The Red Ruler
By Roy W. Harris
Seventh grade is a time of transition and change. One moves from the top of the elementary school sixth- grader totem pole, to the bottom rung of the junior high school latter. The small school atmosphere is left behind and replaced by a huge school and knowing no one. At least that’s the way one feels. Classes are located acres apart and running from one to another is an exhausting experience within itself.
One moves from adolescence to teen years not really fitting in either place. Coupled with all the other difficulties is the sudden recognition that girls no longer have “cuties.” As a matter of fact, they are kind of nice to talk to and be around. Not particularly caring how one looks gives way to clothes that match, hair that’s combed and a splash of the good smelling stuff that draws the flies.
Peer pressure and wanting to fit in takes on a life of its’ own. Having left many of his friends behind, the young man was thrown into a melting pot with others from several elementary schools in the area. He now had to make new friends and find a place to belong. The young lad was small for his age. He met another young man named Sparky and the two of them had at least one thing in common. They were the two shortest guys in their seventh grade class. They become fast friends and hung out with each other whenever possible.
Riding a bus to school was only the privilege of those who lived outside the city limits. This would change as the young man entered the next school year. But until it did, the boy had to walk or ride his bike the mile and half to school. He walked most of the time and usually arrived early. Arriving early is a pattern he continues to exhibit in his life to this day. School policy stated that once a student stepped foot on school property he came under school authority. Well, junior high students liked being between “home authority” and “school authority.” In other words, they had a measure of freedom from the moment they stepped out of their own yards until they stepped on to the school yard.
Pay Less Supermarket, located across the street from Southside Junior High School, was a popular place meeting place. Sparky, the young man and other friends would often meet outside the market in the mornings before school began. They would occasionally drift inside on cold days to warm up from the cold Indiana winter weather. This story is about one such winter morning.
The young man’s parents saw to it that he was supplied with all the things necessary to become a successful junior high student. This included not only food, shelter and clothing but also notebooks, paper, pens, pencils etc. He always had lunch money and if his needs required more for special class projects or outings, the money was there.
It was cold outside that day and Sparky invited the young man to join him for a stroll inside the market. Sparky told the boy that he was going to cop some notebook paper. He reinforced his intentions by reassuring the lad that he’d taken several items from the store before. As the two entered the store, Sparky headed directly for the School Supplies aisle.
He watched as Sparky stopped in front of the shelves containing the packages of neatly stacked white notebook paper. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. Sparky looked one way then the other, reached up, grabbed a plastic wrapped 250 count package and sipped it into his notebook. He then looked over at his friend and said; “you take something too.”
The young man had been eyeing a twelve inch Red Ruler for several days now. He hadn’t mentioned it to his parents, probably because at age twelve, his mind refocused often and he didn’t give much thought to the Red Ruler unless he was in the store. At the encouraging of his friend, the young man hesitated only a second then grabbed the ruler. It was in his right hand. What would he do with it now? He quickly slid the ruler over his the inside of his left wrist and up his coat sleeve.
There it was. He’d done it. He had the ruler, now what would he do? A troubling feeling began to sweep over the young man. He’d grown up to this point in his life with men and women of character who had taught him that one simply does not take things that don’t belong to him. He knew the Ten Commandments. He wasn’t sure which number it was, but he was absolutely certain that one of them said; “thou shalt not steal.” Yes steal! He was about to steal the Red Ruler. The words seemed to replay like a Power Point slide looping over and over again in his mind. He was stealing! He was about to become a thief.
Sparky said; “let’s buy a candy bar.” The boy had an idea that the reason for purchasing the candy was to make it appear that they were actually buying something so no one would suspect what they were really doing.
The Red Ruler was out of sight, but somehow not out of mind. It no longer was as appealing as it had been before it had been slipped up his sleeve. But what could he do. It was sort of like holding a mean dog by the ears. You know you need to let go, but you dare not because you fear what the dog might do if you him go. The young man knew that somehow he should not go out the exit door with that ruler. But how could he put it back? What if someone saw him pull it from his sleeve? What would Sparky say to the other fellows outside of the store if he didn’t go through with it?
The two boys made their way through the check-out line. With each step forward, the young man felt his heart pounding harder and louder. Surely the man in front of him had to hear it. With candy bar in hand, he watched as Sparky paid. The young man just couldn’t go through with it. He quietly slid the Red Ruler from his coat sleeve and laid it on the candy bar rack hoping that no one had seen any of it.
His emotions were hard to describe. He felt a sense of relief because he had not done something that deep down inside he knew was wrong. He felt a sense of shame. How could he have even thought of doing something like this? He felt a sense of disgust. Why had he let someone talk him into something that might have gotten him into a lot of trouble?
Glad to about have this whole ordeal about over, he made his way to the store exit. Sparky was walking a few steps ahead of him. The automatic doors swung outward and the two boys walked out of the store.
Before the doors could close, someone came running through them and from behind the boys. The young man watched helplessly as the store manager grabbed Sparky by the arm and demanded he open his notebook. Sparky’s face changed from a healthy pink shade to a blood drained white as he open the notebook and the stolen paper fell out. The manager grabbed him by the knap of the neck with one hand and held the stolen paper in the other. He marched poor Sparky six feet or so back through the automatic entry doors. The manager half way turned toward the young man and said something the boy has never forgotten; “aren’t you glad you put the ruler back?” The manager had seen the whole thing. Even though the young man didn’t answer out loud, he sure was glad he’d put the Red Ruler back. As Sparky and the manager disappeared inside the store too regions unknown, the young man walked slowly towards the school crossing. He wasn’t sure of all that had just taken place; but he was stunned and almost numb yet so thankful he hadn’t taken that Red Ruler.
Sparky never made it to class that day. He returned a day or two later and briefed his friend about what had taken place in the unknown regions inside the store. Sparky had been taken to the manager’s office where he was soon joined by a couple of Anderson’s finest (two Police Officers). His parents were called and the boy got into a heap a trouble.
This story really happened. The writer recounted a true event that took place in his own life. He learned some important lessons from Red Ruler chapter. First of all he learned that a person should be careful not to hang around the wrong kind of friends. People who want you to do things which you know deep down inside are wrong are not really your friends. They care little about you or what kind of trouble they may cause you. A second lesson learned was that when one takes something that isn’t his or he hasn’t paid for it is stealing. Stealing is breaking one of God’s commandments and is wrong. It is a sin against God Himself. The writer’s advice to anyone who might be reading this true story is to: Never, never, never take anything that doesn’t belong to you. The guilt and shame one experiences is just not worth it. A third lesson that was learned was to listen to that small voice that speaks to you from deep down inside. Adults call this a conscience. When it tells you; “don’t do that” then listen and do what it says – just don’t do that.
By the way, the writer did eventually get his Red Ruler, No, not that year or the next. He grew up and became a minister. He preached a sermon one Sunday morning and told this story (although not in this much detail) to illustrate a needed lesson. Later, one of his parishioners name Larry surprised him with a nice bright Red Ruler. So you see in the end, it always pays to do the right thing.