Crime and Punishment

Summertime visits to our cousin Joe’s farm were always greatly anticipated.  We would be allowed several days of freedom exploring the fields and barns, playing hide and seek, reading comic books and Mad Magazines that we never had at our own house.

In addition, we got to play with Joe’s cap guns.  These obnoxious little pistols had the ability to make a popping noise from the roll of “caps” inserted inside.  These seemed more authentic than any of the pretend guns at home.

But I was a girl and got tired of the cowboy or war shooting games quickly.  There is only so much popping you can do and it just isn’t that fun any more.  I was also bored with my brother and cousin playing with the guns endlessly so one day I simply put an end to it by pocketing the last roll of caps in my jacket, thinking I’d slip them back into Joe’s bedroom the next day before we left for home.

It wasn’t until we were home several days later that I was reminded in the middle of breakfast about the roll of caps when my mother came out of the laundry room dangling the coil of dots up for me to see.

“What are these doing in your jacket pocket?”  she asked.  I swallowed my cheerios down hard.

“Guess they belong to Joe.”   I said, not meeting her gaze.

“He gave them to you?”

“Um, not exactly.”

“You took them?”

“Guess so.”

“Does he know you have them?”

“Not exactly.”  I started to cry.  I didn’t even want the stupid things, didn’t even like them.  But I took them.  In fact, I stole them.

She put the roll on the kitchen table in front of me, set a big envelope and a piece of paper and a pencil down in front of me and told me to write an apology to my cousin Joe, as well as my aunt and uncle.  The note would be wrapped around the roll of caps and mailed to them that day.

I was mortified at being caught with ill-gotten gains.  How could I confess this thing I did?  How would I ever make it right with my cousin?  How would he ever trust me again,  and how would my aunt and uncle ever allow me to come visit again?

I wrote slowly, every printed word oozing the guilt I felt.

“Joe, I’m sorry that I took your roll of caps without asking you.  I put them in my pocket where they didn’t belong and forgot about them but that was wrong.  I have never taken anything that wasn’t mine before and I never will again.  I’m very very sorry.”

My mother read it, nodded, sealed up the envelope with the roll of caps inside, put on stamps and we walked out to the mailbox together to mail it.  My stomach hurt and I didn’t think I’d feel okay ever again.

Three days later, my aunt wrote me back:

“Thank you for returning Joe’s caps.  Sometimes we learn hard lessons about doing the right thing and Joe accepts your apology and has learned from your example.  He’s relieved he didn’t lose them as he has to earn the money to pay for them with his allowance.  We’re looking forward to your next visit!  Much love to you.”

Instantly I felt much better.  I’ve never forgotten the sweetness of forgiveness.