I was in the eighth grade in the old American School of Monterrey, Mexico. It was located right in the heart of the city and, except for the street entrance, was closed in on all sides by high adobe walls. A little kindergarten building was located on the gravel playground apart from the main building.
Next to the door on the outside of that little building was a stovepipe. The elbow of the pipe was hollow at the bottom and contained some kind of damper. The stovepipe served as a sort of doorstop. One day I stuck a pop bottle in the open end of the elbow. When the door opened and hit the pipe, the bottle fell out. I was fascinated by the possibilities.
I hatched a plan and presented it to a friend. We stuck another pop bottle in the elbow of the pipe but this time we placed several bottles on the ground directly beneath it. We then proceeded to find a secluded spot where we could observe the results of our complicity.
It wasn’t long before the kindergarten teacher opened the door, the door struck the stovepipe, the bottle fell out and shattered the ones on the ground. For some reason, that teacher failed to see the humor in what had happened. She wanted to know who had hatched such a diabolical plot.
To make a long story short, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Growcock, served on the campus discipline committee. “Did you do it?” she asked. “No,” I replied. The same question was asked in a variety of ways but I stuck to my guns—I had not done the deed.
Well, as it turned out, my buddy had fessed up and had implicated me. Not only had he implicated me but he outright told the committee that I had been the mastermind behind the scheme. I don’t remember receiving any direct punishment for the indiscretion itself but the consequences of the lie have remained with me to this day.
I had all but forgotten the incident when, one day in Mrs. Growcock’s class, there was an altercation between two students. The teacher asked us what had happened. She couldn’t get a straight answer. Finally one of the boys in the class suggested that she ask me what had taken place. “He goes to church,” said the boy. “He wouldn’t lie!”
Mrs. Growcock’s gaze fell upon me. As she seemed to look right down to the soles of my feet, she raised one eyebrow. She said nothing; she didn’t have to. I knew what she was thinking and the realization that I had lost all credibility with my favorite teacher was almost more than I could bear.
I admit to being guilty of other falsehoods and not a few half-truths during my life but that one particularly hurt and caused me serious reflection.
Now, here I must distinguish between outright lies and tall tales. I subscribe to the latter.
My wife and I recently visited “Washington on the Pedernales” at the LBJ Ranch. Over Lyndon B. Johnson’s desk is a little plaque that says, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
We have to believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan. I have always been fond of mythical heroes, some based on true stories but embellished and made bigger than life with time. These include Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Bat Masterson and Wild Bill Hickok.
I used to tuck my children into bed with stories about “my own self.” I told them action- packed stories of when I was a wagon master and was attacked by Indians. I told them of my adventures being trapped in a gold mine or lost in the jungle. I told them about getting shot down while a bomber pilot during World War II. They heard tales about my boxing days and the fights I had with Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali.
When they were young, they believed the stories to be true and they thought their Dad was the whipped cream on cherry pie. As they grew older the response became, “Aw, Dad!” But they listened anyway and tolerated my self-aggrandizement.
They’re all grown now with children of their own. They still remember some of Dad’s tales of “his own self.” Now those were just tall tales told by a doting father to entertain his kids. They surely don’t fall into the category of lies. Or so it seems to me.
Now, I’m a work in progress. I have many faults. But I’m working on them. One man I admire compared himself to a smooth shaft in the quiver of the Lord. He said he got that way by being buffeted by the complexities of life and by intolerance and persecution. He said that he started out as a rough stone rolling down a hill. At each bounce a corner got chipped off here and chipped off there until he became smooth and polished through adversity.
Now, I don’t seek adversity. Adversity happens. But I, too, wish to become somewhat smooth and polished before I exit this frail existence. And I don’t intend to tell any outright lies—but, I have to admit, I might be found guilty of a tall tale now and then. After all, we live in Texas!