Posted by Paul McCall on February 6, 2013 at 1:35 PM




Paul J. McCall


In 1954, I was six years old, one bright and sunny June day my mother taught me a lifelong lesson. She brought me along grocery shopping. The “First National” was the grocery store where she did her shopping. It was only ten or fifteen minutes away by car from our home and located on route nine in Natick, Massachusetts.

When we arrived, my mother parked our 1955 two-tone red and white Plymouth wagon in the parking lot. At that age, I was always in awe when I went to a big store like that. There seemed to be everything a kid could possibly want in there. While mom went about her grocery shopping my eye's were feverously scanning the shelves for possible personal benefits.

Then I saw it! My eyes locked upon a wire basket full of small miniature footballs. Right there in the middle was a green football with red strips around each end that was calling to me. I can’t recall the amount on the price tag because I wasn't interested in that trivial detail of this treasure. All I knew was I wanted that football so bad a refusal would surely crush me.

When I made my plea to my mother I got what I felt a cruel refusal. She ordered me, “You put that right back where you got it”! After my repeated failed attempts to conceive new and different angles to win my case I began to severely suffer from the almost certain frustration of failure. I was so grieved; in desperation I made a very brief attempt at a temper tantrum. I wanted that football that bad. The obvious outcome I was about to experience actually made me feel ill. The tantrum was useless and made her absolute in her refusal.

After I had exhausted every persuasive tactic I had acquired up to that point in my young life, I was forced to concede defeat. I finally realized it was no use and I reluctantly returned to where I had found the treasure to place it back. When I got to the basket that contained the footballs it suddenly occurred to me that no one could see me behind the rack. I abruptly felt a hot flash rush through me as I pondered a desperate alternative.

After careful inspection of my surroundings, I nervously tucked the beloved football into the inside pocket of my reversible jacket. I was careful to keep my right arm covering the obvious bulge so no one would notice my skulduggery. At that age, my intelligence and logic were far from developed which was obvious when we arrived home. I was so eager to play with that football the first thing I did when I jumped out of the car was run straight for our front yard and I began tossing the football up into the air and catching it.

My mother kept making her trips back and forth to and from the car as she brought the groceries into the house while I, unwisely and carelessly, played with the football in plain view with complete disregard concerning how I had acquired my treasure. I was so anxious to play with that ball I never thought to go some place where my mother could not easily see me. As she got closer to the last bag she finally became more aware of her surroundings and the fact that I was not interested as I usually was in what she had purchased.

Normally I would be going through the bags with her to see what she bought. It was at this point my mother finally became aware of my unusual disregard and my joy as I played with my ill acquired toy. Making matters even worse when she rushed over to me and yelled at me, “Where did you get that?” I lied, telling her, "I just found it, right there in the bushes." She snatched that football out of my hand so fast I had to count my fingers to make sure I still had them all.

She quickly examined the football and said in a tone I would not want to hear again, “well it hasn't been lost very long; it still has the price tag on it!” She immediately grabbed me by my arm with a vice grip strength that I was unaware a woman could possess. She then lead me to the car and pushed me into the rear seat and slammed the door. “Don’t you move!” she said with her finger pressed against the glass and pointing directly at me. She then ran to the house to get her purse and car keys.

I had never, at any time, seen or experienced this level of fury from my mother in my life. We were both silent during the entire trip. I sat in obedient fearful silence in the back seat as she drove all the way back to the First National store. I was shaking in my drawers the whole ride. All kinds of thoughts of doom jail and prison were racing through my head.

When we got to the store, still with a strong grip, she again towed me by the hand and back into the store to where the manager's office was. To make matters worse there happened to be a Cop in the office at the time; my mother looked down at me, “see! They know already,” she said and I believed her. She then asked a lady if she could speak with the manager. He was in his glassed-in office with the Cop. The lady went into the office and said something to the manager. I was trying to read their lips as they spoke. That is until all three of them turned their heads and looked directly at me. I thought my heart was going to burn out on me right there.

When the manager came out of the office the Cop came with him. My mother told the manager I had something to give him. My hands and my whole body were shaking uncontrollably as I handed him the ball. “And how did you come by this young man”? I didn't dare look him in the eye; my eyes fell and caught his nicely shined shoes. I locked my eye's on his shoes as I reluctantly told him I had stolen the football as my mother was doing her shopping.

I was so scared I began to cry uncontrollably and I didn't dare turn to my mother for comfort, I was on my own this time. After a little drama play between the manager and my mother, who was standing behind me, I guess in case I tried to run? The manager was in front of me, I glanced up to see what the Cop was doing and I could see my mothers' reflection in the office glass wall. She was indicating in silent hand language to the manager not to spare me.

The manager looked at the Cop and asked, “You got any room down town in the jail today”? The Cop shook his head and said, “Nope, unfortunately the jail's all filled up today”. The manager then looked back at me as he said to my mother, “well Mrs. McCall looks like we can’t have him sent to jail this time, so I’ll let you take him home if little Pauley here promises not to steel ever again” All I could do was quickly shake my head back and forth I was still quietly crying and shaking all over.

That short performance that seemed to take forever taught me a lesson that is so embedded in my being that it is still with me to this day. To some degree it has been often to my detriment! I was not allowed to go out and play for the rest of that day and from that day on I have always had a deep respect for other people's property. The cure was making me face up to what I had done and the lesson was indelible.


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