I read an article Tuesday where parents talked about some of the foolish ways young children tried to pull a fast one on their parents.
Some were quite hilarious. Some just made me shake my head. A couple of stories made me think of my own childhood.
I was a smart kid, really smart for my age, but even still, not very smart compared to a grownup. Yet, I was sure I was a child mastermind.
On one occasion I was sure I was headed for the principal’s office with someone unknown punishment awaiting me. Looking back, I suppose the teacher could see how upset I was at being caught, so she let me off with a warning.
What was my crime? Trying to pass a forged check at age 7.
As I’ve mentioned in this column before, I am a forgetful person. I forget everything. Including the fact that I needed lunch money at school.
One Monday morning I realized I hadn’t asked either parent for money before they took off for work. I was feeling desperate when I spied an old checkbook on a shelf.
When my family had moved from Tennessee to Mount Airy midway through my kindergarten year, my parents switched banks.
They ordered new checks, and Dad gave me one set of checks to use while playing make-believe with my big sister. I’d write out checks for a new TV or a car and give them to Kim; or I’d just play with them by myself, dreaming up some grand adventure like traveling the world and going on a safari like some Tarzan Theater movie I watched every Sunday morning on Channel 45.
In my keen 7-year-old mind, I was certain that I could write a check for my lunches, and the teacher would be none the wiser.
I carefully filled out the amount, trying to be neater than my clumsy hand normally could write.
Then I got to the signature for the bottom. I knew that my mom had signed things for school before: checks, report cards, permission slips. But the teacher had no idea how Dad signed his name.
And I’d seen Dad’s signature. It was awful. Big, jagged lines in a heavy hand that would snap any pencil lead. Shoot, I could fake that no problem.
But where would Dad sign it? Mom always signed the right side, but there was an empty blank on the left that I never saw her use. To my young mind, this was simple. Dads sign on the left, moms sign on the right. Simple.
After a couple of tries at my dad’s signature on a scrap piece of paper, I signed his name to the memo line of the check. It looked pretty good to me.
I got to school that morning and confidently walked up to the teacher’s desk and laid that check down.
A little while later the teacher called me back to her desk. In a hushed tone she asked, “Do you REALLY think this is how your dad would fill out a check?”
It was a very clever move. She didn’t actually tell me where I went wrong (which would have educated me on how to do a better job the next time I might feel the urge to write a check). She just said it wasn’t how my dad would do it.
I looked at the check and realized I’d never filled in the date. No way my parents would have missed a detail like that. I knew I was busted, and my face fell.
I would be placed in handcuffs and taken to jail. I’d have to be in a photo facing forward and turning to the right. I would only get bread and water for food while wearing a uniform of black and white stripes. There would be some sort of manual labor where you broke rocks with a sledgehammer (which never made sense, because weren’t there already enough small rocks in the world?).
The teacher gave me a little speech in a soft tone so the other kids couldn’t hear. Then she said my mom could just send lunch money the next day.
That’s it? Send money the next day? Not only did I feel guilty about getting caught, I also was an idiot for not knowing that “tomorrow” was a viable answer.
I never told my parents about that incident, so when they read this in the Thursday paper, let me say, “Sorry. My bad.”
Jeff is the managing editor and can be reached at 415-4692.