I was proud of the fact that I lived closer to the school than any other kid in the neighborhood. Between my house and Franklin D. Roosevelt Elementary School were a vacant lot, a run-down old house, and the feed store. Behind the feed store were a hay barn and a building that was used to process eggs. The feed store complex was a part of our make-believe world when we weren’t in school.
In the winter time my brothers and I would throw snowballs at the men who worked unloading trucks and stacking feed. We were delighted when they would fight back and deluge us good-naturedly with return fire. In the spring time we would beg for all the chicks that were left over after Easter and we would put them in our make-shift chicken coop and raise them until the day we came home to find Mom chopping off their heads, plucking them, gutting them and putting them in the freezer. The hay barn was a great place to play cowboys and Indians—until we got caught and they chased us off.
One day at school I was summoned to the office. I think I was in the second grade. I was a shy youngster and I was nervous because I had never before been asked to go to the office. When I got there, I was surveyed somberly by a couple of guys in suits and ties who gave me the once-over with a certain degree of hostility. They asked me if I often played on the feed store property. I told them I did. They asked what and where I played and how often. They asked some questions about the egg building which I couldn’t answer because we never played there.
They took me outside and we walked around to the back of the school as they continued to ask me questions and to observe my reactions. Finally, they told me I could go back to class. It wasn’t until recess that I discovered what it was all about. I saw the broken egg shells at the foot of the school walls and the drying egg yolks that had run down the brick veneer. There were scrambled eggs all over the old metal incinerator where the paper and trash were burned. For me it was one of those “Aha!” moments that brought welcome relief because I knew in my heart of hearts that I really was innocent.
I suppose they judged me innocent when I failed to react to what they thought might have been my work. I later found out that the egg building had been vandalized, eggs stolen and many of them used as missiles to redecorate the school building. I never found out if they ever caught the real culprits.
My Dad used to tell me about the time that he and a couple of young friends raided a neighbor’s peanut field. They got caught digging up peanuts and filling their pockets. “Now, Jasper,” the owner said as he held Pa by his scrawny arm. “I know your parents and I know you were brought up right. If it weren’t for the bad influence of these two good-for-nothings, you would not have yielded to temptation. Now, you skedaddle for home while I put these two hoodlums to work to pay for the damage they done!” Knowing full well that he was just as guilty as his buddies, Dad told me that it paid to have parents that were respected in the community.
It has been said, and rightly so, that the worst punishment of all is that in the court of his own conscience no guilty man is acquitted. Henry Van Dyke said, “Individuality is the salt of common life. You may have to live in a crowd but you do not have to live like it, nor subsist on its food.”
Thomas a Kempis said, “Thou art none the holier if thou art praised, nor viler if thou art reproached. Thou art what thou art.”
“Everyone who moves restlessly from place to place and from pleasure to pleasure must face this fact,” said Richard L. Evans: “Here I am with myself on my hands.”