(This is a memoir writing assignment for my Nonfiction Fundamentals course with Southern NH University.)
The Canteen Truck
(The beginning and ending of my life of crime)
Disclaimer: some names have been changed to protect the guilty – or maybe because I forgot them?
“C’mon Rick, you’re the perfect size.” Wow, that is so cool; no one ever said that about me. “Perfect size, yay! Perfect size for what?” I ask while running fast to John. John’s a big kid, three years older than me. “C’mere,” he says, wrapping his arm over my shoulder and behind my neck. His hand lands on my other shoulder. “D’ya see that truck? It’s called a canteen truck.” “You’re silly,” I say, chuckling. “I know it’s a canteen truck.” “Do you know what’s inside it?” I tell him sure I do. There’s candy, cookies, gum and Cokes inside – where we lived, near Boston, we called any soft drink a Coke back then. “Why?” “We want some,” said John.
I look up at his face and tell him, “I don’t have any money.” John’s funny smile seems like it stretches all the way across his face – as wide as both ears, when he says, “money, we don’t need money! Do’ya think we’re gonna buy sumpin’?” I look up at the other kids as they start to laugh. “What’s so funny?”
Chris, he’s even bigger than John, reaches down and pats my head. “C’mere, Rick and I’ll show you.” I walk with Chris over to where the truck is. I can see myself, hundreds of me, in the shiny, diamond shapes that cover the sides of the truck.
Chris and I walk around the other side of the truck. Chris points, “there, do’ya see it?” “Hey, there’s a hole in that truck,” I say, tilting my head sideways to try to get a look inside. It’s too dark to see anything. Smiling the same smile John did, Chris says, “thaaaaat’s riiiiight!” Apparently, several of those big kids managed to muster the strength to bend back the bottom corner of the shiny diamond side of the truck into a triangular shaped, too-small-for-most-kids-to-crawl-in hole. At this point, I still was clueless. But, I got smart pretty quick.
I laugh a little at the way Chris almost sang those words and look around at the other kids. They are all looking at me with the same smiles. “Yep, Rick, you is the perfect size,” Chris says this time. “For what?” “To crawl inside and get us some stuff. We’re all too big to fit.” I walk closer and grab the bottom of the hole and try to peek in. I’m on my tippy toes, but still can’t see. Chris says, “here try this,” as he puts a milk crate on the ground beside the truck. I step onto the milk crate and poke my face in the hole. “I’m not going in there, I’ll get in big trouble,” I tell everyone.
“You won’t get in trouble,” almost every shouts. “The guy is not even here!” I look in again and am scared. “My mom will kill me.” “She won’t ever find out,” Chris said, as he peeked his head into the hole. He bent over and grabbed his hands together and put them down for me to use as a step to get in. I stepped on his cupped hands and he raised me to the triangle hole. Still scared, I turned to him, “are you sure it’ll be okay?” “Absolutely!”
Chris lifted up his hands, and me with them. I put my head into the hole then squeezed my shoulders through. Chris pushed my feet and I was inside. “Hey, it’s kinda dark in here,” I say. “Hold on,” I hear from outside the truck. Then Chris stuck in his hand with a flashlight. Thinking back I wonder just how far in advance this heist was planned by my friends.
You know that feeling you get in your mouth when you’re waiting for your favorite food? Well that’s the feeling my mouth had as I looked around inside the canteen truck. It was a gold mine! Ice cream, candy bars, wrapped sandwiches, Cokes – yep it was a gold mine. “What’s in there?” someone outside asks. “Holy cow, this is wicked cool,” I tell them. “What is it, tell us.” I tell them about all the stuff I see. “Let us have some,” I hear again. “Hand it out the hole,” someone says. I grab three or four ice cream sandwiches and hand them out the hole. They are snatched quickly. “More!” I hear. And that’s how it went as I started to feel like Christmas morning, forgetting about being scared. I started grabbing anything I could and, outside, they kept asking for more. So, I kept sending stuff out.
Hands kept appearing at the triangle hole each time I handed stuff out – more candy bars, Cokes, gum, wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches, wrapped tuna sandwiches, more ice cream sandwiches. I turned to grab whatever I could and when I turned to the hole, there were no hands waiting. By now, I’m no longer scared so I just figured the outside kids were busy with the last load. So I waited with my hands at the hole – still no hands from the outside. “Hey guys, I have more stuff.” Silence. “C’mon guys, take this stuff so I can get more.” “What the hell are you doing in there!” A man yells, very loudly, at the hole. I jumped so hard that I banged my head on the shelves and dropped what I had in my hand – my fear came back, quickly.
Suddenly there is a man’s face at the hole. I realize I’m in trouble – big trouble. He reaches in; I scoot back – I have nowhere to go. “I’m in trouble,” I think. It was quiet for a second and I thought, “great, he left. I’m getting outta here.” But then, I heard a jingling key chain and whoosh, the whole side of the truck lifted open. The large man – he looked like a big dog after someone stole his is favorite bone – with his face all scrunched up and his teeth showing. “Get the hell out of there, right now kid!” Two really big hands grabbed me and, before I realized it, I was on the ground, staring at his belt buckle. He was screaming something, a lot of things, but I couldn’t understand any of it. I was shaking in my shoes, but still noticed all my friends were gone. A normal kid would’ve thought about why his friends didn’t warn him or help him get out. Not me, I was so afraid that all I could think about was what he was going to do to me. At ten years old, we don’t fully grasp the concept that someone can’t just beat the snot out of you. So I was thinking things like that were coming my way.
As the screaming continued, the large, angry man grabbed my shoulder with his crushing grip. Here it comes, I thought. Instead of the beating I expected, he looked down at me and said, “where do you live kid!?” Turning my head a little – as far as the claw on my shoulder would allow – and pointing up the street toward my house, I whisper, “up there.” With his hand, he turns my body in the direction of my house and starts walking me. Then, all of sudden, he lets go. I continue three or four more steps on my own and slowly turn to him.
He’s still there, glaring at me. He points toward my house, “get your ass home right now and tell your mother what you did!” I turn back toward my house, quickly, and start walking again – faster than before. From behind me, I’m too afraid to turn around, I hear him, “I’m coming to your house later and I’m going to talk to your mother.” Kids at 10 years old learn a few cuss words, don’t ask from where, we just do – “Shit” I’m sure I said out loud, probably sounding like a little kitten. “Not my mother, you can’t tell her.”
As I continued home, my friends appeared from behind cars, bushes and other hiding places. By now I’m really far away from the big guy and my friends are now brave enough to walk with me. They must’ve been closer to the action than I thought, “don’t go home and tell your mother,” someone said. “He’s not going to come to your house!” No way am I not going home. If I don’t tell my mom and he shows up, my mother will kill me even worse. I make it all the way home and shuffle up the stairs to our apartment on the second floor. I open the door – there she is.
I tell her, she’s “ashamed” of me. She tells me to take a bath and go to bed. She doesn’t yell, she doesn’t crack me, she just tells me that she’s ashamed of me. As I think back, I realize she knew fully what motivated me – I loved my mom’s affection and when she was ashamed, that really affected me. I took a bath, put on my pajamas and jumped in bed – it was only 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I stay there until dinner.
After dinner, I head to bed. The big guy never shows up.
The next day, when I see my friends, they ask if he showed up. “No, he didn’t.” “See I told you so,” they all say. “I don’t care,” I say to myself. I was too scared to lie, because while you may think Superman has super powers, I think my mom could’ve whooped him, easy.