When I was a little kid, we lived in an old motel called "The Horseshoe Motel." It had long since been abandoned as a motel and only a few rooms were even habitable. We used several of the rooms, but the northeast room had originally been one of the lounges and kitchenettes, so that was where our kitchen and living room were. It was the room closest to the alley that split the block in half. Catty-corner from that room, across the alley was a beautiful garden encased in a perfect hedgerow that belonged to the sweetest old couple in the whole town. I am ashamed to say that though I considered them somewhat like adopted grandparents, I cannot remember their names.
Just as the uninhabitable rooms of the motel were "off-limits," so too was the old couple's garden to myself, my brother John, and my cousin Jack, because we were "The Town's Tiny Trouble-Makers." (Who else do you know that has earned such a reputation at the ripe old ages of 6, 8, & 8?) Well needless to say that "off-limits" translated in little kid means: "must sneak in." I cannot even begin to recall the amount of times that we snuck through the hedgerow into the garden to swipe the various wonderful fruits, but everybody knows that greed is the downfall of all great thieves, and we were no exception.
If I had to guess I'd say that my mother busted us one out of every three raids and sure enough she would make the "whoop'n" the inevitable outcome for the insurrection. Had it been a multiple offense week, your ass might be cordially introduced to a skinny strip of leather, a wooden cooking utensil, or the most dreaded of all... the switch. The whistling before a stinging smack is a sound that continues to haunt my generation.
One day walking back to our home at "The Horseshoe Motel," the sweet old lady stopped us and handed us a large basket of strawberries. "JACKPOT!" (The strawberry is the most highly sought after and delicious fruit in the garden with the watermelon being a close second, but you can't be very elusive with three little punk kids trying to sneak a giant watermelon through a hedgerow... believe me, we tried.) I'm plenty sure that the old couple knew every time we breached the shrubby wall. I can imagine them sitting in their kitchen, the old lady crocheting, the old man reading the paper. "There they go again," she would say with a little sigh. "Yep," he replies casually as he slowly turns the page to get to the funnies.
Well back to this basket of strawberries. I have a hunch that this beautiful, amazing, wonderfully divine basket of strawberries was really a preemptive strike against our careless transgressions of plowing through the architectural masterpiece of the hedgerow and the disastrous foot stomps that I'm sure ended the lives of hundreds of innocent little seedlings. Well preemptive strike or not, no where on earth at that time were there three simultaneous, face-drowning smiles of that of the likes that that old couple had created with a simple basket of strawberries. We were so excited that we almost sat down right there on the sidewalk to stuff our little faces. "Let's show mom!" Now I cannot remember if that idiotic statement was mine or my brother's, but that moronic thought would end up shattering the sweet loving smiles of the three of us and would end up leaving us with a life-long question.
The three of us speed our little bodies around the corner of the hedgerow into the alley where we darted furiously over to the northeast room of "The Horseshoe Motel." "Mom!" "Aunt Kathy!" "Mom!" we shouted ecstatically. As my mother came through into the kitchenette to see what all the commotion was about, it did not yet dawn on us that we were about to behold the demise of all our garden exploits. Like the ignorant little kids we were we flaunted our strawberry treasure as if it were pure gold. "YOU KIDS GOT IN THE GARDEN AGAIN!" my mother boomed. Suddenly joy became udder confusion, all happiness vanished, and we dropped off the edge of cloud nine completely. Well I'm not exactly sure how 6 & 8 year olds register "OH SHIT," but you better believe the look of a mother that told you a million times to stay out of a sweet old lady's garden and you deliberately disobeyed her and are now showing off your insubordination to her face, will make that register faster than the speed of light.
My cousin Jack, having been the more seasoned trouble-maker, instinctively showed off his rubber-burning skills by hauling ass out the door. He left so fast that NORAD alerted the Air-Force of a possible bogey-MIG in the vicinity of our rural town. My brother John, not having installed his afterburners yet, turned to logic... not his strong point... not at all. So with Jack well on his way to Jupiter by now and John trying his best at an 8 year old Socrates impression, I was left to do the only noble, honorable, valiant, and virtuous act I could think of... I cried and pointed at my older brother. Okay so a runner, a babbler, and a cry baby don't really promote any honesty whatsoever.
"A belt, a wooden spoon, a switch, oh my!" Yes sir, the punishment of elementary school age felons. We got a serious set of ass-whoop'ns. Standing there in "The Horseshoe Motel's" kitchenette, our little thieving hands now turned into cups to try and hold the tiny, sore, lesson-learned-the-hard-way butt cheeks of two once masterful garden plundering little bandits. We took on a full-out stern, guilt-ridden, tough motherly tongue lashing, and if that wasn't punishment enough, my mother went capitol. With sloppy, tear-soaked, snot-ridden faces we marched obediently back over to the old couple's house, returned the holy grail of the garden's fruit, and apologized for every time we slyly and maliciously invaded and ravaged their beautiful nature sanctuary. We never raided the garden again.
After all was said and done, we ended the day with no strawberries, no dinner, no pride, no desire to ever want to sit down again, and an early bedtime. So for all that, we still are left with that lingering question... Why the hell did we show mom?