Innocence shattered. A broken reputation. A Cub Scout criminal. My initiation into the wrong side of the law was on a hot summer Sunday afternoon in 1968, when I was just a sun-kissed, freckle-faced, blond-haired skinny kid who was barely 11 years old.
My family had just moved into a newly built home in West Goshen Township. It was a small brick and stucco ranch house on a dead end street situated on a level sixth of an acre. I remember thinking upon entering the side kitchen door and then walking through the dining room, the living room and hallway that it seemed like it took hours to get to my own bedroom in THIS castle. Echoed footsteps on hardwood floors shadowed me from where we moved in our small cramped apartment in the country. I no longer had to share a room with my brother and I no longer had to sleep in the bunk beds of youth.
Freedom for sure… but at what price?
This particularly warm Sunday in June about a month after we moved in, my parents had invited some of our relatives over for a house warming party. The back yard was dotted with aqua blue and sunshine yellow folding web-woven lawn chairs. Red, white and blue Budweiser cans littered a plastic table cloth covered picnic table, as a brand new “colonial orange” charcoal briquette-filled grill from Sears Roebuck puffed white smoke. Several of my laughing aunts and uncles tossed colorful lawn darts toward circular targets among weaving toddlers. Sure, the game was dangerous, but my family was all about living on the edge… and on this day, the family tree was swayin’ and making this branch take a lawless twist to the ground.
In the late afternoon, several of my similarly–aged cousins and I had become bored of the back yard festivities and determined (after we checked with our parents, of course) that perhaps we needed to explore this new uncharted neighborhood and some of its adjoining wild territories. We voted to take a short walk nearby to the newly opened West Goshen Shopping Center across Paoli Pike. We were an eager handful of energetic youngsters looking for an adventure of discovery. We clapped and sang our own made up songs as we strolled to the end of this new street.
Once we crossed the highway, the group of us ran down a hill like an invading army and quickly filled the sleepy “Thrift Drug” store. It was the only store in the whole shopping center that was open on Sundays. We located a large freezer toward the front of the store and began to grab at the boxes of cold, colorful selections of flavored “Twin Popsicles.” The popsicles cost a nickel and they were just what we needed to cool down on this steamy day.
The shopping center was full of stores that were closed on Sundays and was anchored by the ACME Supermarket. The center also included a Hallmark card store, a book store, a Woolworths 5 and 10, a corner hardware store, a men’s clothing store called Ward & Ward and other assorted smaller stores that time has fogged from my memory.
As we sucked the frozen juice of the pops, we left the drug store and came out into the warm summer heat. We headed a short distance toward the ACME where there were groups of neatly stacked chrome shopping carts just begging for our attention. They were all lined up in a straight row of glistening metal baskets on wheels.
I’m not sure exactly who decided to pull a cart out from the pack and start pushing it, but soon the older cousins and I had the smaller kids inside the carts as we shoved them over the sidewalks of the shopping center. Their squeals of laughter at riding in these buggies provoked us to push faster as we raced each other in a frenzy of four-wheeled fun. Back and forth we went, occasionally bumping into each other while the sweaty tiny passengers with cherry red Popsicle lips were giggling at the metallic crash that the carts would echo under the awning of our cement sidewalk “street.” We continued smashing into each other creating loud metal on metal crashes.
“Faster!” the kids would scream. “We want to go to the train station over there!” as they pointed their tiny fingers across the lot. They were indicating that the Ward and Ward Men’s store entrance was the station where we would pretend to fuel our carts and load and unload our tiny passengers. Ward and Ward had an indented entrance. Their doorway was off the main sidewalk allowing their floor to ceiling height windows to display more suits, slacks, shirts, neckties and shiny shoes. It was the PERFECT “train station.”
We quickly made it a race to see who could get there first, bumping each other along the short path to the “station.” There was room for two or three of our carts to be in this “station” area at a time. I had two of my little cousins in my cart as we spun around quicker, now in circles in a race in this tiny vestibule of glass. I too, the driver, was getting dizzy as we laughed then choked as we gasped for air. Suddenly, my cart got out of control and SMASHED directly into the front large glass window of the shop.
It was as if slow motion took over as I remember watching my small cousins turn white from the shock of crashing into the window. I remember watching the glass crack from the point of impact then shatter in large pieces as a deafening alarm went off echoing even louder in the cramped area. I watched in open-mouthed amazement as the cart actually continued traveling into the shop itself as my cousins hopped out of the cart onto crunching glass and out of the store as they ran past me.
I froze. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. All I heard was the shrieking alarm and my feet were glued to the floor of the sidewalk. As I turned slowly around, I could see all my cousins running toward home, a few of them looking back with frightened faces to see if I was coming. “Come on Eddy!” they mouthed, “We have to get home now!” I was still stuck to the ground as my numbed mind began to awaken and I started to run. My cousins were almost near the highway as I tried to pick up my lagging, dreamlike pace.
Suddenly I heard the loud wails of sirens. Quickly, flashing red and blue lights were everywhere as I panicked and stopped in my tracks. I was immediately surrounded by West Goshen Police cars, with no way out. I watched as my cousins crossed the highway in the distance and were quickly out of sight.
I was an emotional child growing up. I was very shy and would cry at the drop of a hat. I once cried to get out of a school holiday play in the second grade so I wouldn’t have to put on a homemade doctor’s uniform to the girl’s nurses costumes. It was pathetic. And now, with this shattered window fiasco, I began to tear up thinking I was going to jail for a very long time.
I stood there motionless as the two policemen approached me with pads of paper out and looking like they were ready to cart me off to some unknown prison in the bowels of a West Goshen Township Building somewhere. The alarm continued to scream as I imagined a diet of bread and water and a hard iron holed bed with no mattress and I began to sob. This was no way to begin my initiation into this new neighborhood. I cried harder still, as the two policemen looked at each other and shrugged. The taller one put his hand on my shoulder and asked me to take a seat in the back of his still flashing police car. I was devastated. I could see a handful of Sunday shoppers looking at me. I was ashamed. I became a criminal that day.
The store’s alarm finally stopped.
My ears still ringing, I watched in silence as the policemen took notes, observed the scene of the crime, took a few measurements and put up some yellow tape. Was I going to be on the news? Would my name be in the paper? Would I get out of doing my math homework? I was contemplating my ruined future as my Dad rolled up in his black Ford Falcon with red bucket seats. Tears began to pour down my cheeks as he strolled up to the police officers while he glanced my way.
All I could think of was that I JUST got a new bed room and now I wouldn’t get to use it. What would my Mom think? Would my family have to move from their new home in shame? My Dad was making gestures and continued to talk as the tall officer continued to write on his yellow pad. Finally, Dad turned and started to walk toward me. I couldn’t read his face through my red and throbbing eyes. He told me to get out of the car and to hop in his. I stood as he slipped his arm around my shoulder and whispered that I would have to pay for the shattered window.
I never did.