In The Heart Of A Child

I was reading a news article this morning discussing an 8-year-old in Broward County, Florida who was expelled from school for bringing a toy gun to class. The school has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on weapons, and although the gun was a toy, it turns out it was capable of firing projectiles. Thus it was considered dangerous and the kid was discharged from school for a year. A quick search on the Net and the story behind the culprit gun was uncovered – it was capable of shooting Styrofoam darts and is available at any Wal-Mart or Toys-R-Us in the neighborhood. Guess he coulda put an eye out or something with that dangerous projectile shooter, who knows. The bad thing is, the incident happened last year, the boy has yet to be reinstated in school, and unless the school board intervenes, he won’t be. Second graders these days, you just can’t trust them, I tell ya.

It made me think of another time and another place, vivid memories of the things boys are prone to do for apparently no good reason. A good friend and I had camped out in the deep woods, hoping to get a jump-start on squirrel-hunting season the following morning. We were using his car, so we had to have been at least fifteen-years-old at the time to have a vehicular license to do such. We had spent an abnormally cold night in his car, a 1953 Chevrolet that had seen better days, and awoke to a dusting of frost on the ground. Fortunately, the night before was cold enough that we had recognized the importance of bringing coats and ski-caps along with us, so we hit the woods at daylight despite the chill. His pump 20-gauge and my father’s borrowed 12-auto reported our progress through the autumnized trees as the crisp dawn gave way to a beautiful South Mississippi morning.

Because we were boys, and the only thing on our mind the night before had been tree rodents, we had brought no food to share between the two of us. I vividly remember that by the time 9 AM rolled around, my stomach was gnawing at my intestines in a way that only a teen-aged boy will ever fully appreciate. We needed a trip to the store, and fast. The squirrel-hunting had played itself out by that hour anyway, so we loaded the guns in the car, got in, and headed for town.

Looking back now, with the benefit of age and wisdom, all we had to do was enter the store, get a honey bun or candy bar, maybe some chips, grab a coke or two, pay, and we’d be on our way. That is the way it works in the sane world - happens just like that every day. Yet for some reason, we decided… No, we postulated. (That can’t be it either as boys in their teens don’t know what that means) We figured it would be a good idea to ‘pull a good ‘un’ on the small store’s proprietor, who we both knew well and who we also knew reciprocated our recognition. He was a young adult at the time, and we thought he was 'cool' because he turned old cars into hot rods as a hobby.

So we exited the vehicle with our ski-masks pulled down over our faces, guns in hand, and loudly announced as we entered the store that we were ‘here to get all your Fig Newton bars’ and if he complied ‘no one would get hurt’. It did not go as planned because he never looked up from his paper. “Shannon, Scott, what are you two idiots up to?” He responded stoically. With much chagrin we leaned our guns against the counter and took off our masks, disappointed that we did not get the desired reaction out of him.

He gave us a mild lecture on the dangers of performing a hold up gag in broad daylight and on the main street of McNeill, no less. He advised us that although it was kind of funny, the local law enforcement officials might not see it as such had they happened to cruise by at that particular moment. We lowered our heads, the reality of our stupid prank beginning to hit home to the two of us. Ever a great person, he fixed us both a cup of coffee and gave us a Little Debbie snack cake ‘on the house’. The free snack paled in comparison to the experience of an adult sharing a cup of coffee with us, and though the remainder of the conversation that morning has faded from my memory, I do fondly remember that much. Lucky for us, he didn’t tell our parents about the prank, and I am sure of that because there were no violent repercussions when I arrived home later in the day. The writer of Proverbs states: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” The Lord knows my momma believed in that verse sincerely enough to drive out most of the foolishness from my system as I grew up.

I can’t help but wonder, after reading the article from Broward County, how things would end much differently if a current teenager of this day and age pulled the same sort of stunt we did. I shudder to think of it. For us it was a spur of the moment prank and nothing more – we were good kids when all was said and done. There was absolutely no malice, and surely no sincerity to our actions. Maybe kids have changed. Or maybe they just need a few more understanding adults willing to play the part of mentor and guide when their actions get out of hand and cross the gray areas between good and bad behavior. We were lucky enough to have those sorts of people in our lives back then, and I’m very thankful to have known them today.

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