Thou Shalt Not Steal
When I was seven or eight years-old I walked into the stationery store where I usually got the popsicles funded by my grandmother, but on that particular day had no money.
To satisfy my sugar addiction, I furtively took a few packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum off the candy rack, then ran home. I knew it was wrong but instead of hiding the gum somewhere, knowing full well that my mother would find it, decided the best thing to do instead would be to chew the pieces all at once. My first mistake was to do the deed in our back yard. The second mistake was stupidly answering my mother when she yelled out to see where I was, with an answer garbled just enough to warrant further investigation.
When I got busted with the huge wad in my mouth I must have looked either like a tobacco chewing baseball player or Grannie Cooper with the cobbler face. Then ensued the ferocious interrogation about where I had gotten the money to get the gum. Mistake number three was to lie and say I got the money from Grandma because with that my mother went upstairs to validate the false alibi. Making matters worse, Grandma was not smart enough to cover for me. But more likely Grandma was stunned to silence by the fact that my mother never went upstairs in the first place.
My mother then grabbed me by the arm and marched me to the store where I was forced to admit to the proprietor what I had done, say I was sorry, hand over more money than the equivalent value of the goods, then work off the ransom by having to do some onerous chores at home. This episode became so ingrained in my persona, that for the remainder of my life I was never able to steal anything again. It was a combination of learning an immediate lesson, as well as instilling a perpetual fear that if I ever did anything larcenous again I would always be caught.
Apparently, however, the same feeling was not ingrained in other family members, as Roman Catholic Grandma was just as devious as Southern Baptist Grannie. Both women had their own peculiarly larcenous means of equally satisfying their sweet-tooth, if not better than my attempt. Grannie Cooper hid in the kitchen gobbling down cobbler, while Grandma DeCarlo had an alternative plan.
Being diabetic, Grandma was not supposed to have any simple sugars at all and put up a great self-martyring display of her compliance at family dinners by making absolutely sure everyone knew she was not eating the cake for dessert.
- Poor Grandma. The doctor said she couldn’t even have just a little taste of Baby Jesus’ birthday cake. And even though it’s Christmas, she still won’t do it.
- Yes. She’s so good about it. Follows his advice to the letter.
- Yes, yes. Poor Grandma. Makes me feel so guilty, I think I’ll have my dessert out in the kitchen.
But my mother took great delight in telling the story of catching grandma red- handed in the candy aisle at the local supermarket. It was by pure chance that they were in the same store together, when my mother came down the candy lane and saw my grandmother wolfing down chocolate from a bag she had ripped open and then quickly stuck back on the shelf. My mother said she hung back a little until Grandma had her mouth stuffed full like a chipmunk, then casually walked up to her and said:
- Hello, Ma!
It was so hard for grandma to talk without chocolate spittle dripping down her cheeks that she had to swallow the wad whole, along with no ability whatsoever to cover up the embarrassing red-cheeked hesitation that came along with the ambush. After that, my mother would stalk her in the supermarket where on at least several occasions she saw the behavior repeating itself. It would have undoubtedly been a great surprise to the store manger to know that the fat rat who was leaving little torn chocolate bags and wrappers scattered around the place was a sweet, obese, little, old Italian grandmother who for some strange reason just never seemed to be able to lose that weight.
To make matters worse, my mother once caught Grandma hiding a package of pork chops by thumbing it behind a shopping bag while she went through the check-out line. Not that she couldn’t pay for it, but probably more like the Italian trait of just wanting to see if she could actually get away with stealing it.
Since timing is everything, my mother waited to let my father know about his dietary cheating and larcenous mother until the day he began to rant about Grandma’s poor sugar control and why he “just could not understand it.” Of course that disclosure was met with his usual denial about the truth, which was then followed by a segued “change the subject” argument about why the two women should try a little harder to get along a little better.
- My mother would never do anything like that. You should try to be nicer to her. If it wasn’t for her, we’d be out on the street.
- Your big fat mother also happens to be a big fat liar as well a big fat sneak, too. So how do you expect me to be nice to someone who hates my guts and says so repeatedly in Italian to your big fat sister? And one more thing. Right now I’d rather take the street.
- Never mind then.
- You mean until next time? Like tomorrow?