A lesson always remembered
The Little Thief
Back in 1960, when Theresa was six years old, an event occurred which made her think that her short life would soon be over! She had become in so much trouble, even far more trouble than her little brother Roger had ever been in, and Roger, having been always known in the family as the "Trouble maker", meant this was pretty bad. It all began the day she and her best friend Lucy tried to steal bags of potato chips!
Lucy and Theresa became good friends mostly because they were the same age and in the same classroom at school. Lucy also happened to live close by Theresa, only a block away, so it was that Theresa and Lucy visited each other often. The walk between block away walk between their houses included having to cross a major street with a stop light. Once crossing this major intersection, there on the corner, was a little store named City Market. The second house beyond City Market was Lucy's house.
That fateful day.
The week following Theresa's sixth birthday, Theresa went to visit Lucy and once at Lucy's house, both girls began planning what to do for the day. Lucy showed Theresa a dime she found after her dad had left from sitting in his favorite chair. It seems Lucy's Dad, sitting in that chair, was always losing change from his pockets and Lucy was the first one on the spot to reclaim it.
Theresa also had a couple of dimes she had received from her birthday the week before. It was decided that both girls would head to City Market and buy some candy and then head to the school playground, which was located across the street from Theresa's house and eat their goodies.
Off to the market they headed. Just after leaving Lucy's house, and before arriving at the store Lucy suddenly turned to Theresa and blurted out, "When we get in the store, lets take some chips". She didn't say, "Let's buy some chips". Now this completely caught Theresa by surprise, she had a feeling she knew what, "Lets take some chips" meant. She imagined what Lucy was really saying was, "Lets STEAL some chips". Theresa turned to Lucy with a horrified expression on her face and all she could think to say was, "I don't have any money"! Lucy looked at Theresa with eye brows furrowed, giving Theresa a look as though Theresa were nuts, and said, "We don't need any money, we can just put them under our shirts, no one will ever know!". Well of course Theresa didn't want to have any part of this and wanted to protest, but Lucy seemed to be so much cooler than she and Theresa was always wanting to impress Lucy. Besides Lucy could be really persistent, so it was that Theresa, as usual and knowing better, gave in.
Once in the store, both girls sought out the chip isle which was located at the back of the little Market. When at last found, each girl took a small bag from the shelf and slowly put it under their tops, carefully pulling and then tucking the front of their blouse into their pants, that would hold the chips in place. After seeing how easy it was to take one bag and there was still SO much more room left, both Theresa and Lucy, looking at one another whispered, "we can fit more than one, there's plenty of room", and so decided to not put just one bag of chips, but THREE, each! By the time they were done, both girls looked like their bellies were about to explode! Both girls were so excited at the prospect of eating all these chips, they were completely unaware that they weren't alone and were being watched, the whole time. Mr Owens, the store owner, had been keeping an eye on both of them from the moment they walked into his store. He recognized Lucy very very well and knew this six year old never thought of looking around to see if anyone is watching her while she was "shopping".
Once both girls were sure they couldn't fit any more bags under their shirts, they both agreed it was time to go. Lucy pointed out to Theresa that they couldn't walk out of the store without purchasing something, they needed to buy something, anything. Since they each had a money, they decided each would grab a five cent piece of candy and then go to the counter to pay.
Waddling up to the counter with there over sized bellies, both girls looked up at Mr. Owens. Mr. Owens was a very tall man, taller than most and so it was to both girls that he looked like a giant. He stood there with a very grave look upon his face. Lucy began feeling a little nervous. She set the two five cent candies along with a dime on the counter. Mr. Owens looked from the candy, then at the dime. Still facing the counter, and only moving his eyes, he looked to Lucy and asked, "How about those chips under your shirts, which one of you girls is going to pay for those?". Upon hearing those words, the blood from Theresa's face drained, her stomach knotted up and her pulse quickened, she turned as white as a ghost! Panic like she had never known before pulsated through her entire body! How did he know? Did Lucy somehow tell him? Was this some sort of mean trick on Lucy's part, because she could do mean stuff like that sometimes. All Theresa could think to do in her panic was cry, after all she was only six years old, what else was a six year old to do?
Theresa and Lucy looked at each other, Lucy also had the same response and began to cry, both stood there with tears flowing from their eyes. Mr. Owens standing like a giant, put his hands on his hips, furrowed his brows and continued looking down at both girls. Slowly, simultaneously, they began to pull the bags of chips out from under their shirts and set them on the counter. Once the chips were on the counter, Mr. Owens pulled out a piece of paper and pen, which he kept next to the cash registrar, and asked each girl for a phone number, advising them that he needed to contact their parents. Theresa looked up at Mr. Owens, her parents, did he really need to call them? He had the chips, they didn't get stolen. Why call her parents??? Any pigments that were possibly left in her face were now completely drained at hearing this request. She looked down at her feet with thoughts of, "Can I run fast enough?", she knew better, there was no way, not an option.
She looked back up again at Mr. Owens, all the while, in her mind, trying to think of a good response. Maybe, just maybe she could beg him to please not call her parents. When she finally looked back up at him, did she notice that there a slight smile on his face! Did he have this smile the whole time as he watched them in their terror? Was he enjoying that moment? She was just a little girl, what kind of person enjoys tormenting little girls! She didn't think to long on the contemplation of this question, she had greater problems to think about after all. Visions of her Pappa finding out what she had done, now that was what she had to focus on! Well if Mr. Owens liked seeing terror, he hit the jackpot this time, because no other little girl could have been any more terrified than she! Theresa was experiencing a fear level the likes she had never felt before or since for that matter! In her mind, she was as good as doomed, her short six year old life, as she had known it, was over!
It took a bit for their little minds to clear enough before they were finally able to think clearly and each gave Mr. Owens a phone number. Once Mr. Owens had their phone numbers written down, he pointed towards the two chairs he always kept by the entry door, placed right across from his counter. All he said was, "Sit!" Both girls obeyed and immediately picked a chair and sat down. The door, even though it was within inches from where they were seated, might have well been miles away. Could they run? Naw, Mr. Owens would catch them and who knows what he would do then, call the police? No, they had to stay put and face the consequences.
And so it was that there Theresa sat next to Lucy, both waiting for what seemed like an eternity. Theresa was frozen in her feeling of complete and utter terror, continually watching the door with the anticipation of the moment her Mamma would come walking through. She knew it would be her Mamma because Pappa was still at work, one terror at a time, having to face her Pappa would come later.
Theresa had not stopped crying during the entire wait, where as, after the initial first tears, Lucy, to Theresa's surprise, had stopped crying not long after they had pulled the chip bags out, no more tears.
Not even once! It wasn't until later that Theresa had learned, that, unlike herself, this wasn't Lucy's first time being in a situation like this and therefore had no fear what-so-ever of what was to come.
Staying vigilant at his cash register, Mr. Owens had no trouble keeping an eye on both girls. Again, it seemed to Theresa that he was taking a great delight in all of this. It wasn't enough for Mr. Owens to glare at them every now and then, no, he would continually be informing them over and over of his plans for their futures after they left with their parents. He informed them, with much pleasure, of his plan to contact every store owner and manager in the entire world! He was going to include a picture of each of them! He told them he would write in big, bold letters on each picture; LOOK OUT for "THESE THIEVES"! All store owners, managers and employees would be warned. They would be told too keep an eye on these thieves from the minute they walked through the door of the store until the moment they left!
Theresa's eyes grew wider, her heart raced, visions of her face on a picture posted in every store filled her mind with yet, more horror. She could imagine, written in huge letters under a picture of hers reading: "Thief, be on guard! This is what she looks like" or "Don't let this one walk alone in your store, she'll steal what you have, especially the potato chips!". Now, even if she survived her Pappa's punishment, she would still be doomed forever, never being able to walk into another store again without being monitored!
At last, Lucy's Mom had arrived and after briefly speaking with Mr. Owens, she took Lucy home. No scolding, no threats, just, "Vamos Mija a la Casa", come on daughter, let's go home, in a very calm voice. It wasn't to long after Lucy and her Mom left, that Theresa's Mamma appeared. The first thing Theresa's Mamma did was to go up to Mr. Owens and began apologizing profusely, you see, having been a regular customer, she had known him for years. In her most sincerest tone, she assured Mr. Owens that this would never ever happen again. She couldn't understand what Theresa had been thinking to do such a terrible thing, all the time looking at Theresa and shaking her head back and forth as she spoke. She assured Mr. Owens that Theresa's father would hear about this! After all, everyone knew, if you wanted real results, let the father know about it. Terror, terror and more terror, all Theresa wanted to do was, go home and stop this endless day of horror and humiliation! Go home, face the consequences and get the punishment over with, once and for all. At this point, she had resigned herself to face Pappa and take what ever punishment he was going to give her, but no, her Mamma had other plans.
Her Mamma had decided that, hey while she were there, why not do some grocery shopping! At hearing that, Theresa's eyes widen and she just wanted to scream - NOOOO! Her Mamma calmly walked over to the grocery carts and pulling one out, she called Theresa to her side! Poor Theresa walked through the entire store with her Mamma with her head held down, all the while her Mamma slowly, taking her time, did her grocery shopping! Running through Theresa's mind continually was, "Why can't this just end!"
Finally, yes finally, after what had seemed yet another eternity, Theresa's Mamma pushed her filled cart up to the counter for Mr. Owens to ring up her items. Mr. Owens bagged all of the grocieries, Theresa's Mamma paid and Theresa grabbed a couple of the bags as quickly as possible, yet before leaving, again her Mamma gave another long apology to Mr. Owens. At last, they walked out of the store and headed for home, each holding the bags of groceries her Mamma had just bought. In one of the bags Theresa was carrying, she couldn't help but notice there, sitting on the top, were the three bags of chips she had tried to steal. At seeing them, Theresa shook her head and swore to herself never to eat chips again!.
Once out of the store and walking home, Theresa's Mamma had said to Theresa, "Mija, I want you to take this time walking home to think about what you did in that store, stealing! Stealing Mija, what were you thinking?". She said no more all rest of the way home, thank goodness it was only a block away. Letting Theresa's mind ponder on this question and also of what was to come, all the time still in terror, had been such a torture in itself. Theresa could ponder a lot of things and none of them were good. She could not think of why she stole those chips. She could only think of facing her Pappa, of what was to come with him.
Theresa envisioned her punishment as being, to pack all her favorite dolls and toys and then having to say good bye to her sister and all her brothers. Pappa would be standing and watching her every move, belt in hand and while she was saying good bye, he would be saying saying to her siblings, "Sorry but your sister, the thief, needs to be sent away!" Then she could see him raise his belt high in the air and swinging it down towards Theresa, giving her one last spanking on her rear end as a reminder. Mamma standing behind him would be begging, "No Pappa, don't send her away, she didn't mean to do it, I'm sure she'll be good, she won't ever do that again", then turning to Theresa and asking, "Verda (right) mija?", looking back to Pappa, "Por favor (please) Pappa, let her stay." and Pappa standing tall, like a cold hard statue, would be adamantly be shaking his head back and forth, resolute, firmly stating, "No, enough!".
After the long silent march home, Theresa and her Mamma walked straight into the kitchen and began setting all the bags on the table. Once Theresa's Mamma was through setting her bags down, she sat on one of the kitchen chairs. She motioned with her hand for Theresa to come sit in the chair by her side. Once Theresa was seated next to her Mamma, her Mamma gently reached for Theresa's hands and holding them ever so gently within her own, she said, "Now Mija, I know I should tell your Pappa about this but I'm going to keep this between nosotros, us, you and me this time. I know you are a good girl and won't do anything like this again, verda, right?", Theresa was vigorously shaking her head back and forth saying, "No Mamma, never!!!", Theresa's Mamma then calmly said, "From now on you will not be seeing that Lucy any longer. I know you are a good girl and so I know it was her that made you do this!", there it was, Mamma NEVER blamed her kids for anything! Whenever any one of her children got into trouble, it was ALWAYS someone else's fault! It was "Them", "they" had always made her kids do bad things, so it was that, it was "bad" Lucy's fault and Theresa was saved. In Theresa's family after all, wasn't it a known fact that all of Mamma's six children were Saints, at least in their Mamma's eyes.
Theresa was not going to have to endure one of Pappa's spankings with the belt. Theresa was not going to have to say good bye to her brothers and sister. She was not going to have to go away. She could leave all her favorite dolls and toys where they were. Her heart was bursting with joy and so much relief that she gave her Mamma the biggest kiss and hug ever, saying, "Thank you Mamma, I promise that I will never steal again!" Besides Theresa thought, she couldn't steal if she wanted to, her picture will always be in all the stores around the world, they would be always watching her! Still to this day, many many years later, whenever walking into any store, Theresa can envision the store manager running to let everyone know, "that's the thief, keep an eye on her!".