“The Gum Caper” By Neal Murphy

February 18, 2019 - There is nothing quite as upsetting to a young lad as being falsely accused of a crime. Now understand, I was not an angel around nine or 10 years of age, but being accused of a heinous crime was a shock to my total being.

Most of the time when our family drove through Jasper, Texas, my father, Cecil, would stop at a café in the downtown area for coffee or a soft drink. On this occasion as we walked into the building, I walked over to the gum racks and looked at several packages. I was looking for Dentyne gum, but found none. I put the packs of gum back into their boxes.

After enjoying our refreshments, dad stopped at the counter to pay our bill. The man checking us out asked my father, “Do you want to pay for that package of gum in your kid’s pocket?” We were all taken by surprise, especially me. Dad asked, “What did you say?” The man repeated his question, “You want to pay for the pack of gum that your son has in his pocket? I saw him put it there when you came in.”

Dad looked at me, I looked at the floor, mother looked at Dad. “Neal, do you have a pack of gum in your pants pocket?” he asked sternly. “No, daddy, I don’t. I looked at some, but put them back on the shelf.” The clerk chimed in, “I seen him put it in his pocket.”

Wow….what a revolting development this turned out to be. Dad said, “OK, I want you to empty out all your pockets on the counter here, and we will just see what you have.” Knees shaking, heart pounding, I emptied my pockets as instructed – no gum was found. “Go on out and get in the car,” my Dad told me. On the way out of the café I observed my father handing the man a nickel. He said, “This is to pay you for the pack of gum my son did not steal from you since you seem to be so hard up for money. I don’t think I will ever stop at your business again.”

I learned a good lesson that day. I never examined gum or candy again in a store that would give the appearance of stealing. To my knowledge, we never stopped at that café in Jasper again. As “they” say, perception is reality, even when it involves only a package of gum.