Our family was pretty much your typical traditional American family in the 1960s I would say. My father was a Honeywell engineer and he worked across the bay from us, in Tampa. My mother was an RN and also a professional singer (more on that later). My mother mostly sang during week nights, and worked during the days on Saturday and Sunday at a local MD office. So Mother was home during the week when there was a knock at the door. It was “Mr. Ray” our neighbor behind us.
Ray Fink was a kind and generous man. Retired, as much of the Florida population is, Mr. Ray as we called him, gardened for a hobby. His garden consisted mostly of trees though, and the list of fruits he raised in his back yard were impressive: orange, grapefruit, peach, banana and papaya in addition to a colorful bed of flowers along the perimeter of his home. At least once a month, Mr. Ray would show up at our door with a gift of fruit he had grown in his backyard, right behind us. Our family really appreciated his kind gifts of delicious fruit.
Mr. Ray was calling because some of his fruit trees had been robbed of the lower-hanging fruit. Mr. Ray had seen my younger brother John taking fruit without permission and he asked my mother to speak with him about it.
This would have been 1964 or 1965. Back in those days, parent’s didn’t automatically think their children were perfect like they do these days. Back in those days, if you got a spanking in school (corporal punishment was legal back then, and no, it didn’t scar me for life – it taught me that there are limits and unacceptable behavior), you’d better be careful that your parents didn’t find out because you’d get a second spanking at home. My parents always backed up the teachers and reinforced disciplinary measures at home. These days, children can and do pretty much whatever they want without fear of consequences. Later they become adults without fear of consequences. But I digress….
Mother decided to wait until Father came home and that it should be Father who handled this situation. My sisters and I all knew what had happened, and we were looking forward to a good show after dinner, and especially looking forward to the spanking that was so well deserved. After all, this was stealing and my parents found stealing especially distasteful among the list of unacceptable behavior for their children. My father waited until dinner was over and then asked the family to remain at the dinner table for a family discussion.
I have to give my father a lot of credit. I remember this situation very clearly. He was calm, very cool and reasoned the situation out with my brother. My parents had taught us that God watches what we do, and even if nobody saw us do something wrong, there is always some person who knows that we did wrong. Father went on to say that stealing is wrong and that we shouldn’t do it. Father appealed to his youngest son’s sense of right and wrong and John got the point. My sisters and I were disappointed! There wasn’t going to be any show after all!
Before we were allowed to leave the dinner table, Father decided to recap the situation, just to make sure John did indeed get the point.
Father: “John, do you understand why we shouldn’t take Mr. Ray’s fruit without his permission?”
John: “Yes Daddy.”
Father: “And why not?”
John: “Because it’s stealing, and stealing is wrong.”
Father: “Very good John. So you’re not going to steal any more fruit from Mr. Ray’s trees, right?”
John: “Yes Daddy?”
Father: “And why not?”
John: “Because I can’t reach anymore.”