I was 10 years old. I lived at home with my mother, sister and brother on Winston Dr. in Macon, Ga.
Side Note: I went by the old residence last year and took a picture with the present occupants.
Each day I walked two miles to and from school, rain or shine. The school was Joseph N. Neel. (closed in 2017)
I had my first fight there, felt the first twinge of love, had my first “stay after school”, made to “beat the erasers”, and made a lock-down decision never to smoke cigarettes (smoked for 3 months in high school) after being shown pictures of an autopsy–lungs from the human body all gunked up from the simple cigarette that held promise to make me popular for once. (had to look for something else to do that duty—still haven’t found it)
Halfway point was just what I needed. It was the Westgate Mall, complete with a Woolworths. I was never taught to steal; I took to it naturally when opportunity and desire collided. I remember picking a few rubber grapes from the Homeware Department. I loved to squish them and let the hole suction itself to my cheek-gum. Great entertainment it was for a bored, adventuresome boy avoiding going home in the rain.
And then it happened. I day I walked into the department that had aquariums, fish and TURTLES. What was it about the turtle that captured my mind and my desire to own one? Whatever it was, it wouldn’t go away and neither would it put enough money in my pocket to buy it. As I recall, these little terrapins were .39 cents each; green and cute as they played in the waterfall and clumsily crawled over the rocks.
What I would give to have a video of all this going down.
Anyhow, it was time to put my creativity to work, ingenuity and craftiness. It came to me that as long as this turtle was in the aquarium it belonged to the store, BUT, what if it were somehow on the floor? That was all I needed. I reached in, grabbed the little fellow I thought would make for the best play partner, placed him on the floor and left the room. I simply strolled around the Woolworths long enough for this turtle to magically become wild and free. Then I went back in and WOW—I found a turtle on the floor!! He was trying to make an escape and I distinctly remember hearing him say, “Hi, would you take me home with you?”
Trying to contain my amazement, I picked my newfound friend up off the floor, put him in my pocket and off we went to his new home. MINE.
It never crossed my mind to hide him because I had done such a thorough job in establishing ownership. But when mom came home and asked me how it was that I had a turtle, I told here my version of truth. “I found it”. Then the avalanche of questions followed. Found where, when, how? In no time this female detective called mom had me in the car heading back to Woolworth. I remember holding my (their) turtle close and trying to prepare myself for what was coming. I stroked his little head on top (he like that) as we drove the short distance to the place where people could find turtles roaming and in search of heroic little boys like me who would free them from their overcrowded glass prisons.
As soon as we went in, there he was. The Woolworths manager looking down on us from his two-foot-high platform office with glass all around the top walls. My mother introduced herself and then me as I sheepishly held up the turtle to give it back. He came out to greet us and then received the turtle from me, thanking us both for doing the right thing. (pretty sure I heard the turtle crying, saying it wasn’t the right thing)
I suppose the elation from not getting in big trouble was just what I needed to offset the loss of my new friend. We drove home in silence and the event never came up again. Little did I know that just 5 years later, a turtle would once again land me in the clink, but not for stealing.
I learned many lessons that day.
1-Parents see better than kids when it comes to character necessary in life.
2-Kids can manufacture and rationalize with the best of adults.
3-Tangible objects, living or inanimate, are not worth having if wrongly obtained.
“Teach your children right from wrong, and when they are grown, they will still do right.” – Proverbs 22:6