I was about nine years old that summer. My brother still thought he was the boss of Margie and me. He always took care of us in the summer while Mother worked. That was the summer he got us into another fine mess with one if his hair-brained ideas. Why did I let him talk me into those things?
Mother had a charge account at this little neighborhood grocery store. She would make us a list if we needed something for lunch before she went to work. We were not allowed to add anything to the list. Most of the time, the list consisted of things like bread, lunchmeat, mayonnaise, and things like that. Sometimes she would let us get a candy bar for each of us.
Tom’s Grocery was the name on the front of the store. Tom was an old man with gray hair. He was a nice man, and I liked him. He would always talk to me when I went in the store.
“Are you having a good summer?” he would ask.
“I guess so,” I would say.
“What have you been doing?”
“Not too much,” I would reply.
“How are your folks doing?” he always asked.
“They are fine, I guess.”
We just talked about nothing really. We were just being polite. My daddy said that being polite to your elders is very important, so I tried to be polite. I loved my daddy more than anyone, so I tried to do what he told me. I didn’t do this so much with other people, like my brother. Why would I want to be polite to him? He was never polite to me, so I figured you get what you give. So, I tried to give him just what I thought he had coming, which was as much trouble as I could think up. I wanted him to do his job as the person in charge. I would not refer to him as a babysitter because I was not a baby. He would tell us sometimes that he was our babysitter just to get me mad. Margie didn’t care. She liked being a baby because that was her way of getting what she wanted from Mother.
One day Margie and I were getting ready to go to Tom’s store to buy what Mother said we could have for that day. Junior never went; he was too lazy to walk that far. He said it was too hot. I guess he thought Margie and I didn’t get hot. I liked being outside, even when it was hot, so I didn’t care, and I got away from Junior for a while.
We were all three sitting at the kitchen table and looking at the list. Then Junior said, “We are going to get some other stuff today.”
I asked, “What other stuff?”
“We’re going to get some candy and cokes,” he said.
“But that is not on the list,” I said.
“She will never know about it.”
“Yes, she will, and we will be in big trouble,” I said.
“No, I can write just like Mother. I will just add a few things to her list. She will never know, and old Tom will not figure it out either. I have been practicing to write like her,” he said.
“Junior, if she finds out, she will beat us half to death.”
Margie said, “I don’t want to get a spanking. Let’s not do it, Ruthie.”
“Were gonna do it,” Junior said. “I’m in charge, so you two have to do what I say.”
Margie and I finally gave in, but we were both against it. It seemed wrong to me to spend money that my parents might not have. The extra things he added looked just like my mother’s writing. I couldn’t believe it! He added three cokes, three candy bars, and three ice cream bars. That really sounded good, but I still didn’t feel right about it; neither did Margie. We went along with it because the big boss said so. I just hoped and prayed we wouldn’t get caught.
We finally agreed on what we were going to do, and Margie and I left to walk to the store. Both of us were scared all the way to the store. Everything inside me was saying not to do this. It was wrong. I felt like a thief, like I was stealing from my own family. I think Margie did, too. We didn’t talk much all the way to the store.
Finally, we are in front of Tom’s store. We looked at each other, opened the door, and went in. We started looking around the store and getting the things Mother had put on the list. What we were allowed to get was bread, bologna, and a quart of milk. We had to get Tom to cut the bologna on the meat slicer. We were to get one half pound. He gave us the bologna, and we went to get the three cokes, three candy bars, and three ice cream bars.
We put everything on the counter so he could ring it up. To my surprise, he pulled out this little tablet, put a carbon paper between two pages, and he wrote down everything we got in that little tablet. Then, he added it all up and pushed the book over for us to sign it.
Mr. Tom said, “Who wants to sign today?”
We looked at each other not knowing what to say. Finally, I said, “I guess I can sign today.”
“Good,” he said.
I picked up the pencil and wrote Ruthie on the paper.
Mr. Tom put all the groceries in a paper bag and handed it to us.
He said, “Thank you, girls. Have a nice day and be good.”
I said, “Yes, sir, we will.”
We had done the my brother’s dirty deed, and I was not feeling good at all. I looked at the copy he gave us of the items we bought.
I said, “Margie, look at this.”
“What’s wrong with it?” she asked.
I said, “We have to give this to Mother, and she will see what is on it. That is what’s wrong with it. We are gonna get caught. We can thank Junior for this. Our goose is cooked! We better get ready for a spanking because we are gonna get it.”
I hated my dumb brother. He was so stupid! Why did I listen to him? I am stupid to for doing what he said. I know who is in the big trouble. It is me because Junior is her little boy, and Margie is always faking an earache. That leaves me. Not to mention I signed the grocery ticket. I am so mad at myself.
We got home, and the big dummy was waiting for us.
He asked, “How did it go?”
I just threw the grocery ticket at him. “This is how it went. We have to show this to Mother, and she will know what we did, mister smarty-pants. This is all your fault. I knew I shouldn’t have listened to you. I always get in trouble when I listen to you.”
He said, “This is no problem; we just tell her we lost it.”
I said, “You really are stupid. Mr. Tom has a copy of this ticket, you big dope. When she pays the bill on Friday, she will see it.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I have everything under control.”
I said, “You are a big fat liar! You have nothing under control. I’m just gonna get ready for the spanking and admit to what we did.”
It was just Wednesday, so we had until Friday evening to worry about it. I was trying to get my mind off of it, but I felt so guilty I couldn’t forget about it. I do believe I was having nightmares about it. I ate the ice cream and candy that day, and I drank the coke. I was already in danger of going to hell for liking to dance, and now I was a thief. What was worse, I stole from my own family. We spent money that Mother probably didn’t have, and I felt really bad about that. I was feeling bad about eating the candy and ice cream and drinking the coke.
On Thursday, I told Junior and Margie that I was going to tell Mother what we did.
“You better not!” he yelled at me.
I said, “Yes, I am. What we did was wrong.”
Margie started to cry and said, “I don’t want a spanking.”
“We will get it anyhow on Friday; we might as well get it today when she gets home.”
Junior said, “You better not tell, or you will be sorry tomorrow when she goes to work.”
I didn’t say another word. I knew they would never agree to help me tell her. I decided to wait until Daddy got home, too. Maybe he would help me out a little. I worried all day Thursday. I practiced what I would say. I didn’t want Margie to get a hard spanking. She was frail like Mother said. I was stronger than she was, and I could take it. I knew at that moment that I really did love my sister very much.
When Mother got home Thursday night, I was so scared. Junior left and went to his friend’s house. His name was Kenny Jones. Margie and I were there by ourselves. Daddy came in soon after, and I told Margie it was time to tell them.
Mother was cooking dinner, and Daddy was sitting at the table drinking a beer. They were just talking.
I said, “Mother, we have something to tell you.”
She turned and looked at us. I sat down at the table by Daddy, and Margie sat down in the same chair with me.
I said, “Mother, we did something this week that was wrong, and we need to tell you and Daddy about it.”
She said, “Well, let’s hear it. Surely it is not that bad.”
I said, “Yes, it is that bad. Junior was in on it, too, but he left because we were gonna tell what we did.”
I explained to her that Junior could write like her and explained what he added to the grocery list. I was starting to cry, and so was Margie, but I went on with the story. I told her I knew we would get caught because Mr. Tom had it all written down in his little book. I told her that Junior threw her copy away and said we lost it. I told them that we were sorry that we stole from them and that we spent money we didn’t have.
When I finished, I said, “We are ready for the spankings, but Margie doesn’t feel good, so I will take hers.”
They just sat there and looked at us. Then they looked at each other. They both began to laugh. I thought they had gone crazy!
Mother looked at us and said, “If you had not told us the truth tonight, you would be getting a spanking tomorrow when I found out what you did. Mr. Tom called me the day you did this. I have known about it all this time, but you came to us and told us the truth, so no spankings for you tonight. Ruthie, you were even going to take your sister’s spanking. What you did was wrong, but your brother talked you into this. He is in a lot of trouble when he gets home.”
I was so happy that we told the truth. Maybe God would forgive me for stealing, too, and I wouldn’t burn in hell for it. I still had the problem of liking to dance though. I learned a lesson that night. I don’t know if they ever punished Junior or not. He didn’t come home that night, so they were probably so glad to see him when he did come home that they just forgot about it. This had been a very interesting week in the life of little Ruthie.