Back in the 1970s, the world was a very different place and generally safer than it is today. Parents used to let their kids run around as long as they were home by dinner, or by nine, or whatever, and kids respected that. There were no cell phones, and although it was recommended that kids not talk to strangers, generally most strangers were totally fine.
When my sister and I used to visit our Grandma, one of our favorite things to do was walk two blocks to the corner store in order to pick up any random items that Grandma “needed” (milk, potato chips, gum…I’m pretty sure she came up with needed items specifically for our visits). Grandma used to give us an extra dollar or two so we could pick out one of the cheap toys that hung near the checkout stand.
Although most of those corner store visits have blended into a single big, blurry, generalized memory, there is one that my sister and I will never forget. Upon walking out of the store, purchases in hand, I glanced at the sidewalk and saw a twenty dollar bill laying there, illuminated by the sun. Back then, finding a twenty on the ground was something that never, ever happened: it would be comparable to finding a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk today. For a youngster especially, this was akin to winning the lottery. I remember looking around, not seeing anyone remotely nearby, and picking it up.
And then, because I wanted to make sure it was okay that we took it home, I decided to verify that the bill was indeed without an owner. I asked a man that happened to be walking up the sidewalk towards the store if the twenty belonged to him, and he said, “Yep, thanks.” He took it out of my hand and kept walking.
It only took a split second to have that perfect 20/20 hindsight of what had just happened. I stood there for a moment, stunned, making the tough realization that everyone in the world wasn’t one hundred percent honest. That experience altered my view of life just a little bit and has stuck with me, hard. Although I still tend to give people the benefit of the doubt through a pair of rose-colored glasses, there is usually a healthy sense of cynicism just underneath the surface, especially when it comes to people I don’t know well.
And my sister? Nearly five years my junior, she had more street smarts than I even then. Looking back, I think I should’ve let her hang onto that money. We would have made it back to Grandma’s house with it, for sure.