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Perils and Lessons of the Toy Car Caper

I was five, certainly old enough to know better, but the temptation was irresistible. I mean, I had been crazy about vehicles of all kinds for as long as I could remember. How great to hold that little red car, to have it to play with, to keep it for myself. What harm could there be in taking it? There are lots of them in the box. No one will miss it.

I was in Sonix Hardware and Toys at Towers Shopping Center, with my dad, on a mission to obtain a small, now-forgotten hardware item – something to aid in the completion of some project, no doubt. Sonix was on the lower level of Towers, near Bailey’s Cafeteria and the shoe repair shop, and it was my favorite store ever. Christmas presents from Sonix, given to me mainly by my paternal grandmother, were the best. My sons still have some of those presents, such as a set of child-sized real woodworking tools in their own special wooden toolbox.

As my dad talked to the proprietor –maybe it was Mr. Sonix himself- I perused the toy shelves along the narrow aisles. What a wonderland it was, and my eyes were open wide. I walked along captivated, as if in slow motion. I paused as I came to the box of unpackaged toy cars. These were some of those elegantly simple cars, just a hollow metal shell of a body and axles and wheels. The one which caught my fancy was an otherwise nondescript generic sedan with a wonderful bright red paint job. It was about four inches in length and I thought it would fit in my pocket pretty easily. I picked it up and held it up close, inspecting the simple beauty of the vehicle. I may have glanced around to be sure no one was looking, but I doubt it. I just shoved it into my pocket, and smugly joined my father at the counter. I was tingling with excitement.

On the long ride home – I think my dad took a lengthy scenic route – there were some unpleasant developments. As we rode along in the old Ford, me sitting on the expansive bench seat next to my dad, that little red car kept creeping out of my pocket even though I squirmed to keep it contained. It was weird how it just kept coming out, I remember thinking.

It didn’t take long before my dad asked my where I got the car and I told him that my friend up the street, Anne Murphy, had given it to me. I thought that sounded reasonable, even if it was a few hundred light years from the truth. Obviously, the wheels were now turning in my dad’s head as he tried to figure out how best to handle this interesting parenting adventure. A little later, he asked me about the car again, about when and where I got it. I remember the friendly tone in his voice. Little did I know he was giving me a generous opening to come clean. I did not take the opportunity, and stuck to my story about the car being a gift from Anne. I was so clever. As the car ride continued (this is not the normal route home)  Daddy started talking about jail –I didn’t know why- and how prisoners only get bread to eat and water to drink, and how lonely it is in jail.  I squirmed a little as I held the car in my pocket with my grubby little hand.

Arriving at home, nothing more was said about the matter, and I enjoyed playing with my new car in any semi-privacy that a family household of six afforded. Actually, the novelty of playing with it wore off pretty quickly. There was something about it that was a little uncomfortable. My dad, for his part, was jovial as ever and did not mention the car. Little did I know he was patiently waiting.

A few days passed and we were getting ready for church on a Sunday morning. A vague discontent had been rising in my five-year-old heart, and suddenly I was overcome with remorse and guilt and shame. I ran into my parent’s room, flung myself onto the bed and tearfully confessed my crime.

In the weeks that followed, I carried out my sentence. My punishment consisted of earning money to pay Mr. Sonix for the stolen car, through manual labor, then taking the money to him with a statement of my remorse and apology.

The manual labor part consisted of moving a large pile of bricks which had been stacked beside the house, to another location. The bricks simply had to be moved, but I dorn’t now recall exactly why. I carried them one brick at a time, and a penny was dropped into a jar for each brick moved. By the time I had moved the stack I had accumulated a good many pennies, and it was then time to go see Mr. Sonix.

One can imagine the trepidation with which I approached the proprietor, my dad standing well astern. I placed the jar of pennies on the counter and blurted out my offense and my apology. I was struck by the gentleness of Mr. Sonix, and as he and my dad talked quietly,  I remember feeling greatly relieved about the whole thing. In fact, a feeling of peace was coming over me.

After Mr. Sonix removed the pennies from the jar that amounted to the cost of the red car, there was still a large number still remaining. I offered to give him the entire sum, but Mr. Sonix kindly refused. He then had a few words to say about honor and integrity, the gist of which I will never forget, and he suggested that I save the money I earned, perhaps passing it on one day to those less fortunate.

The consequence of this episode in my life – besides completely relieving me of any interest in shoplifting –  was that I felt further instilled with the guidance and caress of steadfast and unconditional love; I felt that I was cared for very deeply.

And I was – and am – and will always be forever grateful for it.

By John Robinson
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