Tuesday, October 21, 2014



During the Great Depression and the Second World War food was sometimes in short supply at my boarding school, and I was often hungry. It is understandable, then, that my first "crimes" involved the theft of things to eat: (1) I was walking to church, ten blocks away, through a rich neighborhood, on a sub-freezing Sunday morning, before milk was homogenized, when I noticed that on the doorsteps of several homes the frozen cream in bottles left by the deliveryman had popped their tops: they looked like little sentinels with bright red caps! I risked damning my soul forever by treating myself to a delicious dose of calcium, a kind of poor man's ice cream, visiting a different home on several Sundays--until one day a door suddenly sprang open and a growling dog that seemed more like a hungry Bengal tiger snapped at my arm. (Had the neighbors alerted each other and prepared for my weekly visit?) I ran; but in my fright I ran in the wrong direction, back to the school and not to church. There was hell to pay for quite a while. (2) In the cafeteria there was a storage pantry for those whose parents brought extra edibles on their weekend visits. I was originally put in charge of it as some kind of punishment for some forgotten offense, or penance for some forgotten sin: since it was accessed during meals, I had to eat by myself, another deprivation of the socializing that I desperately needed. Surrounded by all those goodies I grew hungrier than I usually was, and sometimes I salivated until I drooled. I, of course, had no parents, so none of those treasures belonged to me. Inevitably, I succumbed to the growling Serpent in my belly, and began swiping a cookie here, a cracker there, occasionally a luxury like a jelly bean, and spooning out small amounts of things like apple sauce and jelly. This continued for a while, until some eagle-eye noticed traces of strawberry jam in his peanut butter. (3) Perhaps on account of some dietary deficiency I developed an intense craving for sugar which was rationed at the time and doled out in meager portions. Once again my stomach warred with my soul, driving me to one more vice. After very carefully studying the night-time behavior patterns of inmates and guards, I started sneaking down into the basement kitchen where those precious crystals were kept in a 5-pound canister. I managed this every other night for two weeks, until once again my own carelessness did me in: I dropped the canister, and the crowd-producing noise sounded as if the room had blown up. Well, for a long time after that I had to eat my oatmeal--without sugar. Peccavi, domine.

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