Question #2: The most expensive item I have ever stolen is…
I wish I had a fabulously scandalous answer for this question, but I don’t. Unfortunately, for the sake of this topic, my life of crime is pretty limited. I’ve accidently put ink pens in my purse after I’ve signed credit card receipts. I once took a maxi-pad from a nearly full box that someone left in the cabinet of the ladies room at my old workplace (hey, it was an emergency), but I replaced it a week later. I’m typically a pretty honest person, and the only theft story I have is when I took a Tootsie Roll from a little mom-n-pop grocery store when I was five. It’s funny, I don’t actually remember the taking part of this tale, but I clearly remember the giving back part.
The slow tearing sound of the waxed paper covering alerted my mother that I was up to something in the back seat of our old 1964 Buick Skylark. This was well before 5 year-olds were required to be strapped into pricey booster seats, or even fancy seatbelts, so I was probably sprawled out on my stomach across the seat as I tried to unwrap my secret acquisition as slowly as possible. I’d hoped to have my favorite chewy, chocolaty treat stuck between the crevices of my back teeth before my mother realized that I had clandestinely purloined it from the bottom shelf of the penny candy section of Mike’s Grocery. As I was about to peel off the last noisy bit of paper that confirmed my status as a Tootsie Roll thief, my mother, who was about to pull out of the parking lot, asked the familiar question, “What are you up to back there?” “Nothing,” I nervously assured her as I popped the candy into my mouth paper and all.
My mother never accepted “Nothing” as an answer from me. I was, after all, the kid who dug a muddy, four foot hole in the back of our perfectly landscaped yard while she was inside having tea with her friends from the garden club. I was the kid who, while at church last Sunday, had made a loud hooting sound, during silent prayer, just to hear it echo off of the endlessly high ceilings. I was also the kid who usually had a frowny face on the “Exhibits proper classroom behavior” section of my kindergarten progress report, so when I gave the answer of “Nothing,” my mother always investigated. Before I had time to swallow, she had turned around and pried the glommy goody from my mouth and wrapped it in a tissue from her purse. After a stern lecture on shoplifting, that included the threat of jail time, she placed the wet package in my small hand with a disappointed expression and quietly said, “You took this from Mike, now you have to return it, and apologize.” Mike, the store’s owner was a hulk of a man, whose white store apron usually had a bit of blood on it because he mostly worked behind the meat counter. I was scared of Mike and begged my mother to let me return the Tootsie Roll to his kindly wife Betty, but she wouldn’t budge.
I’ll never forget the fear jolting through my tiny body as my little legs trudged unwillingly back to the meat counter, nor will I disremember the humiliation of admitting my wrongdoing. I do remember Mike thanking me both for my honesty and for the penny, borrowed from my mother, which I handed over to him as compensation for my misdeed. I also recall that Mike didn’t seem as scary to me in subsequent visits to his store. In fact, he usually made a point of saying hello to me by name. I was never sure whether this was because he considered me a new found little friend, or because he wanted me to know that he was keeping an eye on me. So, as a reformed shoplifter, I’ll admit that the monetary value of the most expensive thing I’ve ever stolen was one penny; however the life lesson value was priceless!