It was the summer of '59. I was seven and a half and eager to be eight. Fortunately, eagerness couldn't change the calendar back then.
I had just completed a rather nasty B&E (i.e., break and entry to you law abiding types) at the Popoff house with ringleader/four-year-old brother, Ricky (a.k.a., "Handsome Devil"), and strong arm, "Bones" Eslinger (the neighborhood kid who defined "keeping bad company").
Yada, yada, yada—blah, blah, blah.
Ma, having been alerted to the affair within an hour by neighborhood watchdog Gertrude Vanderbeek, grilled me somethin' good, squeezing me for information—had I heard anything on the street about what had transpired at the vacationing Popoff's house? I cracked like a fallen robin's egg under her enhanced interrogation techniques, spilling names and pointing fingers like no one's business.
And after my squawking was all over, ma didn't buy my story one lick—that Ricky was the puppet master. She made the argument that if he still wasn't toilet trained, how in the world could he have orchestrated this debacle? She had a point. So I took the hit, and some hit it was.
She proceeded to call the police, had me cuffed and thrown in the back of the town cherry top (i.e., police car to you do-gooders), and hauled my guilty ass off to the scene of the crime—detective Sheridan and she sitting in the front, I whimpering in the back, behind the steel cage barrier with a huge mounted shot gun just on the other side, I supposed loaded and cocked on the off chance I should try to make a break for it.
Detective Sheridan asked, "How old are you son?" Now one thing I knew, other than a short life of crime, was that when someone who was not your father addressed you as son, something bad was about to be said, and if that someone was a detective, well then, it was about to be very, very, very bad for sure.
Mom yelled, "Well, cat got your tongue? Tell’em how old you are."
I answered quietly, "seven and half." (I don't normally say "half" anymore, although I continue to answer quietly.)
He looked at my mom square in the eyes, all serious and squinty, and said, "You have a lucky boy there ma'am, because if he were eight years old, I'd be shipping him up the river right now. No questions asked."
I wondered, "Up the river"? What river? The only one I know is in the bible, and that's nowhere near here as far as I know.
Ma chimed in, "Do you know what that means?"
I mumbled through my quivering lips, "Na ... na ... no."
She said, "He'd be taking you to prison to do some hard time."
I took pause to think about what she had just told me: hard time? Prison! That’s where they took Rocky Sullivan in "Angels with Dirty Faces". And they filled him full of electricity. Holy mackerels Andy! I was indeed lucky—by a mere six months.
I looked out the side window of the squad car and cried my own river as the callous maple leaves snickered in the sultry summer breeze. And I swear, way off in the distance, I could hear the tinny bugling of "taps" played faintly and slowly—one death note after another.
Ma had heaved a heavy hand that horrible day—tough love at its toughest best. And while the tears rolled down my cheeks as I slumped limply in the back of that black and white, slipping the cuffs off and on my small, sweaty hands, I swore off crime forever. I haven't so much as jaywalked since.
I tell this now so that others might learn. If I could reach just one lad, save just one life, put the silver in just one cloud lining, then my haunting, youthful recklessness would not have been for naught.
Alas, thanks ma!