Old Man Hillen

“Are you gonna pay for that gum?”

Phyllis and I turned to see Billy’s cheek bulging. His eyes got big and a stream of purple drool ran out of the corner of his mouth. The three of us stood horrified before Old Man Hillen, the proprietor of the Variety Store. It was obvious the sour old geezer took no prisoners where pilfering children were concerned.

“Spit it out.” Phyllis demanded, her face as hard as the old man’s. She hurriedly paid for our purchases as Billy and I beat her out the door. We knew there would be Hell to pay. Phyllis aligned herself with our parents and could be depended upon to report any infraction. This one was huge.

The situation was made more ominous since our business in the first place was the purchase of Mother’s birthday gift. The three of us had walked to the Variety Store after school. Mother was to pick us up. The wait seemed endless, knowing the catastrophe that was brewing.

“Billy Ray stole a piece of gum!” she exploded before she even got the car door shut. “Mr. Hillen made me pay for it!”

Mother was appalled. “Oh no. I hope you’re ashamed of yourself. I’m gonna have to tell your daddy about this.” A pall hung over us, dreading what was to come.

Justice was swift and sure. Daddy was enraged as he railed at Billy, before strapping him with his belt, then pausing before giving him a few more. Worse yet was the pronouncement that they’d be going back tomorrow for Billy to apologize and make it right. It was a terrible night at our house. No one escaped Daddy’s black mood.

Daddy was waiting for Billy when the bus ran, always dependable when punishment was due. He led the small boy into the Variety Store and announced to Mr. Hillen, “My son has something to say to you.”

Humiliated, Billy managed to stammer an apology.

Rather than accepting Billy’s apology, the hateful old man launched into a tirade against thieving kids and the way sorry parents were raising them. Daddy was infuriated and told him they’d made it right and he wasn’t listening to anymore of his mouth. They left. We never went back in that store.

The Great Gum Heist

Linda First GradeMy mother broke me from stealing. It’s just as well. I wasn’t any good at it anyway. She was having coffee with her friend, Miss Frankie. I was bored and used my ingenious ruse. “I gotta go to the bathroom.”

Mother warned me. “Okay, but don’t meddle and don’t touch anything!” No wonder I took a wrong turn. She never trusted me. I dawdled as I made my way to the bathroom off Miss Frankie’s bedroom. This was the 1950s. This wasn’t the master bathroom. It was the only bathroom in her Quonset hut with an add on in the back. Delightfully, for me, Miss Frankie was a relaxed housekeeper so I could see a lot without meddling. Clothes and shoes covered the floor. The open closet doors displayed shoe boxes, handbags, dresses, and nighties. I walked around in her red high heels while I surveyed the lipsticks, lotions, scarves, and a hairbrush decorating her dresser. I considered trying her lipstick when I spied an open pack of Dentyne Gum. Immediately, I peeled a piece and popped it in my mouth.

I shed the shoes. Chomping my gum happily, I strolled back in to join Mother and Miss Frankie at coffee. “What is that in your mouth?”


“Where’d you get it?”

“Uh…I found it….on Miss Frankie’s dresser.”

“You are not allowed to take things. That is stealing. Take it out of your mouth and tell Miss Frankie you’re sorry.”

i took the gooey wad out of my mouth and held it out to Miss Frankie. Reluctantly, she accepted it. “I’m sorry, Miss Frankie.” I’m sure she was, too.

“That’s okay , Honey.

That was the end of my stealing. I have never even wanted to steal again.

Hanging By a Thread

hanging by thread

Though he didn’t apppreciate it till later, Bill’s life hung by a thread as he sat tranquilly in that day in church, just as he had every Sunday of his life. We all lined that pew, third from the left in front, Billy, Daddy, Mother, Marilyn, Connie, Phyllis (she was good help with the little girls), then me, on the end, where I’d hopefully pay attention best. Careful thought had gone into the seating. Billy and I couldn’t be trusted to sit together. I couldn’t be next to the little girls. I played with them, encouraging them to “act up.” Nobody sitting next to Phyllis got any encouragement to do anything except be worshipful. This generally worked out pretty well, giving bored kids plenty of time to think, the very thing that put young Billy’s body and soul in mortal peril that particular Sunday.

As the minister droned on and time dragged, Billy had plenty of time to think. The offering had been collected and sat temptingly on the altar: a handful of change, a couple of fives, tens, ones, a twenty, and a few checks. Brother Deck, an ancient deacon, who’d help collect it, had nodded off in the pew directly ahead of us, his head drooping as he slept. Occassionally, he delighted us by tooting in his sleep. It sounded like a screen door flapping and was quite satisfying, though we couldn’t make as much of it as we’d have liked, having been forewarned not to laugh when he did it again this week. It was still something to look forward to, relieving the tedium of the service.

Brother Elmer Elkins and his wife Miss Margie sat on the other end of the pew ahead of us. Brother Elmer had had the good sense to marry money. His wife had inherited land as well. Mr. Elmer was an excellent farmer, adding to the investment of her inheritance, and was the envy of the that farming neighborhood and the undisputed “boss” of the church. Though the church might vote on expenditures, plans didn’t come to fruition unless Brother Elmer, the church treasurer, signed the checks. As Billy pondered the fortune displayed temptingly before him on the altar, it occurred to him that in the bustle of church dismissal, that treasure would be unattended. He might be able to pick up a little offering of his own, if he slipped to the front unnoticed.

As the prayer ended, he slipped out the opposite end of the pew from the rest of us, intending to sidle by the offering plate unnoticed, helping himself to a little gift. Brother Elmer must have dealt with this temptation before. He slid out of his seat just ahead of Billy, turning to glare him down, before “collecting” the collection plate. Apparently, Billy wasn’t the first to think of this little trick. Thank God, Brother Elmer’s “bad boy” radar was working that morning. It saved Billy’s life!

The Great Gum Heist

imageMy mother broke me from stealing.  It’s just as well.  I wasn’t any good at it anyway.  She was having coffee with her friend, Miss Frankie.  I was bored and used my ingenious ruse.  “I gotta go to the bathroom.” Continue reading