We always lived within walking distance of the The Little Store, an old two-story brick building that sat on a corner lot. Crates of in-season produce greeted us at the sidewalk, and inside the first floor was a local grocery packed with all things good.
The second floor was an apartment, and I remember thinking how lucky the person was that lived above The Little Store. All the bread, milk, ketchup, mayonnaise, brooms, dust pans, cigarettes, and candy they could ever need was just below them.
The candy counter was glorious to behold, the glass case displayed full-sized candy bars. Hershey Bars, Butterfingers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were always a big splurge at fifty cents apiece. Adorning the top were glass bowls holding the best of penny candy, fire balls, bubble gum with a comic tucked inside, pop rocks and my all-time favorite, blow pops. What could be better than a lollipop with gum hidden inside?
Sally or Jack were the familiar faces behind the register, and they carefully surveyed the store that was often full of kids. The creaking wood floors gave them the location of kids who were reading comics, gazing at candy, digging through baseball cards, or leafing through the coveted Teen Beat magazine. The Little Store held the dreams of many young hearts within its walls.
Before I could walk to The Little Store on my own, I was game to tag along with Dad whenever he was going. I loved walking with him, holding his hand, and anticipating the treat that was waiting for me.
One afternoon as we walked home, Dad blowing the smoke of a Winston into the air, I unwrapped my treasured Blow-Pop and I held the wrapper tight, until my hand began to itch and sweat. What a relief it would to be free of the pesky wrapper.
I waffled back and forth in my mind, something deep within told me it was a mistake. The lure of sweet relief won and I slowly opened my hand, letting the wrapper fall to the ground, as I wiped my sweaty palm on my jeans.
Dad suddenly stopped, his blue eyes on fire. “Pick that up now. McCracken’s do not litter. Do you hear me, we never litter. The Earth is our home and it is our job to care for it and keep it clean. I never want to see that again.”
As I ran back to pick up the wrapper from my blow pop, fire crept up my neck and burned in my cheeks. It was the first time in my life I remember feeling ashamed—ashamed that I had disappointed Dad and marred the family name, ashamed that the lure of temporary relief had captured me so easily.
I ran back to Dad with that wrapper back in my sweaty hand and tears of shame on my cheeks. A lesson taught and lesson learned. Dad held my hand the rest of the way home and I knew that even though I had made this terrible mistake, he still loved me.
I have had the opportunity to litter hundreds of times since then, but Dad’s words still ring in my ears. I’ve held wrappers in my hand for hours or stuffed them in my pocket, but never again, from that day to this, did they fall to the Earth.