A Lesson Remembered

by John C. Westervelt

The year was 1936. The summer was hotter in Oklahoma City than any year before or after. As an eight-year-old, no matter how hot, I loved the summertime.

During the depression there were no vacations for my family, so we made our own fun at home. The highlight of a morning might be a free chunk of ice from the back of the ice truck for sharing with friends on the sidewalk.

One day the boy next door and I added some excitement to our play. Up the hill a block on twenty-sixth street was Classen boulevard. From Classen boulevard, a half block one direction was Classen Garage and a half block the other was a Standard grocery store. My family and I knew the managers of both.

The garage had often given me a bolt or nut with which to fix a toy. On this day my friend and I sneaked a dozen metal washers about the size of a penny from the storage tray in the Classen garage. Next, walking to the grocery store, we tried a washer in the penny gumball machine. To our delight, the washer worked as well as money. Within a few minutes we were the proud owners of a dozen gumballs. I canít remember that I felt guilty.

Later that day, Mother said, "Mr. Johnson wants to see us at the store." Even though I now felt guilty and frightened, I held on to my secret. The block and a half walk to the store seemed like a mile. Beside the gumball machine, I watched my motherís face as Mr. Johnson told about the metal washers for pennies. Her pained expression hurt me more than a dozen whippings (my average total for a year).

The walk of the long block home was covered in silence. Just before we reached the house, Mother said, "John, you will have to find a way to earn twelve cents to give to Mr. Johnson." I wanted a hug for reassurance that she still loved me, but the time wasnít right.

In a half dayís search of back alleys, I found six discarded pop bottles worth two cents each. I knew I was on my own to return the money to Mr. Johnson. My fears of his rejection of me as a friend were unfounded, for as I returned the stolen money I received a smile from Mr. Johnson who was only doing his part in seeing that I became a responsible citizen.

For the ensuing sixty years, I have thanked God for a mother who practiced tough-love. This lesson taught me at age eight that I always wanted to be honest as I recalled the hurt my mother experienced over my dishonesty.

Oh, and of course I did get my needed hug, as well as many more over the years.

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