My grandmother was my weekend sidekick as we drove all over Northeast Philly and Bucks County, PA on ‘outings’ to mystical places like New Hope, PA, and Clover on Frankford Avenue. We were in the Acme on Torresdale Avenue across from Lindenfield projects (they have since been torn down) and we went through the usual routine. Gram would get food for the weekend along with whatever I wanted. All I had to do was ask.
“Gram, can I get these people snack crackers?” I asked her once excited at the fact of me being able to ingest mini, crunchy people.
“People don’t taste very good,” I garbled between crunches. I ate two of them before I read the box and figured out that they were dog biscuits.
Clearly, I needed therapy long before it became a thing.
Once, we were in the checkout line and I eyeballed rows upon rows of Snickers, Milky Way, M & M’s chocolate candies along with boxes of colorful gum. Oh, the gum! There were skinny seven-stick packs of minty stuff stamped Wrigley and then the best of all: Chicklets and Bubblicious! There were these little snack packs of gum that came in a yellow pouch. I forget what they were called but they were eye catching.
This day my eye was drawn to a pack of watermelon Bubblicious. I stared at it for a good two minutes, imagining a big, juicy wad of that gum in my mouth, sticking to my tiny teeth as the scent of fake watermelon wafted to my nostrils while drool puddled at the corners of my mouth.
I looked at my grandmother who was busy putting groceries on the conveyor belt. I looked behind me. No one there and on either side of me was racks of candy and magazines.
I could hear my heart beating as I snatched the watermelon wonder off the rack and slid it in my shorts pocket. I looked around again. No one was staring at me. No sirens or alarms rang. No dog came charging down the aisle with gnashing teeth ready to bite off my thieving hand.
I played it cool. I did it. I got away with theft. I was a bonified genius.
We went out to the car, loaded the groceries, got in and before we even pulled out of the parking lot, I decided… I wanted a piece of my new gum.
Bonified genius my ass…
I pulled it out of my pocket unwrapped a piece and popped it in my mouth. It was glorious! It tasted better than I had imagined and I truly had little drool pockets at the corners of my mouth. I smiled and looked at my grandmother who was staring me down which made me super uncomfortable.
“Where did you get that?” she asked me calmly.
I just kept staring at her like a corrupt criminal under the blazing spotlight of degradation while I flipped through a catalog of excuses in my mind.
“Darlene, did you steal that gum?” she asked in the same calm voice.
My catalog was empty, after all, I was seven. I had no justification except, “I wanted it.”
Again in her same calm voice, “I am so disappointed in you,” she said and pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street.
The gum, now rancid and bitter, sat in the cheek of my mouth as we drove home. I looked out the passenger window filled with shame and discomfort. My eyes welled with tears but I wouldn’t let them fall. I had to get rid of this gum. Just holding it – my tainted prize of pushing boundaries – felt dirty.
I threw the gum in the trash (chewed piece too!) as soon as we got home. I never stole anything again.
Hard lessons stick the best… sometimes better than stolen gum.