Been Caught Stealing

I stole only once in my youth. It was a car.

My mother worked as a cashier at the Steinberg grocery store at the intersection of Merivale and Meadowlands. Back then, in the late 1960s, Merivale Road was a simple, two-lane street: trees and houses lined the west side, across from the K-mart Plaza, which occupied the south-east corner of the intersection, and Steinberg's, which was neighbours to Miracle Mart and Pascal's (the hardware store where my dad picked up extra hours, in addition to his day job as a delivery driver, for POM Bakery and Coorsh), took the north-east corner of that intersection.

As a young kid growing up in Parkwood Hills, it was nothing to cycle on Merivale Road—something that would put fear into parents these days. Meadowlands Drive, where it climbed up hill towards the Skyline neighbourhood, was also a narrow road, but cars would speed up and down the hill, making it more hazardous to cross than Merivale Road, unless you took the extra time and distance to walk to the intersection, where you could cross more safely.

Coming out of the town-house community of Bowhill Avenue, it was faster to dash across Meadowlands where the creek met the street and then continued, on the other side, behind the Steinberg-Miracle Mart-Pascal strip mall. Walking to the grocery store, I would pass along the south side, where cars would pull up to a conveyor line, where groceries would exit the store from a small flap, in baskets. Packing boys would load your car and allow you to go on your way.

As I passed the loading zone, I would run my hand along the rollers, the sound of spinning metal echoing off the brown-brick wall.

I didn't go to Steinberg's often. My father, when he was at home, would send me to Dominion to run his errands: usually, with a note and a couple of dollars, to pick up a pack of cigarettes. If there was change, and usually, there was a dime, it was mine to keep. I would use that 10-cent piece to treat myself to a bag of Hostess potato chips, which were sold at the same counter as the cigarettes.

When I did go to Steinberg's, it was usually to get a message to my mom, who couldn't take a phone call while she was manning one of the cash registers. Sometimes, I would go to meet her as she finished her shift, would keep her company as she purchased groceries and would then walk home with her.

The displays at the cash registers were always a draw for kids. Candies, gum, chocolate bars. I would always ask for something, would always receive the same answer: no.

I saw the shiny packages, the colourful items through the plastic. Something new to show off to my friends, to make me the envy of the neighbourhood boys: one of the new Hot Wheels cars. Charlie had just shown me one that his mother had given him, the other day, and I needed to show him that I had new cars, too.

I watched my mother, who was busy with her last customer, her hands pressing buttons on the register, the numbers rolling over at the top, the bell ringing. Her supervisor was standing by her, waiting to take the days receipts and her cash drawer, to balance her for the day. A sign at the end of her station read, "This cash is closed."

When her customer was gone, my mother told me that she would be back soon and I should wait by the exit. She said nothing about the toy car that was in my hands. Left alone, I couldn't put the car back on the shelf: I wanted it, but I knew that if I asked my mom, the answer would be the same.

No.

It was so easy. Into my pants it went. I would take it out of its package when I got home, would throw the cardboard and plastic into the garbage when no one was looking, and this new Hot Wheels car would join my collection, where no one would notice it among the many that I already had.

The walk home was not comfortable. My movements made the package shift. The car ran the risk of falling down my trouser leg, hitting the ground and revealing my criminal act. I jammed my hand into my pocket and held the car in place, but my walk was funny. "What's wrong?" my mother asked.

"Nothing," I replied, nervously.

We crossed Meadowlands Drive where I had come. With an adult as protector, the crossing didn't seem as hazardous. But we had to scoot as a car hurried down the hill, and I limped more than ran. My mother noticed my gate, my hand awkwardly in my pants pocket. But she said nothing until we got inside the house.

"What's inside your pocket?"

"Nothing," I said. It was the truth, so the word came out easily. The car wasn't in my pocket; it was in my pants. I wasn't fibbing. I was a terrible liar. Especially, with my mom.

"Take your hand out of your pocket." I complied, hoping the car would stay put. It didn't. It slid down to my knee, making an unnatural bump under the fabric.

I was caught.

A lecture followed, letting me know that I had disappointed my mother. How could I do this, especially where my mother worked. She would feel shame, on top of the disappointment, when she brought me back to Steinberg's to return the stolen item.

She didn't tell Dad. He would have hit the roof. I had to promise that I would never steal again. I had to go back to the store with her the next day, would have to give the car back, apologize to her manager.

I was not allowed to go back to the store for some time.

And I never stole again.

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