Thursday, March 31, 2011

Please Don't Make Me Go To Jail

When Grams was about eight years old, we lived for an entire year with my Granny in a little house deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas. When I say "deep in the Piney Woods" I mean deep. Granny lived on a red-dirt road that was way, way, way off the beaten path. A trip to town meant going 15-20 miles to Naples or Atlanta, both little bitty towns in the early 1960s. But every now and then we would make the 50-ish mile trek to the thriving metropolis of Texarkana. In 1960 Texarkana, Texas (it's a twin city ... there is also a Texarkana, Arkansas) had a population of 50,000.

For us, a trip to Texarkana was an outing to the big city. There were a few major department stores in the downtown area. It was years before there were shopping malls or even strip centers. I think there was a Sears Roebuck, J. C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward. But the one I remember most was a store called Belk-Jones. The unique thing about Belk-Jones was that it had something we had never seen before, an escalator. While we occasionally went to Belk-Jones, Mom rarely shopped there. Honestly, I think she took us to ride the escalator which gave her a little break of sorts. Remember, she was trying to keep up with six kids. But, truth be told, Mom did most of her shopping at Bill's Dollar Store.

Like today's ubiquitous dollar stores, Bill's Dollar Store carried a little bit of everything. Most of our school shoes and many of our clothes came from there. A whole lot of Mom's shopping time was spent there. If we behaved, we were rewarded with choosing a small piece of candy or, occasionally, a very small toy. I don't remember for sure, but I'm sure the price range would have been 25 cents to a dollar. Certainly nothing more expensive than that. Again, there were six kids and Dad was an automotive mechanic. We didn't have extra money to waste.

I don't remember having many longings for things I didn't have. The fact of the matter is that I grew up in an age before the rabid consumerism that kids deal with today. There was no cable television with a thousand channels constantly hawking their wares to children. We had a black-and-white television that used an antenna mounted outside on the roof. And we lived so far out in the country that we usually only got one station. The only kids' shows I remember are Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, and Top Cat. And some of those we watched when we lived in town; we didn't get them out in the country.

Romper Room image source
We played outside and we played with what we had. My Granny would give us cast off spoons to use as shovels to dig in the dirt. We played "store" with empty oatmeal boxes and empty cans from her kitchen. We used Monopoly money to pay in our own "store." Each of us girls had a doll and a teddy bear. And we made our own paper dolls by cutting out models and clothing from magazines and catalogs. And we loved it! We didn't know that there were kids who had play rooms and lots of store bought toys. It sounds hokey, but that's how it was.

But on one of our trips to Bill's Dollar Store in Texarkana, I fell in love with a little jewelry box that played music and had a magnetic ballerina that twirled on a mirror when you wound it up. More precisely, I fell in love with the tiny little ballerina with her tutu of pink tulle. I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything in my young life. I had to have it. I asked Mom to please buy it for me. She said no. I begged. She said no. I cajoled, I pleaded, I cried. I had to have that box, but most of all I had to have the beautiful tiny little plastic ballerina. But no matter how nicely I asked or how nastily I demanded the answer was an emphatic "no."

Music box image source

At this point, owing to the title of this post, you can probably guess what I did. That's right ... I stole it. Not the jewelry box, just the little plastic ballerina. I looked all around and found that not a soul was looking at me. I reached up and snatched that little ballerina off of her glass mirror and stuck her in the waistband of my shorts for the long ride home.

I was so proud of myself. I gloated secretly all the way home. I had my ballerina in spite of mother's denial. I would take her home and play with her to my heart's content. I had my coveted ballerina and she was mine ... all mine. This tiny toy was not community property, it was my very own and I wouldn't have to share it with my sisters. Then I got home and reality set in. Yes, I had my beautiful ballerina. She was mine but I couldn't play with her. You see, I shared a room with my three sisters. If I took her out and played with her, they would know that I had stolen her. And ... they would TELL! If you have sisters, you know the truth. There was no way that any of us could know something like that about any of the others without running straight to Mom to tattle. In fact, I couldn't even set her on top of the chest-of-drawers, where I knew she belonged, because then I would be found out.

So, what did I do? I hid her. I lifted the corner of my mattress and tucked her safely between the mattress and springs to stay until I could figure out what to do with her. There was only one problem with my plan, one small little consideration that I did not foresee. The next day was laundry day.

Early the next morning when my Granny stripped the sheets off the bed for their weekly washing, out fell my little ballerina at her feet. My heart stopped! But Granny just picked her up, tucked her into an apron pocket, and went on about her business without saying a word. I felt a huge sense of relief. Granny didn't know ... she didn't know I had stolen her. I had gotten away with it. Now all I had to do was wait until Granny took off her apron and I could recover my ballerina and I wouldn't even have to explain. I could tell my sisters that I got her from Granny and she would be mine with no questions asked. So, yes, I was willing to add lying to thieving if it would help me get my precious ballerina.

All day that day I thought I had gotten away with my little bit of larceny. WRONG! Sometime during the day, Granny took that ballerina to Mom who knew immediately where it came from, who brought it, and how it had been gotten. Then came bedtime.

When I went in to say goodnight, Mom had my ballerina in her hand. She confronted me and told me that she knew I had stolen it. She went on the tell me that such a crime would have to be reported to the store manager who would ultimately have to report it to the police. She further told me that we had to take it back and I would have to confess to the store manager. There was no sleeping that night. I tossed and turned all night long, imagining the worst possible outcome yet hoping that by morning all would be forgotten if not forgiven. But early the next morning, while Granny took care of all my siblings, Mom and I made an hour-long, silent drive all the way to Bill's Dollar Store. We went inside and I handed my beautiful ballerina to the store manager, told him that I had stolen it, and said I was very sorry.

In accordance with what my mother had said, he explained that he would have to call the police who would probably have to arrest me and take me to jail. I was terrified and completely silent as tears rolled down my cheeks. I don't know if my mother had called him ahead of time and asked him to play along with her or not, but he was very convincing. After he played his role for a while he decided that, since this was my first offense, he might be able to avoid calling the police if I promised to never steal anything again. I was happy to comply and very relieved.

Anyone who knew my mom would be able to tell you that silent was not her usual mode of operation. So, needless to say, the ride home was the farthest thing from silent. She let me have it every which way for the entire hour it took to drive home.

A couple of years later, some of my friends and I were in a Winn's 5 & 10 Cent Store in Corpus Christi. They all decided to steal some candy by tucking it into the waistbands of their shorts and walking out with it. I politely declined to participate and ran all the way home without them. I had learned my lesson.

Mama’s Losin’ It

This post was inspired by the writing prompt "You stole WHAT!?! Spill it" and is part of Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop.


  1. oh my goodness, you had more nerve than me as a kid. I was such a big chicken I have no stories like that to kids on the other hand!!

  2. I can really relate to a lot of what you write about here...not so much the stealing part, but the out in the country and homemade toys and past-times. We're good people because of it! I bet you have a stellar imagination!
    Great post!
    Stopping by from MamaKat's.

  3. I am not exactly sure what I stole waaay back, but I too had to go to the manager of the Piggly Wiggly supermarket and tell him I took something...maybe a candy bar. I learned my lesson too! Wonderfully written!

  4. Great story.
    I've taken my son back to the store more than once. He's the sort who has to burn his hand twice before learning. But he figured it out.

  5. I can relate to growing up out in the piney woods. Well, we didn't have piney woods there then, but they do now. :) Love the story...and your Mama's way of dealing with it. :)

  6. I love this post! So much nostalgia it holds. Your mom's response is exactly what more kids need. Smart woman. And again, great post!

  7. I can only empathize with you at what it felt like to have been drug back there with you mom, thinking you were going to jail. My parents had NO problem taking me wherever it was that I needed to go to apologize for whatever it was that I did wrong. (happened a lot...)

  8. What a beautifully written story! I don't think I ever stole anything as a kid, but I can imagine it would have gone just about as well as it did for you.

    Stopping by from SITS!

  9. I don't have a theft story from when I was a kid. My husband was a bad ass though and stole a car when he was 9. Imagine that!

    Great write. Came by from SITS!

  10. Stopped by from SITS and so glad I did. While I didn't grow up in the back woods of anywhere, I totally recognized my life in yours!
    1. Loved Top Cat!
    2. Stole doll socks and got clean away until my sister turned me in to my parents. Mom marched me in and made me give back the socks but...
    3. Then I was with my dad in the Woolworth's and those tiny boxes of Chiklets called out to me so I put just one in my pocket. My dad, normally a silent man, let me have it and we walked right back into the store where he made me take the two cents I had in my pocket and give them to the man behind the counter even though the gum cost only a penny. I had to tell the guy that I stole the gum and wanted to pay twice as much because of my "sin." I haven't stolen since. Well, not much anyway. Great post!

  11. I so relate to your story, because I stole a teeny little newborn doll - hard plastic - from Woolworth's. Although I was never caught, it burns my conscience to this day. Im' visiting from SITS - thanks for sharing!

  12. What a wonderful post!!!! I found you on SITS. I enjoyed my visit to your lovely blog. wishing you happiness and a wonderful weekend. Hugs!

  13. oh my gosh great post!! I never stole anything (was too terrified!) but it sounds like we did the same things growing up; playing outside, watching 1 or 2 channels on tv, etc. Great writing. i found you from SITS.

  14. tsk, tsk, stealing candy. No wonder candy prices are as high as they are...

  15. I've been known to commit grand larceny a time or two, or three, my life. 5cent candy at the store nearby our house on Leopard St.; a cassette of a group I really loved at Kmart in Mission Shopping Center and my most coveted item, a crystal ornament that "accidentally" fell off a chandelier in the Fairmount hotel.