Life Savers by
25
(37 Stories)

Prompted By Honesty

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I only stole once in my life.

My mother, of course, overheard this and immediately turned the car around, while explaining to everyone that we were going back to the store and that Johnny (what I was called then) would return the package and apologize to the store manager.  Her voice was controlled, but I knew that she was angrier at me than she had ever been in my life.  The other kids moved away from me as if I and/or the Life Savers carried some highly communicable disease. 

As mentioned in previous stories, the town I grew up in in Connecticut was small and truly rural. So much so that, while we had the various scouting organizations for kids, the 4-H Club was the bigger deal.

When I was about six or seven, my brother and his friends, who were two years older, joined 4-H, but I was too young.  So I tagged along as sort of the “mascot” to their group, whatever they called it (“herd” sounds right — though I know it isn’t — given the 4-H’s agricultural bent).

At one point, my mother, a very good cook, volunteered to give the herd a cooking class.  To make it interesting, she was going to first take them to a supermarket to shop for most of the ingredients, and then they were going to come back to our house and make the dinner and eat it. She decided that spaghetti with a homemade sauce, homemade meatballs, garlic bread and a salad — made from greens the herd had grown in a communal garden — would be just right.  She would also bake several cakes and pies for dessert.

So I got to tag along to the local supermarket.  (For the record, it was a First National Store, later re-branded as Finast.) Out of some twisted compulsion to be cool around the big kids, when we were at the check-out counter, I slipped a package of assorted Life Savers from the display case into my pocket.  (I believe Life Savers sold for five cents then.)  Being both very young and very stupid, on the car ride home, I showed the package to some of the other kids and bragged about having lifted it.  My mother, of course, overheard this and immediately turned the car around, while explaining to everyone that we were going back to the store and that Johnny (what I was called then) would return the package and apologize to the store manager.  Her voice was controlled, but I knew that she was angrier at me than she had ever been in my life.  The other kids moved away from me as if I and/or the Life Savers carried some highly communicable disease.

I did as I was told at the store and was truly mortified and apologetic; I burst into tears at some point.  Back home, my mother simply said to me that I could not join in on the meal preparation, but I could come to the table for dinner.  I got it.  She never gave me the “Big Talk” about the incident, and the importance of honesty, but she never had to.

As Suzy pointed out in her story, we have all been “dishonest” in some way or another in our lives.  Indeed, I am proud to say that I wrote tons of very clever rhyming clues to my daughters on behalf of the Easter Bunny to help them find their baskets.  (And, of course, being a Jewish Easter Bunny just compounds the falsehood.)  But I can say — honestly —  that I have never stolen anything else in my life and the fact that I can remember this incident so vividly over sixty years later is a testament to the lesson my mother gave me.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. How ironic that you took “Life Savers”. Very well told, John. Maybe it’s the age. Remember “Lik-m-Aid” (sp)? The insipid sugary stuff that was the snack equivalent of Kool-Aid? Yeah. That stuff. I remember it and so does Mr. Page, the owner of the convenience store to whom I tearfully turned it over under similar circumstances at the same age.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Tom. I don’t remember Lik-m-Aid, but what were those awful juices in those little containers that looked like miniature soda bottles? They were made of wax and tasted like wax. Also remember Flav-R-Straws — terrible in both chocolate and strawberry.

  2. Suzy says:

    Good story, Johnny! Your mother did an excellent job of teaching the lesson about shoplifting. Of course another lesson might have been “don’t brag about stealing something, especially within earshot of your mother.” Fortunately, you got the right message and have lived an honest life ever since. Although I don’t know about that Easter Bunny thing, that’s pretty shameful! 😉

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Fortunately, I learned both lessons that time: don’t do it and don’t get caught doing it. As to the Easter Bunny stuff, I figure I would have been struck by lightening by now if it were an unforgivable sin, so this must be one of the venial ones.

  3. Marian says:

    Great story, John, and wonderful how your mother handled the “theft” without giving you a lecture. It clearly made a big impression on you. Funny about the Easter Bunny, and by extension, Santa Claus as others have mentioned. I must have been a skeptical little kid, because I couldn’t have been older than three when I commented to my father that Santa Claus really didn’t make sense. Maybe that’s because our Jewish household was fairly observant and lacked the trappings of Christmas trees and the like.

  4. All in all, I’d say you had a pretty good mom. First the creative ‘let’s go shopping’ for the herd. Out of curiosity, how many were boys and how many were girls? I’m guessing “my brother and his friends” cancelled out any prospect of a coed herd. But back to mom. The silent treatment was often more deadly than any tongue lashing.

    I stole a few peaches out of the orchard and the old Yankee farmer made me walk him to my house where he dressed me down. My mother then dressed HIM down. Ah, the variations on theft and its consequences. I guess crime don’t pay, Johnny boy ;-)!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Charles. Yes; just a terrific mom in many ways. Funny you should ask about the co-ed question. I never viewed 4-H as being single sex, but I can’t recall any girls in the herd. Or maybe this class was done just for the boys in the herd to rid them of their stereotypical views of cooking. In any event, at that point, even my brother and his friends would have still considered girls to be icky.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    John, your mother was a wise woman. These are difficult lessons to impart as a parent. One of my daughters, who attended a party when parents were out of town and the house was damaged, was one of two kids forced to pay for the damage, even though she claimed she was just there and broke nothing. I was shocked that only one other parent made their child pay. I like to think this was an important lesson learned. She was outraged at the time, but I think she would do the same now that she has children of her own.

  6. Rings so true – though I never stole anything (honest!), I did get ‘the look’ from time to time, when my behavior or words displeased my mom.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    A true life lesson in honesty, which you have learned well, it appears. You were humbled and mortified by your mother’s quiet but stern admonitions over a pack of Life Safers. She taught you well. If only we could somehow get to our Commander in Chief and teach him as well.

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