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Opinion

Lessons I Learned from Elvis

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People, don’t you understand the child needs a helping hand or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day Take a look at you and me, are we too blind to see, do we simply turn our heads and look the other way Let me take you back a few months… just before the birth of this website. Cristy (who happens to be an Elvis fanatic) and I were in Colorado for the holidays.  We spent three wonderful weeks at my mom’s house.  We had a friend house-sitting for us, taking care of our menagerie of pets – a dog, a ring-necked parrot, a red-tailed boa constrictor and about 12 cats that decided that our porch looked like a good place to live.  Our house-sitter calls us one night and asks if we had left the door to the car ajar.  We told her that it was a distinct possibility and she told us that she had closed the door and we thought nothing else about it until a few days later. The house sitter was gone on Christmas weekend and Cristy’s parents and brother were taking turns checking in on the animals.  Cristy’s mom calls and says that the light was on in the car and that both the car door and the truck door were open slightly.  We asked her to lock the doors on the vehicles and make sure the doors were closed securely. When we returned home, we found that the money we had stashed in each vehicle, just in case our house sitter needed additional money for pet food or for gas, was gone.  It wasn’t like we were missing a small fortune.  There was a $20 bill in each vehicle plus another $15 or so in change, but the fact that someone has stolen the money out of our vehicles really got on our nerves. Fast forward to about a week after we launched the site. I’m standing in my kitchen pouring myself a glass of tea when I notice movement out of the corner of my eye. There’s a kid sneaking into my truck.   I see him through my kitchen window and he notices me.  I lit out for the front door and by the time I got there, the kid had put at least a hundred yards between me and him.  What he didn’t know is that I recognized him.  He’s a neighbor’s kid… and that neighbor and I are friends.  He didn’t know that. I went up to his house, which is right around the bend from mine, and spoke with his sister.  I asked her to tell her mom to either call or come see me and told her that I had caught her little brother stealing money out of my truck. A few days passed and I never heard from my neighbor.  Cristy finally ran into her and her daughter at the store.  Cristy related the story of me catching “Little Johnny” breaking into my truck, and how that I asked “Little Suzy” to tell her (my neighbor, who we’ll call “Jane”) to call me.  Needless to say, Jane was highly upset and Suzy was the immediate recipient of her wrath.  Suzy got her punishment and when Jane got home Johnny got his.  He claimed that he had only stolen 50 cents and for that admission, got a good, old-fashioned belting. Then he really got punished. Jane brought Little Johnny down to the house to apologize to me and tell me how he was gonna pay back the 50 cents he stole.  What Jane had not been told was the real amount that Little Johnny had absconded with.  When she learned that the total was in excess of $55, she flipped out.  She began crying out of sheer embarrassment.  She wanted to know where the money had gone, because there was nothing to show for it… no new video games, no new clothes… nothing.  “What in the world did you do with fifty bucks?” Little Johnny began to cry even harder than he had been already. Don’t get me wrong, I was really mad at Little Johnny, but this crying episode was really bothering me.  Then Little Johnny related the story of why he stole the money and I got even madder, but not at Little Johnny… Little Johnny had been being bullied at school and had been beaten up once already.  As it turns out, there was a kid at school threatening Little Johnny with physical harm if he didn’t get five dollars a day.  Little Johnny said that the bully had told him “If I don’t get that money, I’m gonna mess your face up so bad that your momma won’t know who you are when she sees you.” He said that he had told his teachers and his principal, but that they had not taken any action and he was still having to deal with the bully.  Needless to say, after a call from an angry parent, the bully was dealt with. One of our other neighbors has a son who we’ll call “Travis.”  Travis’ dad found out that Johnny had stolen some money from us and now Travis and Johnny, who used to be best friends, aren’t allowed to play together.  They’re 10 years old.  Travis has been told that Johnny is a thief and that thieves are bad people who don’t deserve his friendship.  Did I mention that the two kids are only 10 years old. Little Johnny agreed that he would help me and Cristy clean off our porch and/or clean up the yard when the weather warmed up. Cristy and I decided that Little Johnny needed to do more than that, though.  He needed to spend some time with us and learn a few things… like how to do some crafty stuff, like paint t-shirts… learn to cook cupcakes… learn to play tennis… Jane is a single mother with two jobs and struggles to make ends meet.  Suzy is 15 and works with her mom sometimes.  They clean houses.  That leaves Little Johnny at home alone. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being a latch-key kid… I was.  My mom was a single parent (Dad died when I was seven) who went to school full-time and had three jobs.  We struggled to make ends meet and that meant that I had to spend lots of time at home alone, but back then, things were different.  The neighborhood parents didn’t worry if a child had done something wrong, they showered them with love – and discipline – and moved on… business as usual.  Kids were kids and they were gonna screw up…   I had plenty of play pals and their parents helped to look out for me. Little Johnny only had the one play pal, and that’s sad.  So, in an effort to make Little Johnny’s life turn out much better than the young man’s life in Elvis’ hit song, Cristy and I decided that we weren’t gonna “turn our heads and look the other way.” I don’t know if it will work, but it’s damned sure worth a shot.  Little Johnny’s life is worth a helluva lot more than some measly 55 bucks ever meant to me. We’re having fun with Little Johnny.  Sometimes we just sit here at the house and watch cartoons, sometimes we go do fun stuff, sometimes we just talk… about life… school… work…  and sometimes he just sits here and plays on the computer. But you know what?  If he’s sitting here playing on my computer, he’s not being beaten up by some bully at school, he’s not learning how to steal to survive…  he’s learning that he’s not alone and that he is loved by someone else other than his family. I have hope.  Hope that Little Johnny will grow up and be a leader and an example of what a person should be! By the way… just the other day as Little Johnny was leaving for the day, he grabbed Cristy and hugged her tight and said, “I love you!”  Cristy says, “That’s got to be one of the most important I love you’s ever.” We love you, too, Little Johnny!

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