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Sweet Memory

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As one of nine siblings growing up in a low-income (sometimes no-income) family, I had learned to accept my circumstances. But that didn’t stop me from drooling at the penny candy counter of Porlier Market. Knowing that it was “not in the budget,” I spent a lot of time “window shopping,” rather than buying. Seeing other kids load up on candy necklaces, licorice whips, and Sixlets was pure torture. Imagine my joy, one summer day, to have found a shiny nickel on my way to the store for Mom. I skipped all the way there, where I cheerfully offered the glittery coin in exchange for the ultimate; a shiny sleeve of colorful “Rainblow” gumballs. Rainblow gum was actually like having five pieces of heaven with only one purchase!

Giddy with anticipation, I popped the red sphere in my mouth before I was even out the door. I savored the gloriously sweet cherry flavor. In hurry and not wanting to share with any of my siblings, I quickly swallowed the lump and moved on to the green one. Ah, sweet green apple! Half a block later, I swallowed my prize and quickly moved on to the next; wonderful, tart lemon-yellow. By the time I got home, my wrapper, a smile, and a colorful tongue was all that was left. Satisfied, I stuffed the wrapper in my pocket and moved on.

Later, in the middle of the night, I woke up, my gut churning. Before I could make it to the bathroom, my stomach rebelled involuntarily, resulting in a large puddle of puke on the hallway floor. Bleary-eyed, Mom appeared. Recognizing the too-familiar green-faced kid standing over a malodorous puddle, she disappeared, returning with a wet cloth and a bucket. It was then that I noticed that this was no ordinary vomit. Scattered in the midst of the usual “stuff” was a little red blob, a little green blob, a little yellow blob … you get the picture. I don’t remember why, but this troubled me. It was probably because everyone knows you’re not supposed to swallow your gum, and I feared Mom’s reaction. To my relief, she simply stated, in a low but emphatic tone, emphasizing each syllable, “No, More, Gum, For You, Young-Lady!”

As I wrote this, towards the end, I realized that there is more to this story and the reason I remember it so well. Actually, I remember now that I had not bought the gum with a shiny nickel. I don’t remember any nickel at all. It is more likely that I had actually stolen the gum. That would explain my haste to consume it before getting home. It would explain my horror at seeing the evidence in my spew, and it would explain the reason I never forgot it. I remember Mom’s statement clearly, most likely because I had gotten away with something. She had seen the evidence, but had not recognized it as such. She was, thank God, too tired in the middle of the night to question where I had gotten it. I had dodged a moral bullet.

I’d like to tell you that I never shoplifted again; that my poor little conscience was so ashamed, that the fear of almost getting caught taught me a lesson. It didn’t. It took me a few more years to learn that one. But that’s another post …

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