Crime and Punishment


“Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools…”                               Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

I would like to begin by stating emphatically that it wasn’t really my fault. Anyone who would plant an unfenced Bartlett pear tree just ten feet from a public sidewalk and within plain view of passers-by, is clearly insidious – at least, if they expect to keep the bounty to themselves. What made this situation worse was the fact that this tree (and more importantly those delicious golden pears) was the property of old man Peterson – the same old man Peterson who had just paid me a nickel for finding his false teeth, which, by the way, were left sitting on an old house foundation in a nearby field. Please don’t ask me why his teeth were out there all alone, as I was only six or seven-years-old at the time and it never occurred to me that this might be considered a little odd.

Getting back to the topic at hand: in my opinion, Mr. Peterson still owed me – after all, I had found all of his teeth and he had only paid me for five of them. This unpaid debt was utmost on my mind the day I was pacing back and forth in front of Mr. Peterson’s house, having my nostrils seduced by the intoxicating fragrance of perfectly ripened pears. In the midst of this moral dilemma, I was carefully scrutinizing his window blinds for any signs of surveillance and since they appeared undisturbed at a distance, I made a break for it.

I had only managed to climb into the tree and pocket two pears in my jacket, when I heard the screen door slam – sure enough, old man Peterson had been spying on me all along. He charged across the lawn with a crotchety arthritic waggle, swearing in a heavy Scottish brogue and brandishing a willow switch (the local weapon of choice) Errol Flynn style – making threatening back and forth flourishes as he hobbled forward. By the time he reached the tree, I had another pear in hand and was poised to take a bite when he said…”donnaught eat that pear or you’ll get it!” Translated, that meant that I could expect several whacks of the willow switch to the backside of my pants, followed by an ear-pulling all the way to my front door to face the certain wrath of my parents. Besides the fact that I had no intention of climbing down to face my punishment, what Mr. Peterson lacked at that critical moment was incentive – because I knew the consequences would be much the same, whether or not I ate the pear in question. Mr. Peterson must have also realized that I fully grasped the situation at hand because just before I took that fateful first bite, I’m sure I saw a small grin emerge from his otherwise incensed and ruddy features.

That pear was probably the best I have ever eaten in my entire life (I also took a bite out of the two in my pockets, for good measure) – much in part to the personal exhilaration I was experiencing sitting safe, way up high in a tree with a livid Scotsman bellowing below and the fact that I was in full possession of most of my young taste buds. To finish the tale – yes, Mr. Peterson did whack me with his willow switch when I finally climbed down and he did haul me home by way of my earlobe, where my mother apologized profusely and promised dire consequences for my trespass. Still, the sweet taste of ripe pear lingered in my mouth and I learned that sharing was a much nobler and pleasant act, than doling out consequences.

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