When we were kids growing up in Virginia, there was a city park across the street. My brother Albacore and I, and all our friends, played there. The city staffed the park in the summers and they’d bring out crafts and games and sports equipment. I made our mom some KICK ASS plastic bead bracelets, but that’s a story for another time.
There was a table game of sorts that was very popular. It involved using mallets that looked like little bowling pins to hit baseballs around a waist-height board. The mallets were heavy. We’d swing them from behind our backs to get up enough momentum to slam the baseballs around where they were supposed to go on the table.
The mallets were heavy. There was a lot of momentum going on.
One fine summer day, my brother Albacore was playing this table game and there was a queue of other kids behind him. There was a little girl who was standing too close. Albacore told her to back up and then returned his attention to the game. A few moments later, he swung the mallet back. And broke her jaw.
Albacore was shocked. Why the hell hadn’t she moved?
The little girl, and her brother who had also been waiting in line to play, placed the blame squarely on Albacore. Albacore had hit her on the jaw with the mallet ON PURPOSE. They both SAW HIM DO IT. Albacore was suspended from the park.
My brother was a little freaked out. How was he going to reclaim his reputation? He was eight. Breaking someone’s jaw was a serious matter involving rafts of grown ups.
He told our mom that he hadn’t meant to hit the girl. That he had, in fact, told the little girl to back up. Mom believed him, and considered her course of action.
She planned a campaign of kindness and spumoni ice cream: kid truth serum
Mom bought the spumoni (the little girl couldn’t eat solid food, y’know, ’cause of the broken jaw). She went over to their house, delivered the ice cream, and asked the little girl if they could talk. The girl agreed and she, her brother, her mom, and my mom, sat down in the living room.
“Albacore told me that it was an accident. That he didn’t mean to hit you.” My mom said kindly. The little girl shook her head in the negative.
“He meant it,” she mumbled through a wired jaw.
“Are you sure?” my mom asked her softly. “Are you sure he did it on purpose?”
The little girl nodded seriously.
The air was thick. Two moms. Two kids. A broken jaw. Ice cream. All the kids had to do was say nothing and they were home free.
The boy broke like a potato chip. “Albacore didn’t mean it. It was an accident. I saw.”
His mom went nuclear:
“Just wait until your father gets home!”
she bellowed in frustrated embarrassment.
The boy had lied. He had betrayed his sister’s trust. It was only a matter of time before all the kids at the park found out that he’d lied and gotten another kid banned who hadn’t done anything. He had made his mother look bad in front of the neighbors. He was going to have to wait for his dad to get home before he knew his punishment. It wasn’t likely to be a good night for anyone in the house. And any chance he’d had of getting some of his sister’s spumoni ice cream was blown. All because he told the truth about lying.
The next day the two of them showed up on our door with a 9 X 13 cake that they’d made themselves. The little girl still couldn’t talk much; her jaw was wired shut. The frosting read, “We’re sorry.”
I was the one who answered the door. This was big news. I turned around and screamed through the house at the top of my ten year old lungs: “They’re here! And they’re sorry!“
I hope that kid who told the truth about my brother not breaking his sister’s jaw on purpose tells that story a lot. I hope he tells it to himself when the going gets tough. When he has to consider his reputation. When he has to make choices that will impact other people’s lives. I hope at times like that, he thinks to himself:
That’s a pretty terrific thing to know about yourself. Because when you know that about yourself, you make it come true over and over.