It takes a lot of nerve to steal from someone but it takes even more to give what you’ve stolen back. Both scenarios occurred to an 83 year-old friend of mine yesterday. She arrived at the pool as she has, “for the last 40 years,” with her purse stuffed inside of her gym bag. She put them in her locker and headed out to swim. When she returned her purse was gone.
Inside, besides $60 in cash, were two gift cards from her grandchildren totaling $200, along with her ID and all of her credit cards. Bereft, she drove straight home to cancel everything. When she finished, she walked out to her mailbox and found her purse sitting inside. The cash and gift cards were gone, but everything else was just as she had left it.
I thought about the girl who returned it in broad daylight. Someone could have seen her, including my friend. It took nerve but it also meant that she had a conscience. Nowadays you don’t see much of that. Just read the news. Not much conscience around. Some of our politicians and PEOPLE idols could have used a grandmother like mine.
When I was five, I stole a piece of Bazooka bubblegum from the open jar at the checkout stand as Grandmother paid for our groceries. I unwrapped it, stuffed the pink sweetness into my mouth and began to chew. However, as we approached the car, Granny looked hard at me and asked, “What are you chewing?” “Gum,” I answered guiltily. “Did you pay for it?” she asked. “Um. No,” I replied, “but it only cost three cents.” “That is stealing,” she said. “The amount doesn’t matter.”
She reached into her handbag, took out a Kleenex and had me put my gum inside of it. “Now take this back and tell the clerk that you are sorry for stealing it.” Then she took three pennies from her purse and pressed them into my hand. “And here is the money to pay for it.” “But Grandma,” I protested, “You mean I have to give the gum back AND I have to pay for it, too?” “Yes,” she replied. “But why?” “Because you won’t enjoy it anymore. Your conscience won’t let you.” I’m kind of hoping that girl has that same feeling with the stuff she buys on my friend’s cards.
Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.