A Life Stamp, by Michael Hammer

Living only a block away from Mr. Howard’s candy store as a child was a treat.  I went every time I had some change in my pocket. Most times though, I found myself going when I didn’t have a penny to my name.  It would be Mr. Howard who would teach me a lesson in trust that I would never forget.

      I liked Mr. Howard.  He was always quick with a smile and an offbeat joke that only he would get.  I would laugh, or at least smile, to humor him.  I liked playing the “guess which cup held the piece of candy game.”  He would place a piece underneath one of the cups, mix them up, and I would try to guess which cup it was under.  I, of course, would always win.  Mr. Howard would be amazed at how smart I was.  For some reason this didn’t bother him, and I loved to win that tasty treat.

      One day, I found myself alone in the store.  Mr. Howard stepped outside to speak to a neighbor.  He had asked me to keep an eye on the place.  I felt so important, someone at the age of seven taking on such responsibility.

For the first time I truly saw the store which I spent so much time in. I was mesmerized by all the diverse colors all around me. The many shapes and sizes of the thousands of pieces of candy carefully placed in the glass cases, and counter top jars.  The faded wooden floor would creek with each step I took as I explored all that I’ve seen before, but never truly noticed.  All of this exploring was making me hungry.

       I thought he would never notice if I were to help myself to my favorite candy bar.  Besides, he gave me candy all the time.  I started to work my way back to the front of the store.  Although I could hear Mr. Howard talking outside, he wouldn’t be able to see me from where he was.  I had the candy bar in sight; my heart began to beat faster.

       I placed the item in my pocket just as Mr. Howard walked in.  Our eyes met. Mine must have shown terror, while his showed anger, a look I never saw before from him.  Before I could muster up something to say, he told me to get out, and to never come back again.  My heart that was racing slowly began to sink.  What have I done?  Everything at once came crashing down.  I lost Mr. Howard as a friend, and I let him down.  More importantly I lost his trust, which hurt the most.   

       Over the following weeks I tried to talk to Mr. Howard, to apologize, but he would have none of it.  I missed my friend, and would do anything to gain his trust again.  I vowed to myself that I would never steal again. Nothing like this could ever be worth it.

       Several weeks later I walked past the candy store, Mr. Howard smiled at me again.  I smiled back.  Then I was elated one day when he invited me into his store.  We were talking once again.  I told him how badly I’ve felt and said I would never do anything like that again. He must have felt my sincerity and said he was sorry for yelling at me, but I knew that I deserved it.  I wondered if he would ever be able to trust me again.  He then reached behind the counter and brought out those familiar cups.  My eyes lit up, and he smiled.  He then began to tell one of his jokes. When he finished, I laughed.  I got it this time.

       I did eventually earn Mr. Howard’s trust once again.  It didn’t come easily, but was well worth it.  That was a long time ago; it was a lesson that has stayed with me to this day.  Now as an adult I find myself from time to time walking past the building that holds so many childhood memories for me. I stop sometimes to recall them, with that one particular lesson in trust always coming to mind.  As I think about that day way back then, all I can do is smile.

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