half-chewed wad of gum under one of the wooden blocks we used for brakes. When it came my turn I told my Mom I didn't have any either...but my voice gave it away and the others kept yammering about smelling Juicy Fruit.
My mom pulled the car to the side of the road, got out as my heart thumped, and came around to the back door. There I was cowering like the guilty child that I was...She pulled me out of the car, stood my up, opened my mouth and smelled...and knew at once it was me. She checked my pockets and found the wrappers...and asked where I got it and what I'd done with it. I just pointed to the block. She picked it up to find the sticky mess....she asked again where I'd gotten the gum. I told her it was on the counter and I just took one.
She told me that taking something that didn't belong to me was stealing...that it was wrong and I could go to jail for it. Then to my surprise and supreme embarrassment, she hauled me over the hood of the car, pulled down my pants and proceeded to spank me so hard it was as if she had one of her famous "switches" from the tree...It was so hard it had to have hurt her hand. I know I was sure hurting, not just physically, but I was mortally embarrassed...right there on the side of the road for all the world to see!
Then she told me I was a shame to her and she didn't raise me to be a thief...I didn't even know what a thief was before that night!
When we got home, she told my Dad...he lined everyone up on the couch and told everyone how wrong stealing is then pulled me over the piano bench and I got another whipping with his belt in front of everyone....I guess my parents figured everyone would learn from my mistake.
I took my poor, humiliated, bruised, but smarter little person off to bed without any dinner.
The next day, my mom took a coin out of my can (the story of the cans will come tomorrow) and took me back to K-Mart. Little did I know she'd called ahead of our trip there and told them what I'd done and wanted them to scare the dickens out of me so I'd never steal again.
All I remember is standing there next to my mom...shaking, and trying to stammer out an apology to the store manager as I held out the coin to him to pay for the gum. He took it and brought in a policeman....Maybe he was just a security guard...but he sure looked like a police, had the hat, uniform, badge and one of those black club things on his belt...this policeman leaned down to my level and told me in the meanest, most sinister voice I'd ever heard, what happens to little kids and grown-ups that steal. He said I'd be put in a dark, damp cells with bars and no windows...he said it was filled with giant rats that would try to eat me when I was sleeping...spiders everywhere, crawling over me and biting me...he said I'd only be given a single piece of stale bread and a cup of water to eat everyday. My eyes were huge as I looked up into his fierce face...I still remember that face today...He asked my if I would ever steal anything again.
I remember saying, "No Sir...I-I-I never, ever will - I-I-I cross my heart." and physically crossed my pounding heart with my trembling little four-year old finger - I didn't dare to add the remainder of "cross my heart -hope to die -stick a thousand needles in my eye" part of it as we said when playing, because I was so afraid this big mean policeman would make it happen.
He said that was good as he slapped the club at his side over and over against his leg. He growled that if I was ever caught stealing again, I'd go to that black, dark cell filled with rats and spiders...
Needless to say, I learned my lesson very well in the 24 hours that followed the moment of time that it took to put that pack of gum in my pocket, until I faced the policeman and store manager with what I had done. I now knew what a thief was and I knew what stealing was....and I knew that I would never, ever, ever do it again...not even for a piece of gum. Maybe some year
Santa would put some gum in my stocking if I was a good little girl and never stole anything again...especially a piece of gum.