OLD TIMERS DON’T STEAL!
By Norris Chambers
Clifton and I did many questionable things while growing up but we were never thieves. We just didn’t steal and didn’t approve of the actions of those who did. About the closest we ever came to stealing was stealing a base occasionally when playing baseball – and we didn’t always succeed when we tried that. One time I thought I stole the show when I presented a magic program at a community gathering. Remind me to tell you about it sometime!
It’s not good to be accused of something you are not guilty of. On one occasion we were falsely accused of taking something that belonged to another and we were not guilty!
On a cold Christmas day in the late twenties our family and Clifton’s spent the day with a cousin’s family. This was a typical method of celebrating the festive day in our area of the country. Of course there were all kinds of good food along with games and visiting. The spirit of Christmas was prevalent and everyone was happy.
The cousins lived in a big house with two long halls. Doors in the halls opened into rooms. Clifton and I felt that it was our duty to explore the area thoroughly since it was a little too cold to wander around outside. We knew where the eating areas were so we opened a few doors and examined some of the other rooms. There was a room with a quilt stretched out in quilting frames and three or four chairs around it. One seemed to have only junk on display. The next one, however, was quite interesting. There was a bookshelf on one wall with a number of books neatly arranged. On another wall another rack of shelves was filled with cloth goods, also stacked neatly. It looked like there might be towels, quilts, blankets and various other necessities stored in open view almost to the ceiling. A long pipe rod on another wall was loaded with men’s clothes on hangers.
The most interesting display in the room was a small table in the middle of the room with a couple of cane-bottom chairs nearby. On the table was a paper back book or two, a checker board spread out complete with black and white pieces in place and a beautiful pocket watch with the face up. We had seen plenty of books and checker sets but the beautiful watch was something that wasn’t seen often in our part of the backwoods.
“Look what a fine watch!” Clifton exclaimed, picking it up and holding it to his ear. “It really has a nice tick!” I walked around to his side of the table and asked him to let me hear it. He held it up to my ear. It did have a very subdued sound, quieter and more refined than that of the dollar watches we were accustomed to.
It was at this moment that the door opened and Joan, the lady of the house, came in. I suspected we might be in trouble. Clifton put the watch back on the table.
“That’s a great looking watch,” he commented. “I’ll bet it keeps good time.” She took the watch and pulled one of the chairs over to the shelves with the towels and quilts, climbed in the chair and placed the watch on the top shelf on top of some folded blankets. She pushed the chair back to the table.
“The watch belongs to Mr. Edwards. You shouldn’t be handling it. You might break it and it is very valuable. You shouldn’t even be in his room. He won’t be back until school starts.”
I knew Mr. Edwards. He was a teacher at our school and he stayed here during the week and went to his home in a nearby town on week-ends and holidays. Teachers who taught in country schools and did not live in the community usually boarded with someone who had a spare room.
We knew when we were not wanted so we left the room immediately. She followed us out and closed the door. We managed to find other things to keep us busy until time to go home.
I was really shocked when Clifton and his mother came in a few days later and we were informed that Clifton and I had been accused of stealing Mr. Edwards’ watch on Christmas day. I immediately explained that we were looking at the watch and she took it and put it on top of the shelf.
“That was Clifton’s story,” his mother said, “but Joan says the watch is gone and Mr. Edwards is very unhappy.” Of course we both denied taking the watch. I’m not sure if they believed us but in a few minutes we were on our way to the scene of the crime. We again denied taking the watch and insisted that it must still be on the shelf. Joan told us that she had examined the shelf and it wasn’t there. Since we were the only ones who knew where it was we must have taken it. We insisted that we were innocent and that we go look on the shelf again.
Again Joan climbed in a chair and felt across the top of the blankets. She announced that it wasn’t there. Clifton suggested that the blankets be removed and checked carefully. I also insisted and suggested that it might have slid behind the stack.
You guessed it! The watch was on the back of the shelf and still in perfect condition. Two falsely accused kids were exonerated and everyone was happy. Was this episode a fun thing? The fun was in proving that two nice little boys were not thieves. There seems to be a little fun in everything!