My attorney, Willie Sooem, has advised me, because the statute of limitations having long expired, I may share this story without fear of the long arm of the law reaching out for me.
Although I have confided what follows with a few close friends over the years, I feel that it’s time (while I’m still able) to come clean and get it all off my chest.
I am a thief — a ruthless shoplifter.
But first a little background as to how I was driven to become a Ten Most Wanted 8-year-old.
The scene of the crime
During my moppet days, it was carved into stone that every Friday afternoon as soon as she got off work, my mother headed to Fraley’s Food Market to get the family’s groceries for the coming week.
I always went along. In those days, most folks went to the grocery store once a week and stocked up on all of their needs. No stopping by the store three or four times weekly to pick up milk, bread or whatever. If my mom forgot some item, it would have to wait until the next Friday.
I can also recall that our family grocery budget for our household of three was around $20. And that was enough food to fill five or six paper grocery bags (no plastic back then).
The motivation for the crime
During my many hours of television viewing, I had seen numerous times a commercial showing a young lad taking a bath and sailing a boat he made with a bar of Ivory Soap. You remember their slogan, “It’s 99 44/100% pure ... and it floats.”
All one had to do was cut a triangle out of cardboard or construction paper, attach it to a toothpick and stick the toothpick into the bar of soap. And presto, a sailboat any kid could play with during his unwanted bath.
I figured I would get a bar of Ivory that coming Friday.
As we walked down the Fraley’s aisle heading for the soap, I ran ahead a bit, grabbed a bar of Ivory Soap and told my mom I wanted one.
“No, we can’t use that soap,” she answered. “It makes my hands break out in a rash.” Seems she was allergic to every over-the-counter brand of soap, except Lifebuoy. That explained why there was always that big, ugly orange bar of soap in the bathroom.
Naturally, I was crushed. My days as a tub sailor were over before they started.
“Get thee behind me, Satan, and don’t push,” I remembered from “The Little Rascals.” Too bad. He pushed.
So, when my mother wasn’t looking, I stuck a bar of Ivory Soap in my jeans pocket and proceeded on to the next aisle.
The shopping was finished, the bags were in the car. (The store attendant had loaded them. In those days, the bagger would wheel your purchases to your car regardless of where you parked in the lot.)
We were headed home. For whatever reason, I dropped the contraband into one of the bags.
It appeared again when I was helping put up our groceries in our kitchen. “How did this get in there?” Mom asked, taking the Ivory bar out of the bag. “I put it in there,” I answered, actually telling the truth.
The first thing Mom did was rush to the phone, call Fraley’s and tell the manager there was a bar of soap in our bags for which we didn’t pay. She offered to drive back down there and pay for or return the soap. “No need to do that, Mrs. Cline, just take care of it next Friday,” she was told.
The bar of soap cost 8 cents, not exactly grand larceny, but enough that it didn’t minimize my crime in my mother’s eyes. I was then scolded for being a thief and sent to my room to await the homecoming of my father.
The waiting for my father to get home from work seemed longer than the two weeks before Christmas. I heard him as he came in the door. He was greeted, not by June Cleaver, but by an angry Cruella de Vil, who ratted me out immediately. He passed by my bedroom without saying anything to me, went into his bedroom and reemerged as his superhero alter ego, Corporal Punishment.
First came the “talking to,” then came the hand of steel on my backside. That hand was more solid than the Acme anvils that always land on top of Wile E. Coyote.
As much as Corporal Punishment was an unwelcome being in the household, what was even worse was the feeling I had when I had to look at either of my parents for several days. I could see the disappointment they were feeling towards me. Not just on this occasion, but anytime the ole Corporal paid a visit (and there were several).
As clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday, I remember the next Friday when mom and I went grocery shopping. I thought my bad deed was now in the past, but nope. She sought out the manager immediately wanting to take care of the 8 cents owed, but then placed me right in front of the man and had me confess to him what I had perpetrated and what my punishment had been.
I can still see his face, although I remember not his name, as he said, “Thank you for telling me, young man. I hope you will take this as a learning experience.”
Then we bought groceries.
Telling a stranger that you stole from him was tough, even tougher than a visit from Corporal Punishment.
Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents all the movies played in Rowan County theaters from 1920 through 1979.