by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 25, 2008
THE HARD-TOLD TRUTH
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The meaning of "ill-gotten gains" is something I've understood well for a very long time. It came to me again last night when I saw a preview of a new television program called "Nothing but the Truth."
For the show, polygraphs are administered backstage before the show just to test "the worthiness" of the contestant as to truth-telling. I'm not sure what the considerations are. With my children, I used to hold their chins, look in their eyes, and if I knew they were planning a lie and that I knew the truth from my reservoir of secret mother knowledge, I just had to say, firmly, "I'm holding your chin." That would bring forth the truth.
For a moment as I continued to search the channels, I started wondering how I would do in that chair, asked a question worth $50,000.00 if the truth were told?
If I were asked, "Did you ever steal anything?" my mind would go into a tailspin. I would have to grapple with the truth on that one.
We were about 13, my girlfriends and I, and the big news was that Bloomingdale's had just received a shipment of bathing suits for the season and they were nylon, a word spoken slowly and with awe. Until then, nylon was only used for making parachutes, but the war had ended and now all the things part of the war effort were goods for civilian use.
Susan broke the news to us first: "They have bins filled with bathing suits, you can take two or three into the dressing room, put one on under your clothes and walk out and toss two back into the overflowing bins."
My eyes widened in shock rather than awe and she continued, "Linger awhile, looking at others, and then leave," she offered with a self-satisfied smirk.
No, no, no, that was not for me. Two of my friends did go and did follow Susan's lead and did steal bathing suits. In spite of the high cost of bathing suits and the bright colors not seen for years, I was aware of the invisible angel on my left shoulder and the nagging devil on the other - both wrestling with my conscience. My mother planted them there during bedtime prayers and my conscience was formed. I'm not saying there were not occasions when the devil won but whatever it was, the pain of guilt, remorse, was never worth it.
I almost gave in - not by traipsing into Bloomingdale's via a 10-cent subway ride, but by trying on one of Susan's bathing suits. "It doesn't fit me, why don't you keep it?" Ahhhhhhh. My downfall.
I went home with the nylon, deep teal green beautiful bathing suit and showed it to my mother. I was all excited. She asked where I got it and I said: "it doesn't fit Susan and she has another one and she said I could keep it." I was blurting it out, too fast not to be hiding something.
"And where did Susan get it; are you hiding something?"
My mother looked at me, chin turned to her left as she continued ironing, eyes looking at me with sadness, as she heard the whole story of my not going with the girls and how they got bathing suits and I didn't.
She asked if I were trying to justify having that bathing suit now, a bathing suit stolen from Bloomingdale's?
"No," I said, and I can still feel my burning cheeks as shame went through me. "Do I have to give it back to Susan?"
"No, Susan doesn't own it."
"Do you mean I have to take it back to Bloomingdale's?"
"Yes, you do."
"How can I do that?"
Mama always had an answer. "Where there's a will there's a way."
My friend Mary agreed to go with me. We reversed the old plan. The teal green suit was in the bottom of my shoulder bag. I took one bathing suit out of the bin and went into the dressing room. When I came out, I tossed two back into the bin.
My hands were clean. I was not holding on to ill-gotten gains that would tarnish my self-image. I felt almost, well, blessed. But I never forgot how I felt an hour before when I skulked through the crowded aisles between the bins on my way to the quiet privacy of a dressing room where I came face to face with myself and gazed upon the mirrored image of shame.
It's not always easy to tell the truth.