Stealing from your mom

I grew up in a family of 9 children. From time to time my mother brought other kids to live in our home. At times we had little to eat and we were always wearing stuff that other people gave to us.

I don’t believe I have told this story here. This is about the day I felt the saddest for my older sister. Every year we were sternly reminded not to participate in any “invisible friend” gift exchange games at school, but this activity was so prevalent, especially at the end of the year as part of the Christmas festivities, it was hard to pass it up.

My parents couldn’t buy gifts to all our friends, invisible or not. But we were kids, we didn’t get it. And we loved playing the game of trying to guess who your friend was as we wrote notes to each other leading up to gift exchange day. The temptation to throw your name in the hopper was just too great.

But therein lies the problem. If you went against your parents’ advice, you were on your own. For months now you schemed about how you were going to get a gift to your “invisible friend.” We had no allowances, we didn’t get any small change for cleaning our neighbors’ yards and just about anyone we knew was as poor as us so there was chance we could rob them!

We thought about faking illness, but there was a good chance we might be dragged to the public hospital and have to wait hours on end to see a doctor or a nurse. My mom didn’t fool around with illnesses. Worse yet, she could come up with one of her home-made concoctions, usually involving bitter herbs, tree barks and maybe even some dog poop…

No, we had to come up with something that was not as painful and we had to fool our mom, an impossible task. So my sister came with a perfect plan: Since our house was built with enough space between the ground and the floor boards (I remember playing underneath our house when I was a little boy, usually doing something I was not supposed to do), my sister carefully wrapped the gift and hid it under the house.

She put on her school uniform, got out of the house, and started walking the street down the hill toward the school. She walked long enough to make someone lose interest and then quickly she did a u-turn, got under the house, retrieved the gift, hid it under her school stuff, and headed down the street again.

But the sentry had not left her post! From the vantage point of her bedroom window, my mother watched her children walk down the street, up toward the big water tank until she could n0 longer see them. My sister didn’t time her walk right. No sooner had she hit the street a second time, she heard a thundering voice saying, “Celeste, turn around and come back here!”

Time to run. That’s what I would do, but my sister was smarter than me. She turned around and sheepishly showed my mom the beautiful package she had wrapped — a stolen cup and saucer from my mom’s kitchen. A lecture ensued. My sister put her head down, said nothing, and was forced to walk to school empty-handed — and her “invisible” friend had an invisible gift!

My heart sank deeply. I was ashamed to be poor, I was mad at our predicament and vowed I would get out of that situation some day. To this day I think of my sister on that sad day and wonder what kind of impact this may have had on her. But as I’ve talked to her about this, it seems like this event impacted me more than it did her. She laughs about it today and we both agree that it was a good thing to have such a vigilant mother — even when she forced us to discover the full extent of our perilous existence.

It is still hard for me to laugh at that incident.

Ivanildo C. Trindade