Monday, May 4, 2015

Childhood stories

When I was about 9 or 10, I lived in a small town in New Hampshire. It was one of those places where no one locked their doors, the car keys were left in the ignition, and pretty much everyone trusted everyone else.

I had a couple of pals, (who are still living, so I won't use their names) that I hung around with after school. And we used to go to a small store that served ice cream sodas, coffee, hamburgers and also had all the elements of a small town "drug store."

The owner, Mike, has made his transition and he was one of the kindest men. He was always doing nice things for others, and I never knew what his religion was.

My pals, in their misguided desire for getting something they wanted, asked me to join them in what turned out to be a lawless afternoon and caused me to be put in jail - for a few hours. They, however, escaped, and I never snitched on them, knowing early on that that alone could make my life miserable forever onward.

The plan was that I would distract Mike, by talking to him, while the other three went to the candy bar section and helped themselves. My reward would be that I could have some of the 'take.'

Ten year olds are so sure they know how the world works, and in discussing the plan I am sure we all thought Mike would be deceived by my blather. He wasn't, and he grabbed my arm, held me in place and yelled to the others to stop. They took off running. I am sure he knew who they were.

As he held on to my arm, he told his wife to call the police.

I about fainted.

And soon Chief Picard showed up in his uniform, gun on his hip, baton on the other side, all his buttons and badge glistening through the tears in my eyes.

Mike let go of me and after telling him what had happened, Chief put handcuffs on one hand and led me out of the store.

We had to cross the main intersection to get to City Hall and to the jail. I was so humiliated that anyone might see me, my head was very low. I wished to be invisible.

No words were spoken until we arrived at the jail. I was ushered in to a small cell and Chief said he was going to call my mother. I would be waiting inside the bars until she came.

It stank in there. And I cried and cried at what had happened.

I could hear the Chief calling my mother. I knew she would be coming downtown, but however long it was going to take, it felt like forever. Then he came back into the jail area and asked me some questions (this could never happen today, could it, questioning a minor without an adult guardian present?) about who else was there with me, what was I doing, etc.

He knew I had not done this dastardly act alone. He knew I was part of a 'gang.' And my just talking to Mike was not in itself a crime, but I was an 'accomplice' to the theft, because those other girls did get away with some candy - worth about 30 cents back then.

My mother did show up and I was released to her but the net effect of this overwhelming experience was that for years, literally, I could not go into Mike's store. I was so ashamed of my performance and treatment of this nice man that I could not even face him.

Perhaps it was an act that was precipitated by my parents' discord (a divorce was looming), but when I was about 16, I was with my father on a Sunday in October and he wanted to stop in and get something at Mike's and he asked me to come in and have something to eat with him. I sat in the car and told him the whole story, which he apparently never knew, and he then insisted I come in with him and talk to Mike.

We went in and sat in a back booth and I wept as I apologized to Mike for what had been my only criminal undertaking and as he took my hands in his big ones, he forgave me. He said to me, with tears in his eyes, "You have deprived me of your presence by staying away. You have punished yourself and me by not sharing this burden. Please accept my apology for allowing you to be treated as a criminal when you clearly were not."

Then he told me the story of Yom Kippur and how it is a day when all your sins are forgiven, when a person can be purified, and how in his religion he could 'start over' and essentially have a clean slate.

I really liked that concept and it felt good to have him absolve me, to verbally wash me clean.

The net effect of this event was probably a good thing in that I have never stolen anything from anyone. For years I could not even go into a store and walk out without buying something and not feel as if I was being watched. My anxiety about being 'good' was constantly present.

When my own daughter was caught stuffing candy into her pants as we were waiting in a checkout line in Ketchum, Idaho, I took appropriate action... she was forced to go and speak to the owner of the store right then and there and to hear from him how stealing affected his business.

In reflection all these decades later, I think putting a ten-year old in cuffs and hauling her off to a smelly jail was a little over the top. I think the humiliation effect was enormous and not necessarily beneficial.

But I have forgiven Mike and the Chief and my mother and even my best friend and the others for the culmination of events that brought me to that moment. And I have remembered the feelings of being absolved and have returned that to those who asked for it from me.

I know there were other things I did as an adult of which I am not proud, mistakes I made in parenting and in relationships, things I wished later I could change. I tried hard to be good enough and fell short enough to keep me humble.

In many religions there are ways to receive absolution, a cleansing of the soul. If thoughts are 'things' that never go away, then I choose to convert this earlier thought of humiliation into a glorious flower of growth, to give it as a gift to parents who have children needing guidance to not 'overdo' the correction, to offer it up as a way to review all of life's path events, and to cleanse it totally as Mike so graciously did for me decades ago.
Spring is a time for renewal...


  1. I still have to forgive Mike. he molested several of my friends and cornered me once. He had this reputation in town of being such a great guy, but his darkish was as dark as any.

  2. The difference in our experiences doesn't diminish either one. Perhaps the universe was doing me a favor by having guilt over shame. .. there were plenty of weird folks in Our Town, including the postman. At any rate, this story is a relic of someone who really doesn't exist anymore... just wanted to reflect on how far I've come.