Growing up, I didn’t attend a lot of church. On Goodman Avenue, (ages 5-10), I attended Vacation Bible School (VBS) a few weeks in the summer. I don’t think church was Dad’s thing and Mom’s thing was doing whatever Dad said. When Mom got divorced and married to Joe, she discovered that she had quite a bit more freedom to do as she pleased. Finding her church was one of those.
Even though we didn’t attend church on a regular basis when I was young, we were raised under a Christian roof. As such, we were taught the Ten Commandments. Well, ok…we were too young to discuss half of them, but numbers 3, 5, 6, 8 & 9 – those we knew. If we broke them, we knew we’d meet up with a belt or a switch. Eight and Nine, those two I was scared to death to break because my Dad warned us about them on a regular basis.
8 & 9? Stealing and lying; never steal and never lie. One day I did both. I did both, was immediately found out and then immediately punished for my crimes.
Some things about growing up in the sixties were kinda’ cool in a nostalgic kind of way. We had ice cream trucks in our neighborhood on a somewhat regular basis. There were two types of these deliverers of frozen cow juice. One was the truck that you sometimes still see today. You know, the truck that drives around slowly, playing this familiar tune. In searching for this tune, I learned that its origin is of a racist nature. This NPR story is interesting – you might want to go read it and listen to the tune.
The other type of ice cream man was my favorite. He pushed a cart. It was filled with dry ice that was placed all around the edges of the inside of the cart. Inside the cart was a variety of frozen solid, utterly delectable treats. Fudgesicles, Popsicles, Creamsicles, Ice Cream Sandwiches, you name it. If it could be frozen, it could be carted into our mouths. My favorite was the Banana Fudgesicle. Not only was it my favorite, that and the Fudgesicle were the cheapest priced. They cost 8 cents in 1965. Eight cents! Eight cents could buy happiness for a little boy or girl in 1965. The cart pusher had a hand bell tied to the handle of the cart and he rang it constantly as he was walking down the streets. Our cart pusher happened to be a semi-blind, old black man.
The ice cream men didn’t come on any set frequency that we kids could detect so we just had to keep our ears pealed for either the bell or the racist tune. One day after Dad came home from working the day shift at Ralston Purina, I heard the bell; the pusher man was coming!
On this day, some of us were out on the front porch, sitting with Dad. I asked if I could please have an ice cream. “I don’t have any money Robbie.”
I don’t know what came over me. I had never stolen before; temptation. “I have a dime. I’ll go get it.” I had seen a couple of dimes on my parents’ bedroom dresser. The dresser was an off-white color, little boy height, mirror in the center.
The layout of our rented house was fairly standard. Looking at the front of the house, it had 3 bedrooms, all on the right side of the house. You walked into the house directly into the living room. Next up on the left side of the house was the dining room and then the kitchen. The bathroom was at the end of the house, next to the last bedroom. My mom and dad’s bedroom was directly inside, immediately to the right so all I had to do was run in, make a quick right and slide one of those little silver dimes into my hot little hand.
I guess Dad knew I didn’t have any money, why would I? So when I came right out with a dime in my hand, he asked me where I got it. I must’ve looked guilty as could be, but I do remember that I said – “I had it in my bedroom.” BOOM! I had stolen AND lied. Would I get away with it?
I wasn’t even thinking about the consequences. In hindsight, I just knew I would get a good beating for what I did. But I didn’t care, I wanted that Banana Fudgesicle! Temptation – it’s a bitch, ain’t it! How many people get taken down simply for succumbing to temptation? Well I was about to get taken down, that’s for sure.
“Did you get this dime off of my dresser? I know I had two dimes sitting there and now there’s only one.”
I was caught. I was a deer in the headlights, an enemy in the cross-hairs of a sniper rifle, an ant under the magnifying glass in the desert sun. What was I, seven years old? A seven year-old doesn’t have a lot of experience at pulling the wool over their dad’s eyes, and my dad was no idiot.
I choked. Even a seven year-old knows when it’s time to give up when confronted by his dad. Dad had conditioned us to know that the longer it took us to come clean, the worse off we would be when it came time to take our punishment. So I came clean; I admitted that I took the dime. Had I not lied at first, I might have had a slim chance of escaping without a whipping, but I had lied – I lied and stole.
(Time for a quick flashback – if all 3 of us boys were going to get a whipping, he would start counting. We were trained seals; he had us conditioned to know that the first to arrive would get the easiest whipping and the last, the hardest. He liked to show this off if a new friend was over at the house. He’d yell out, “ok, everyone gets a whipping….1…..2…..” and we’d arrive in a flash. Dad would have a big grin on his face and his new friend would be laughing.)
Ten cents was not the issue. Dad was not acting angry, just very resolute. Dad had set rules and he had told us many, many times how he felt about lying and stealing. He had a son who had done both. As a parent, I can now totally relate to this situation. If one my kids did something wrong, something I had warned them repeatedly about, then it’s up to me to teach them that there are repercussions. Dad was easily predictable – I was going to get a whipping.
I still remember this one pretty well. I don’t remember how many swipes I received from his belt – the whipping was not was important. What I remember were his words. I can still see his face on this one too. He was young, less than 30 years old. “You know why you’re getting whipped. You not only stole, but then you lied about it too Robbie.”
I was always ‘thinking’ as a kid. I guess that’s why I’m generally quiet. I still do this. Whether it was a problem at work, something with the kids or contemplating various moves in the equity market, I am always planning my next move or trying to learn about something. So when Dad was getting ready to whip me, I remember thinking – I deserve this, so I’m going to take it and promise to not do it again. This isn’t to say that I never again stole anything or lied – I did and most of us have on small scales. I don’t remember ever stealing from Dad though, nor do I remember lying to him. Message received.
I wanted to write this story because the memory of it is so clear to me still. My intention is not to try to sound sanctimonious, because I’m not. It’s the earliest memory I have of feeling like I disappointed, that I let someone down. I was guilty of a wrong, a wrong that had been ‘preached’ about by my father. Like most of you reading this, when I was a little guy, my Dad’s word was “The Law”.
I had stolen. I had lied. I learned what it felt like to let down someone important to me. Most important, I learned what it felt like to let myself down….and it didn’t feel good.
It’s safe to say that I did a tiny bit of growing up that day.