Growing up in a rural town in Alaska meant things were done differently. People didn’t lock up their houses or their cars. A neighbor was more than someone who lived next to you. And all of this was based on trust.
I was around eleven when this next story occurred and it was one of those rare occasions that I was selected to go alone to help my dad. In reality, both of my brothers were likely occupied with something else and my dad took the next available son.
That sounds worse than it really was because I was 6 years younger than my oldest brother and when my dad went out to do something, he tended to take someone that he could depend on that already knew what to do. I was a bit of a dreamer and admittedly was not the best of “just knowing” what to do.
But today was my day. I honestly don’t remember exactly what we had gone to do, but I believe we’d gone to pick up my dad’s drill rig. We were successful and were on our way home when my dad stopped off at Crabb’s Corner, the local one stop convenience store/gas station/laundry/hotel/cafe/bar/etc.
My dad filled up the fuel tanks on the truck and drill rig and gave me a few dollars to go in to get a soda to split and a candy bar. Now this was something special as we didn’t do this often and I was quite excited.
I ran in and looked through the limited selection of candy, trying to decide what I wanted. I picked out a Hershey Bar with almonds for my dad and finally selected a Butterfinger for myself, not because it was my favorite, it was simply because it was the biggest.
When I went over to the fridge to get a Pepsi for us to share, I noticed a strange man standing in the dark near the laundry just staring at me. As you can imagine, this gave me the creeps, so I quickly grabbed the soda and went to the counter up front and rang the bell.
The store was often unmanned and the bell next to the register was used to alert someone upstairs in the cafe/bar to come down. Only no one came, so I waited and rang the bell again.
I looked out the window and could see my dad was finished with fueling the vehicles and was climbing into the cab to pull the truck around to get us ready for the road. I knew that if Jim was managing the bar, he didn’t like it when people rang the bell, so I ran to the steps and peered up into the cafe/bar.
I wasn’t allowed up their without one of my parents, so I craned my neck as much as I could and looked around. The place was empty. There weren’t even any customers which was odd.
Movement in the dark room to my left made my hair stand on end as the stranger had moved and was now standing in the middle of the room, staring at me wordlessly. I couldn’t see his face in the dark, but I imagined it to be something sinister.
My dad honked the horn and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I ran to the counter and in a panic, didn’t know what to do. Normally, if someone doesn’t answer, you fill out a slip on the notebook with what you purchased and the cash. If you are owed change, you picked it up the next time you came in. If you had a line of credit, you could simply write and IOU. Remember, we were a tight knit community and trust was everything.
And that was the problem. I didn’t trust this stranger. So, in a most grown up way, I decided not to leave the cash behind, but rather wrote an IOU and rushed out to my dad waiting in the truck.
I bound in and had barely closed the door before my dad started off. I handed him the soda and Hershey Bar before buckling my belt as we turned out onto the road.
I pulled my Butterfinger out along with the $3 he’d had given me and was pleased with my split second decision that I was sure my dad would be proud of it too.
“Here’s the money! I left them a note because there was no one there but this strange guy.”
My dad just turned and stared at me without taking the money. “Why didn’t you leave it on the counter?”
I beamed up at him. “I didn’t see anyone in the bar and afraid the stranger would steal the money, I decided to leave a note instead.”
Rather than the familiar pride on my dad’s face, a look I seldom saw darkened his eyes. He stuck out his hand and I handed him the money. He set it on his seat next to him and stuck out his hand again. I looked at him confused, then reluctantly handed him my Butterfinger.
He set it wordlessly on the seat as well and drove down the narrow road until he found a place that he could turn around with the trailer and we headed back to Crabb’s Corner.
“I understand why you thought that was good, but I want you to remember that the people around here have to earn each other’s trust. People can take your home, your bike, even your life, but one thing they can’t take from you is your good name.”
We pulled back into the parking lot and as we stopped, he continued. “You have not earned their trust to leave them a note. Though you thought you were doing the right thing, it isn’t your responsibility to make sure anyone else is. It would have been better for you to leave the money counter and have the man steal it than to steal something with a promise.”
“But what if–” I started before my dad held up his hand.
“Trust can not be built on what ifs.” He picked up my Butterfinger and handed it to me before fishing another dollar out of his pocket. “Now, return it and apologize. You will pay double for your candy when you return it. If no one is there, leave a note and apologize.”
Crestfallen, I took the money and my candy and trudged back into the store. When the chimes on the door rang, I was greeted by the cheerful voice of Ms. Sandy, the owner. “Why there you are dear! I got your note. Did you forget something?”
I shook my head and placed the Butterfinger on the counter along with $4. I felt the tears burning the corner of my eyes as I felt ashamed. “I’m sorry I took the stuff without paying.”
“Why that is okay, dear? I got your note,” she said picking up the money. “Hun, here, you gave me too much,” she said scooting the extra dollar back towards me.
“My dad said I had to pay double for what I stole since I don’t have permission to leave an IOU.”
I turned for the door as Ms. Sandy replied, “That’s silly. I don’t let kids write IOUs, but I know you are good for it. Besides, I heard you ring the bell, but I was….busy.”
I pulled open the door and she called out, “You forgot your candy!”
I felt the tears well up again and I left before she could see me crying.
My dad stood next to the truck waiting and when I came out, he motioned for me to get in and then went inside to talk to Ms. Sandy as well.
He came out less than two minutes later and climbed into the truck before pulling out onto the road.
Once we had driven for a minute, he said in his low solid voice, “I know that must have been hard, but I want you to know that I am proud of you. I’m proud of you for making a good choice, even if it wasn’t the right one. I’m proud of you for standing up and apologizing even when you didn’t feel you were in the wrong. And I am proud of you for listening to me and not complaining or arguing.”
He reached into his jacket pocket and I looked up in anticipation, wiping the tears from my cheeks. He handed me the rest of his Hershey Bar and for a flash of a moment I was disappointed until I realized that this was his treat, something I knew he looked forward to and he had given it to me though I was the one at fault.
It was one of my most humbling moments in life and it has always stuck with me. I can’t look at a Butterfinger without thinking of him and remembering the pride on his face as he gave away his treat to soften my blow. And I will always remember how sweet it was to share that treat with him as we drove home.