Maybe I’m just getting old and therefore have a tendency to embellish the past, but it seems the values I was taught as a child, more specifically, respect for your elders, are much different today. I think of my youth and how I was expected to act when in the company of others. There were house rules that were to be religiously followed. My dad’s favorite saying was “Don’t do as I do, do as I say”. But, as was the case with all young boys, I had to test the theory.
I lived on the same street as my grammar school, so I spent a lot of afternoons playing in the schoolyard. Behind the playing field was the Fitzgerald Fuel Co office and yard. Next to that was the old “Fitzgerald Place”, a three story house that had been long abandoned. I had been warned several times by my dad to not ever enter that building. But it was there, every day, and to a young boy, its siren song was very compelling, so inevitably the thrill was greater then the threat.
It happened one afternoon, while accompanied by my best friend Howard, we slipped through a broken window and proceeded to explore the house . It was a given that because the house was old and vacant, it therefore must also be haunted. So it was, with some trepidation, that we ventured from room to room.
We were on the second floor when first we heard them. Footsteps from below. Someone was in the house with us, and now, we were scared to death. I don’t know where Howard went, but I crawled under an old iron bed and listened as the steps grew closer, finally stopping next to me. “Get out here” a male voice said. I slowly slid out from under the bed covered with several years accumulation of dirt, to find myself staring up at Mr. Fitzgerald. “Come with me” he said and led me to the oil company office. To my surprise, Howard was already there, having tried to run out of the house and having found Mr. Fitzgerald instead.
“We are going to call your parents” we were told, and that is when the real fear set in. I knew my dad was going to kill me. Howard’s parents were called and shortly thereafter, his father arrived and took possession of his wayward son. I however was not as fortunate. We did not have a phone, so I had to wait until my father came home from work to free me. I was left to sit, an icon of public scorn, staring out the window at my house across the field.
Ultimately, Mr Fitzgerald sent someone over to my house. I saw our front door open and my father walk down our front steps. As he grew closer, so did the aspect of my assured demise. When he arrived, he said not a word to me. He apologized to Mr. Fitzgerald and motioned for me to follow him home. Upon arrival, my dad walked into the kitchen and sat at the table facing me. I for one had barely entered the room, trying to retain as much space between us a possible.
There I stood, my head appropriately bowed, trying to avoid my fathers gaze. Finally, he quietly said “do you know how disappointed I am in you”? Nothing could have had a greater impact on me then those few simple words. Immediately, the tears came forth and I knew that what I had done was greater then the transgression itself. I had demonstrated disrespect for my dad. Without laying a hand on me, he had administered the spanking of my life.
I don’t see that respect being taught today. Maybe it is there and is just not displayed as openly. I don’t know. But I do know that those life’s lessons learned remain a part of who I am today, even if I still have to test the waters from time to time.