Sticky Fingers

When my sisters and I were in elementary school, someone kept stealing my oldest sister’s lunch money coins. Our next door neighbor, Mrs. Startup, happened to work in the school cafeteria and was the lunch room lady who took the student’s money at the end of the cafeteria line.


My mother talked to our neighbor about how frustrated she was that my sister’s lunch money kept getting stolen and so my mother and Mrs. Startup devised a plan to try to catch the little thief. Mrs. Startup told my mother to take some red nail polish and paint red dots on my sister’s lunch money coins. She assured my mother that she would be checking the coins for the nail polish and was confident she would catch the student with the sticky fingers. She did. Their plan worked beautifully and the student was caught and reprimanded.


vintage coin purse like my sister had in the 1960s

When I was in the 5th grade, I had a Christmas brooch stolen right off my coat. Coats were hung on hooks in the cloak room in the back of the classroom and at Christmas time, our mother would pin Christmas pins on our coat collars. At the end of the day, when I went to put my coat on, I noticed my little rhinestone deer brooch pin was missing. I loved that little pin. I searched the cloak room high and low and it was nowhere to be found. A few days later, a classmate, Cynthia Bennett,* was wearing my cherished Christmas pin on her dress. When I pointed to it and declared it to be my missing pin, she denied it and said it was her pin. My mother talked to the teacher who talked to the student but she vowed it was her pin. I never got that pin back.


In fifth grade, we had what they called activity centers. We rotated to different centers around the room and we even rotated classrooms so I guess you could say with all the rotating of students, and with the teacher having to walk around to all the various centers, there was a certain amount of organized chaos.

My pencils started disappearing right out of my desk in that 5th grade classroom and so my mother ordered me red and green pencils from a mail order catalog that were personalized with the words Stolen From Gail on them. Pretty clever, huh?


Soon after my beloved deer brooch came up missing, those personalized pencils came up missing too. And wouldn’t you know, Cynthia Bennett suddenly started writing with green pencils that had Stolen From Gail on them. I went to the teacher, upset when I noticed Cynthia writing with my pencils. The teacher confronted Cynthia, who made up some elaborate story that her Aunt’s name was Gail and that they were her Aunt’s pencils! She told the teacher that her Aunt had given her the pencils to use. Yeah, right. My mother had another talk with the teacher after the pencil incident. I don’t recall ever getting the pencils back either. But the teacher started watching little Cynthia Bennett a whole lot closer.


I always wondered what made this little girl want to steal things. She lived in a nice house (much larger than my own) and she seemed to have nice things. She was always dressed in nice little dresses and cute shoes.  But she never seemed like a happy girl. She didn’t smile much and she wasn’t very friendly. I always believed her parents to be much wealthier than my own. I never saw her mother at school, only her father. It was her father who dropped her off in the mornings and her father who picked her up. He drove a very nice big car. I always used to wonder how many other students she was stealing from.

I remember the day my pencils were stolen and I came home from school and vented my visceral reaction to my mother. I told my mother that I hated Cynthia Bennett because it seemed she always got away with stealing and got to keep what she stole from others because she lied about it being hers. It wasn’t fair. It seemed to me that all the teacher had to do was contact Cynthia Bennett’s parents and get it confirmed that she had no Aunt named Gail who had given her pencils. It seemed so easy to prove that she was lying. I don’t know or remember if her parents were ever contacted. I do remember my mother telling me she understood my anger but that hatred wasn’t the answer. My mother told me not to let anger fill my heart and not to hate. She told me that I was always to be nice to Cynthia. I told her I would try but that it would be hard. It was hard but at some point, I started actually feeling sorry for Cynthia Bennett. I always suspected there was some sort of deep-seated emotional insecurity in her to make her want to steal from others. I still felt she should have been reprimanded and not been allowed to keep the stolen items but I also started feeling there were deeper issues with her and her family that I would never come to know about. Looking back, I suspect my teacher and my mother knew what some of those issues were.

I lost touch with Cynthia Bennett after elementary school.  We went to the same high school but it was a very large school and I didn’t have any classes with her nor do I even remember seeing her. I often wonder to this day what became of her.

Gail ♥  

*name with asterisk has been changed

About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Childhood memories, School and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Sticky Fingers

  1. Makes me wonder if Cynthia just had no concept of boundaries or the value of things to people, because she was from a wealthier family who could give her whatever she wanted ad hoc. I’ve even had students from the poorest families who spent all their welfare money on things like phones and iPad, and who didn’t value them because they didn’t earn them or understand the cost of them. Teaching kids to value what they have is so important, and without it a natural an healthy respect for the world is probably a lot harder to achieve.

    • Gail says:

      I think you probably hit the nail on the head. That didn’t occur to me as a child, but you’re right and I see this all the time now in children who are given everything they want. It’s never enough is it? It seems they always want more and more and they don’t value the things they have. Thanks for your insightful comment.

      • And indeed it’s a salutary lesson for us as adults as well. When do we recognise that our wants are not helping, that we don’t value the incredible things we already have? I think your post really speaks to my sense that our past behaviours are so rarely altered, but as adults we paper over them to be functional.

  2. Oh my gosh! I remember those coin purses and I have a reindeer pin just like that (nope, never knew a Cynthia in school). I think I still have a little mouse one too! As far as Cynthia? She needed attention and her life at home must have been dismal. School was her out. I hope she grew out of it.

  3. oneistheall says:

    Your mother had a very good position regarding the situation. To not give in to anger is SO hard, especially when in situations of unfairness, but eventually you found even some empathy towards Ali Baba Cynthia.

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