Raising children in small town America allowed parents to allow us freedoms. As a young child, my friend Elaine and I would dress up my old tuxedo cat Mac in baby clothes, lay him gently in the old baby carriage, cover the opening with mosquito netting and then we'd walk 'up town'.
For his part, Mac just went to sleep. He was a good old cat.
'Up town' was Danvers Square ... a wonderful place for young kids ... a movie theater, pizza parlor, Five & Dime, Woolworth's, Danvers Savings Bank, the VFW and a host of other interesting spots we could walk through and receive 'ohs and ahs' over our baby.
Our favorite stop was Woolworth's because even though the lady behind the lunch counter knew we had a cat in the baby carriage she never shooed us away, she simply made the necessary "ohs and ahs" and took our order for vanilla cokes. Occasionally we'd have enough money to add a cookie to the order, but usually it was just the coke.
We'd sit quietly and sip slowly making those sodas last as long as we could and then stroll the aisles of the store, uneven, dull wooden floors creaking and squeaking beneath our summer tennies. Woolworth's had it all, from Evening In Paris par fume to Nancy Drew mystery stories ... it was a wonderful place to pass the time.
One day Elaine had enough money to buy some candy. We finished our drinks and strolled the store, eventually arriving at the cashiers counter. The woman behind the counter was very nice ... she rang up Elaine's small purchase, thanked her and looked expectantly at me. "I'm not buying anything," I said. She smiled at us and we left the store and began the half mile walk back to my house.
We were just out of the square -- "I wanted candy too." as I pulled a box of Jujubes out of the carriage. I'd tucked them in under the mat while I was making over Mac. The look she gave me said it all and she simply held her hand out offering me a piece of her Hershey bar. I accepted and sheepishly put the Jujubes back in the carriage.
Once home, we undressed Mac and let him escape to parts unknown. Elaine headed home to her house and I went to my room. There I sat, alone and guilty. It was time to do the right thing. I didn't tell my mother or my father what I had done, but after a while I did ask if I could meet Elaine and go for a walk. The response was just as usual, "yes, but be careful and be home early."
I headed 'up town' on my own, stolen candy in my pocket. I remember thinking how embarrassed I was that I was going to have to return the candy and how awful it was of me to steal it in the first place.
Standing outside the door of the store, building courage, I wondered if the cashier lady would call the police! I had committed such a crime! Finally after stalling as long as I could, I marched in and right up to the cashier. Sliding the box of Jujubes across the counter. "I have to return these to you. I took them without paying. I'm very sorry." And I was so humiliated to have done something that terrible.
There are people in the world who know just how to handle a situation and she was one of them. "Oh, I'm sure you just forgot to pay for them. Let me just put the nickel in the register for you. You pay me back the next time you come in."
I thanked her, took the box of candy and sniveling, walked home again. I couldn't eat that candy if I'd tried. I felt so guilty and humiliated. Later I gave the box of candy to my brother. "Where did you get this?" "Woolworth's!" And that was that.
The very next time Elaine and I walked 'up town' I sipped cold water while Elaine had her vanilla coke and then I paid back the nickel I owed the cashier. For years I didn't tell anyone that story until I was busy trying to raise and teach my own children some of life's lessons.
The kindness that cashier extended to me ... and the lesson she taught me ... all without fanfare or fuss has never been forgotten.
And yeah, I know ... while I was making up for stealing, I was lying to my parents.
Cross posted @ Flamingofeathers-kathy.blogspot.com