It was Sunday. It was gone.
There are things we do as a child that we will either learn from or not. If we learn from it, I would suspect that it doesn’t get repeated. We may even use it as an example of what not to do for others to become educated by. It is also quite possible that we don’t learn from it at all and become repeat offenders. I learned from mine.
I hadn’t thought about this incident for many years. So long in fact, that I almost had forgotten about it. As I have mentioned before, my wife and I teach a youth class at our church, and the week’s lesson section of ‘hints and tips’ mentioned using a pre-established story about a boy’s chrome bicycle and how he painted it red. While the story was good—and demonstrated some of the lesson’s key points pretty well—I knew there was something better. I sat on my sofa reading and rereading the word ‘bicycle’ over and over. My mind wouldn’t let it go and I couldn’t figure out why. Then it hit me. Yes, I did have a bicycle story. One that would fit the lesson just right.
At twelve years old I knew the basic routine of my family’s life. I knew expectations and the rules and such, but still, there were things I was also figuring out. One of those lessons came on a Sunday afternoon. After church. By my own devices.
One of my first blog posts was about when I had received my first bicycle. Also, how I later received a new bike. It was a Huffy, Thunder 50 BMX racing bike. No, not a motorbike, just your regular pedal bicycle—with a hand brake. I loved that bike. I used to ride it all over the place. When I later moved from Montana to Utah, I still rode it all over the place. It was a good bike. Eventually, I outgrew it. However, long before that, I lost it. Sort of.
I think I have started this story maybe three times. Sorry about that. Let’s just get on with it. As previously mentioned, years ago, on a Sunday, I learned one heck of a valuable lesson. It started with a bike ride. More specifically, my desire for a bike ride.
“Dad, can I ride my bike to the store?”
Several blocks from my house there was a small grocery store. I enjoyed visiting it because they had some quarter vending machines that had small toy robots in them. Before you freak out about 25¢ robots, let me remind you that this was 1980-something. Those robots were made of plastic. Back then I would collect several quarters at a time, then drive myself (via my bicycle) down to the store to purchase as many robots as I could, at one time. I would bet that if I looked hard enough, I would find that two or three of them still existed somewhere in my boxed-up childhood.
For reasons that I do not recall, I really wanted to go and use my saved-up quarters but did not want to wait until Monday. Thus the query. And, despite all my ‘noble’ intentions, my father could not agree that a quick trip to the store on a Sunday was as needed as I thought it was. While I did not fight with my father about it, I did try multiple tactics. I would think about his rationale over his “No” stance, then come up with what I was certain to be ground-breaking reasoning, only to be shot down again, and again, and again… Bummer.
With my back to the wall (so to speak), I opted for one last option: Lie.
“Can I go for just a bike ride?” I figured if I didn’t bring any money, I couldn’t be tempted to buy any robots, and I could see if they were still in the machine. Vending machines don’t hold onto the same toys forever.
“Nowhere. Just around.”
My dad was nobody’s fool, “You’re not going to the store?”
“No.” A-a-and there was the lie.
Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure my dad knew what I was up to, but was hoping that I would make the right choice and do what I had been asked not to do: Go to the store. Looking back on it, I wish I had done that too. But, I didn’t. I went to the store. I hopped on my bike and began the long downhill journey to see if robots were still available for 25¢. Aaahh the ‘80s. What an era…
Upon arrival, I locked up by bicycle at the bike rack that was located right within sight of the front doors. I stepped inside, between the two sets of doors, where the robots were located, and sure enough… They were still there. And, they had been recently refilled. More robot toys… Oh, tomorrow was going to be the best day ever!
Now what…? I’m at a store. No money. I shouldn’t be here… I guess I’ll just wander about and see what’s new.
I know. Stupid. But see, my thought process was something along the lines of, “If I go back too quickly it’ll appear suspicious. I need to think of a route that I would ride, that would make sense that I would take, and use up that appropriate amount of time.” A good idea for sure. Even if was all for something that I shouldn’t be doing. I didn’t want to get into trouble. Which, by that logic, should have suggested that I shouldn’t have gone to the store in the first place. I know!
As I meandered up and down the isles I came across the toys section. You all have seen them. That small snippet of a section of shelving that is there to entice the children and upset the parents. It’s full of cheaply made as well as cheaply priced childhood gold: Toys. In that mixture of dart guns and Silly Putty, I found a bucket of aliens. They were swirling yellow and orange colors. Soft and rubbery. They also had suction cups at their bases so that you could stick them to smooth surfaces. Cool!
They were so cool! I could feel myself almost drooling over them. I checked the price: 50¢ a piece. Twice that of a robot. Great. I could either get eight new robots or four aliens. But, which ones would I pick? There were six different designs to choose from. Not fair. As despair and despondency set in, I walked out the door to my bicycle. Time to go home.
About a block from the store I came up with a brilliant idea: I could steal them. Sure. Abduct the rubber suction cup aliens. It was the only option. So, I turned my bike around and headed right back to the grocery store. I was able to park my bike in the same spot near the door. Once I dismounted, I pondered as to whether or not to lock it up. I would only be gone a moment. Plus, if I needed to make a quick getaway, the lock would slow me down. I left it unsecured. In I went. Maliciousness on my mind.
I noticed that the security camera was set directly above the toy aisle. How do you like that? Don’t trust kids to not steal, huh? Really… Yes, I now realize the seriousness of the irony of the situation. I never claimed I was a brilliant childhood criminal.
With my back to the camera, I pocketed six of the aliens and began my journey back to my bike. Only about a hundred feet between me and freedom. Crime does pay! Crime does not pay. Immediately upon exiting the store I saw that my bike was gone. Stolen. Fricken’ criminals! You can’t trust anybody!
I now had to trudge the entire way home—uphill—and let my father know what I had done. Oh, man… I was dead. Talk about The Green Mile. The store was about that distance from my home. I could ride it quick enough on my bike, but by foot…? It felt like I was walking for hours. It didn’t help that the sun was setting on me. Setting on my life. My decency. My goodness… I had never felt so low. The price I had paid for a handful of rubber aliens with suction cup feet.
So, so stupid…
Eventually, I made it home and went straight to my father. After I told him what I had done, he simply told me to go to the garage. I didn’t know what was going to happen. A beating? A yelling? My father only spanked me once (that I can recall), and almost never yelled. Still, I was imagining the worst.
“Get in the van.” He had appeared behind me without my knowing it. I was so wrapped up in my certain death that I had not heard him approach. Yup, he was going to drive me to the outskirts of town, kill me, and leave the body. I just knew it.
“Where are we going?” I timidly asked—tears filling my eyes.
“To look for your bike.” Despite all that I had just done, my father was filled with compassion for my situation. The kind of Christ-like compassion I had learned about at church and at home. While I was profoundly confused, I was also profoundly grateful, and now also hopeful. I told my dad which way I had gone, and he slowly drove the route while I looked out the window in hopes of finding what had been taken from me. We didn’t find it. It was gone. We went up and down the road several times. We even took a few short side roads in the vain hope that we might be victorious. We were not.
Having done pretty much all we could, we ended the day with calling the police, filing a report, learning that there wouldn’t be much hope, and my personal end came with knowing just how deeply I had disappointed my father (even though he never said a word about it—ever). The look on his face clearly communicated everything he felt. It made me sick to my stomach. Even now, just reflecting back on it, I wish he was still around so I could both apologize and thank him.
I would apologize for disappointing him, but thank him for teaching me what a good man, a good father, should do. Even if I parented (past tense) more like my mom—yelling (almost all of which I deeply regret). Still, my dad was a great example of calm and serenity while in the bad. A lesson I am better learning to apply. Later than I would have liked, but better late than never, right?
Being grounded for a few weeks with the standard no t.v., no friends, and no Atari was what I had earned. And, for you younger peoples, there was no internet or smartphones at that time to be grounded from. Friends, television, the Atari, and early bedtimes were pretty much all a parent could take away from you back then. Fortunately for me, eventually the police recovered my bicycle. They found it a few houses from the store where it had been taken. That adolescent thief had left it sitting on his front lawn. Made for an easy pick-up. When questioned, he admitted to it immediately.
The moral of the story…? Be moral. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Be calm when angered. Help those you love even when they hurt you. Do the right thing. Yeah, just be a good person. It’s what your dad would want.