Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Crime Time



My brother and me.
I'm the criminal on the right.
Okay. I confess. I stole something.Once.
I have no defense. I did it. I'm guilty.
I was four. Is that an excuse . . .?
Mom and I were doing the weekly grocery shopping. A very exciting time for both of us. 
Well, for me, at any rate. 
We had driven in from the ranch in the family's late-model Chrysler (Dad always drove a Chrysler), which was an adventure in itself.There were no seatbelts. They hadn't been invented yet. Apparently no one had yet seen the wisdom in fastening small, easily-launched bodies into a safe place while hurtling down sketchy gravel roads at 60 miles per hour in a two ton vehicle.
My mom used to hold out her arm when she applied the brakes.
I was safe.
We pulled up to the curb across the street from the grocery store and proceeded inside.
The check-out desk, usually manned by a woman, stood in the center of the store, surrounded by the magical world of the grocery.
Directly behind the desk was a bank of cubicles, in which one could find the most amazing things of all . . . the penny candies.
It was there that I would park myself, after the cart got too full to hold me.
I admit it was difficult to leave the treasures that my mom had been adding to the cart. Treasures like canned peas. Baked beans. Tinned salmon.
The all-important Spam.
But I found comfort in just looking at the myriad possibilities behind that main desk.
A whole family of chocolate. Straws of sweet, flavoured powder. Licorice and JuJubes formed into the most amazing shapes. Wax figures which could be nipped and sucked dry of their wonderful, sweet juices. Lick-M-Aid. Lollipops. Suckers. Bubble gum in two sizes of colourful balls. The choices were truly endless to a four-year-old.
And my mom's purse offered the gateway to this bounty.
I couldn't stand it any longer. I ran to her. "Mom? Can I have a bubblegum?"
"Not today, dear."
What? What had she said? Had she really used those three words? The small utterance that shattered my hopes and dreams? That barred me forever from the bliss that all of that candy represented?
It couldn't be.
"But Moooom!"
"Not today, dear. I don't want you to be eating any candy before dinner."
Huh. Dinner was a lifetime away. What a stupid excuse.
"Just one?" I turned. My eye was caught by the bin full of bright orange bubble gums. The big ones with the little, rough bumps on the surface.
And the total deliciousness inside.
I pointed. "Just a bubble gum? I'll eat my dinner. I promise."
A smile from my long-suffering parent. "No, dear. Not today."
Huh. Well, we'll just see about that.
Mom brought her purchases to the desk and she and the woman behind it were distracted.
I would just take one gum. No one would ever know. My hand crept into the bin of orange bubble gums, wrapped itself around one tempting morsel and popped it into my mouth.
Ha. Mission accomplished.
I began the wonderfully arduous task of breaking down the hard, candy shell.
Mom finished paying for her groceries and was following the young boy carrying them to our car.
I fell in happily behind her.
The boy set the bags in the trunk, smiled at my mom and me and left.
Mom opened the door for me and I jumped inside. Still chewing.
She got in. And sniffed.
Then her head whipped around and she skewered me with a gimlet gaze. "Diane! What are you eating?!"
I froze. How did she know? The gum was in my mouth, safely hidden. I decided then. Moms were definitely magic.
Clever prevarication was in order.
"Ummm. Nothing."
"Diane, did you steal a bubblegum?"
I stared at her. Moms could see through cheeks!
"No."
"Diane!"
My head drooped. "Yes."
She sighed. "Diane, you know that stealing is wrong, don't you."
I lifted my head. Tears were already starting to pool. "Yes."
"What should we do about it?"
Tears started to slide down my cheeks. "I don't know."
Mom opened her purse and reached inside. Then she handed me a penny. "You will have to go back inside and pay for it."
I stared at her in horror. Go inside? Face my victim? Confess my guilt?
"I - I don't want to."
"But you have to."
I sat there, my four-year-old brain working frantically to find another solution.
Any other solution.
Finally, I sighed. Mom was right. I would have to go inside and pay for my ill-gotten bubblegum. I opened the door and got out.
For a moment, I stood there in the gutter, wiping my cheeks and staring across the street at the grocery store. Which, incidentally, had assumed gigantic proportions since Mom and I had left.
Suddenly the orange deliciousness in my mouth didn't taste very good.
I spit it out into the gutter and looked down at it.
It still had bits of the hard candy shell imbedded in the softer gum. I hadn't even broken it in.
I sighed and looked at Mom through the window of the car.
She nodded towards the store.
I started across the street, feet dragging.
This was the widest street ever known to man.
Finally, I reached the store and went up the steps.
The door jingled happily. The woman behind the desk turned and looked at me. I approached slowly and tried twice to produce a voice. Finally, "I forgot to pay for a bubblegum," I said, sliding the penny across the counter towards her.
She nodded and looked at me gravely.
"Thank you, dear," she said. "You know it's not right to steal, don't you?"
I nodded. Well I certainly do now!
"Don't do it again."
I shook my head.
"Thank-you for being honest."
Another nod and I was free. I ran back to the car.
Mom didn't lecture. She knew I had learned my lesson.
I still love bubblegum balls. Especially the orange ones with the little rough bumps. But every time I chew one, I remember being four years old.
And learning about being honest.

12 comments:

  1. Ohhh ... I feel sorry for your four-year-old self; that's a hard lesson. BUT I feel happy that your four-year-old self had a good mama to help her learn that lesson, and a kindly cashier to reinforce it ... well ... kindly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The lesson was well and truly learned! Perfectly!

      Delete
  2. That's the time to nip would-be thieves in the bud. Making them atone for their sins at that age keeps them from making huge mistakes later. too many parents nowadays simply overlook those petty things and watch them get larger until the kid lands in jail and wonder why Mommy couldn't bail him out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh so true! Younger is infinitely better!

      Delete
  3. Oh My! I never heard this one before! Wait till you hear about the time I did the unthinkable...steal a candy bar. Yup I was with Dad, and after that experience, I never did that again! It was a one and only time thing. Our parents really had a gift for teaching us to be honest.
    Love, Chris

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your mum did the right thing for sure, like George said, nip it in the bud at once.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I loved this story. I could actually picture the whole moment due to having a similar one; except I stole a funny book. What great lessons learned in having to face the moment of the return. I think this would make a geat children's story book.
    Blessings!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh! I never even thought of that! Thank you, LeAnn! And blessings to you as well!

      Delete
  6. Diane, it has been too long since I visited your blog. Too long. How I have missed you! And this post! This is why I love your blog so much. Your words have a way of transporting us to the very spot where you committed the "crime" and have us giggling at what must have been your reaction. I literally saw the gum on the floor! You are the master of imagery! I love how you're still transported when you chew gum and how you received your lesson in honesty at such a tender age. I did something similar but in my case it was chocolate--chocolate I stole out of my aunt's cupboard. She sniffed my breath and knew I was the culprit. Unfortunately, my crime resulted in a hard swat across the bottom. These Spanish women are old school and live by the creed of "spare the rod spoil the child." hee hee! Lucky for me I still love chocolate! Hugs! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Bella. From you, my mentor, that is wonderful praise indeed! Oh, and there were plenty of 'swat-on-the-backside' moments for me as well! :)

      Delete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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