I Was a Juvenile Delinquent


v51a0440-editI may have been a juvenile delinquent.

No, I have never been arrested, either pre- or post-adult. When I was growing up, I would have never thought to run from a police officer, even if one were chasing me.

But I was, at the very least, a mischievous child.

This is July, the month of celebrating our independence. One of the childhood deeds I’m least proud of happened around July 4, 1960-something.

I blew up a toad.

Toads were abundant in our southeastern Texas home. You could just about walk outside anytime and find a toad.

I had a slew of Black Cat firecrackers left over from our July 4 celebrations, and I decided I’d make one giant firecracker, stuff it down a toad’s mouth and set it off.

My cruelty worked. There were toad parts everywhere. I’m ashamed of that damnable deed even today. I had nothing against toads. Still don’t. Maybe I was just curious, or perhaps the little cruel boy in me took over that day.

Juvenile delinquent.

My delinquency generally came with a lot of action and little thought.

Shortly after I received my first B-B gun, I shot my younger sister in the neck. I was aiming for her eye. My parents were told, by me, that the errant shot was just an accident. They took my B-B gun away (expected), but gave it back to me after a week (unexpected).

During my B-B gun career, I shot out more than a few windows, aiming at something in a tree by the window. I wasn’t a great shot by any means, but that never really sank into my thick boy skull.

I lived in the present, rarely thinking about the consequences. It was a stupid way to live.

But when I shot my sister, I was, indeed aiming for her eye.

Juvenile delinquent.

There was a time in my young life that I would have never lied to my parents. Really. They told me if I’d tell the truth, I’d never get into trouble.

Once, my older cousin Ray and I decided to attack a ditch-digging machine sitting in front of our house. I was about six at the time. I retrieved my dad’s hacksaw, and Ray and I started cutting off all the belts attached to the machine; then, we unscrewed the various knobs that worked the piece of heavy equipment and threw them in the woods.

Happy with our crime, Ray and I went on to some other play task. I carelessly dropped my dad’s hacksaw next to the crippled ditch digger.

A little while later, my father grabbed me and asked if I had vandalized the machine. Why, yessir, I told him. And Ray helped. He snatched me up, took me into the bathroom and proceeded to whip my bottom with his long, black belt. Through my tears, I protested that he promised I’d never get into trouble if I told the truth.

“You’re not in trouble because you told the truth,” he said. “You’re in trouble for cutting the belts off that ditch digger.”

I vowed then never to tell the truth to my parents again if it meant I’d get a whipping.

I lived in the present. Didn’t think about the consequences. Juvenile delinquent.

One of the best examples of my living in the present was when our next-door neighbors came back once from a crawfishing trip. There were three or four buckets filled with squirming crawfish. I went over and grabbed one of the buckets, believing the neighbors would never notice it was gone. I took the bucket home, around to the side of our house. Crawfish were climbing out, and then it struck me: How was I going to explain to my parents how I came to have a bucket of freshly caught crawfish?

I heard my mother yelling my name. I was caught. So I did what I often did when I was caught: I ran and hid under my bed. In seconds, I could see my mother’s legs. She bent over, grabbed my arm, pulled and, well, you know the rest.

A juvenile delinquent who lived only in the present. Never got arrested, but probably should have.

By puberty, I’d just about straightened out. Oh, I was still mischievous. In my mid-teens, a friend introduced me to pot, and I sure didn’t tell my parents I was smoking dope. But, my goodness, they had to smell it. Nobody was nose-blind to weed back then.

Indeed, my mother asked me one day if I had been smoking dope. She looked into my red-rimmed eyes, and I looked right back. No ma’am, I lied. For whatever reason, she let it go. I still was, in some sense, a juvenile delinquent living only in the present.

After I left home, my mother and I became great friends and confidants. I didn’t live near her, but we talked regularly. Once I called to tell her I had my left ear pierced. A protest pierce, because the newspaper wouldn’t allow men who have pierced ears. Still, a bit of a delinquent.

I told Mom to sit down, I had something to tell her. “I got my ear pierced.”

Her response: “Oh, Joey, you can call and tell me anything. Just don’t ever call and tell me you’re gay.” I was the one who had to sit down. It hit me then that Mom suspected her juvenile delinquent son, married more than 10 years at the time, was perhaps gay. I know now, even if I were gay, she would have still loved me and cherished our relationship.

When Mom was on her death bed with bone cancer, and was still able to tolerate the pain and hold conversations, I decided I’d confess the sins she didn’t already know about. Clear the air and have no regrets. Tell her I did smoke pot. And did some other delinquent things.

“Mom,” I started. “I just wanted to tell you about some of the stuff I did when I was younger, some of the house rules I broke …”

Mom cut me off.

“Stop it, Joey. Your dad and I weren’t as stupid as you think we were.”

My wise mother died a few weeks later. She was 63.

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