Discount Shopping

Discount Shopping

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Discount Shopping

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.
~Spanish Proverb

The Belfast, Maine of my youth was not the coastal tourist village that it is today. At the time, Belfast was still a blue-collar town where Maplewood and Penobscot Poultry (a chicken processing company) and the shoe factory were the big-time employers. McDonald’s had yet to move into town.

Before the supermarket existed, there was Cottle’s, an independently-owned food market where my dad worked. And Cottle’s is where my mother would do her once-a-week shopping. Because we lived a few miles inland from Belfast, we’d usually combine the grocery trip with a visit to see my grandmother. Of course, Grammie Stairs ALWAYS had cookies ready for the grandkids.

On one particular shopping day at Cottle’s, I stood behind my mother as she was unloading the grocery cart and checking her items out at the register. The candy displays on either side of me were full of Life Savers, peanut butter cups, Clark Bars, Tootsie Rolls, Sugar Babies—you name it!

“Can I get some candy?” I asked.

My mother rarely veered from her list so I wasn’t surprised with her response. “No.”

This much I knew for certain. “No” always meant “No.” There was no sense in me asking a second time. But I really, really wanted that candy!

I reached for a Sugar Baby package. My mother didn’t notice. So I figured she probably wouldn’t notice if I ever so coyly stuffed them into my pocket. We continued checking out and walked with the bag boy to the car where he loaded the bags into the car’s trunk. No one detected my action—not my mother, not the cashier, not the bag boy—no one! I did it! Wow! My very first shoplifting experience! A five-finger discount! How exciting! How easy! How rewarding! Got my candy and didn’t need one penny to get it!

I sat in the back seat as my mother drove across the bridge to where my grandmother lived. Slowly, so as not to make any unnecessary crinkling noise, I opened my prize and carefully slipped a Sugar Baby in my mouth. No one piece of candy ever tasted so good! She might have said, “No,” but I’d said, “Yes,” and look who’d won!

When we pulled into my grandmother’s driveway, I knew I was in the clear. Miles and minutes separated me from Cottle’s. As I prepared to open my car door, I confidently slipped a few more Sugar Babies into my mouth. They would tide me over until I got to Grammie Stairs’ cookie jar inside.

Big mistake. “Keith, what have you got in your mouth?” I looked up at the rearview mirror and could see the reflection of my mother’s eyes staring intently back at me. “I asked you a question! What have you got in your mouth?”

Though I’d recently become skilled in the art of shoplifting, I hadn’t quite mastered the art of giving false testimony. “Uhhh... just some Sugar Babies.”

“Sugar Babies? Where did you get the money to buy them?” Why was she asking such a foolish question? She knew I hadn’t purchased them. It was no big deal. Nobody even saw me take them. It was one little package of Sugar Babies. Let’s just go into Grammie’s! “I... uh... didn’t really buy them.”

“That’s what I thought!” And then, rather than just going into Grammie’s house and giving me a good scolding, she began backing out of my grandmother’s driveway. Evidently, the same God who spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai (number eight being “Thou Shalt Not Steal”), inspired my mother that day with, “Thou Shalt Not Raise a Thieving Son.” And it was obvious from her lowered eyebrows, clenched teeth, and pursed lips that Commandment number five ranked high in her book, too: “Honor... your mother, so that your days may be long in the land....”

As she drove away from my grandmother’s house and then back across the bridge, I knew exactly where we were headed. To Cottle’s! This was so stupid! We’re talking twenty-five cents here! A return trip all the way back there was a ridiculous waste of gas and time, if you asked me. Why was she turning this into such an emotional drama? What was she trying to prove?

I didn’t have long to find out.

My mother pulled into Cottle’s parking lot, cast one more glare my way, and marched me into the store. She proceeded to hunt down Mr. Proulx, the store manager! Why would she want to bother an important man like Mr. Proulx about me needing to pay for some candy that any cashier could more easily just take care of?

Once she located him and got his full attention, she said, in a voice that could be heard from three aisles away, “Tell Mr. Proulx what you did!”

I knew Mr. Proulx. I liked Mr. Proulx. But on this day Mr. Proulx was taking all of his cues from my mother. There was no room for doubt... I was on trial and Mr. Proulx was judge and jury! Through tears, I admitted what I had done and apologized. My mother put a quarter in my hand to give to him. Mr. Proulx listened and accepted my apology along with the twenty-five cents. He then issued a stern warning, explaining what the consequences would be if there was ever a repeat performance. Snuffling, embarrassed, ashamed, I totally understood the significance of my actions and what they might lead to if not nipped in the bud: Sugar Babies today, grand theft auto tomorrow.

My mother seemed satisfied that I’d learned my lesson as she chose to take me home rather than drop me off at the Waldo County jail for a night or two of reflection with my fellow criminals.

To this day, often while in a checkout lane near a candy rack, I think back to the lesson I learned from my mother. Thanks, Mom, for keeping me from a life of crime.

~Keith Smith

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