I don’t know why I stole the money from the purse. I was plenty old enough to know it was wrong. But I did it anyway. I’ll never forget how my mother cried when I confessed. And how disappointed she was in me.
I don’t even remember exactly how old I was the day I stole the money, but I was around 10 or 11 years old. My sisters and our neighborhood friends and I used to spend most of our summer days at a local Knights of Columbus swimming pool where our family had a membership. For weeks, my friend L and I had noticed the small dark brown suede fringed pouch hanging from a shower rod in the girls bathroom at the pool. It never moved.
Then one day, my friend convinced me the purse had been abandoned and we should look inside. She climbed up and retrieved the small pouch from the shower rod and peeked inside. It contained a few dollars– around $5-6 as well as I remember. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, that was a lot of money to two preteen girls. I told my friend we should put it back, that taking it would be stealing. She said not if it had been forgotten or abandoned. So we took that money and we divided it between the two of us.
By the time I went home that afternoon, my friend had convinced me we had not stolen anything, that we had just taken money that had been abandoned. I had no guilt whatsoever for taking the money. In fact, I was so convinced I had done nothing wrong, that I didn’t even flinch when I told my mother what I had done.
My mother always gave me $2.00- $2.50 when I went to the swimming pool which was plenty to get a hot dog, or hamburger, chips, and a drink for lunch and then ice cream or a sno-cone for an afternoon snack.
When I got home from swimming that day, as was par for the course, my mother asked me if I had any money left over from the pool that day so I quickly retrieved my coin purse and counted the money. “I have over $3 left,” I blurted. Imagine my mother’s puzzled expression as she tried to figure out how I ended up with more money than I had started out with. Then I explained how L and I had been watching the small abandoned brown suede purse with the fringes. I told her how we had watched it for days and then weeks, and how it never moved. How we took the money inside the purse because whoever it belonged to had obviously forgotten about it. And how we had hung the purse back up on the shower rod where we had found it, after taking the money. My mother’s mouth flew open. “OH GAIL, YOU DIDN’T TAKE THAT MONEY!” she yelled. I hung my head. And then she cried. She told me that it was not my money to steal, and that what I had done was wrong. “But it had been left there and abandoned…. FOR WEEKS,” I said! “I DON’T CARE, IT WASN’T YOURS TO TAKE,” my mother admonished. She then calmly reminded me of the 8th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Steal.
My mother informed me I would be returning the money the next day and would make a full confession to the swimming pool manager. Her tears and telling me she was so ashamed of what I had done, was enough punishment and hurt me worse than any spanking she could have given me. I went to bed with a hurting heart that night realizing that what I had done was indeed wrong. I told God I was sorry and asked Him for forgiveness.
The next day, I was driven to the swimming pool with my friend L, and together we walked in and confessed our thievery to the manager and returned the money we had taken. He had us put the money back in the brown suede pouch. Believe me, I did feel shame and guilt that day. The manager made no big deal out of the incident and passed no judgement. He watched us put the money back into the suede pouch. Part of me wished he would have gotten mad at us. My friend chided me for blabbing to my mother about taking the money. She was mad at me for a few days but quickly got over it. In hindsight, I’m not sure she ever really realized that what we did was wrong.
Several weeks later, on the day the pool closed for the summer, I noticed that little brown suede purse still hung in the same place, high above my head on the shower rod. Years later, the pool closed down and the bathroom made out of cinder blocks was torn down. I imagined that dark brown suede pouch still hanging from that shower rod the day that bathroom was demolished. I envisioned it being buried in the rubble.
The other day, my sister asked me if I remembered how mad our mother was the day she learned I had stolen the money from the purse at the swimming pool. I shuddered. “How could I forget that?” I replied. It’s almost fifty years later, and I’ve never forgotten my mother’s reaction or her tears over what I had done.
And so help me, I never stole again.
Did you ever steal anything as a child? How did you feel? What was the outcome?