Sunday, December 17, 2006

Teaching Kids To Do The Right Thing: 19 Year Old Theater Usher Finds And Returns 24k To Rightful Owner

This Newsday story hit home tonight as I was thinking about what to blog about. Seems this small business woman/mom was scurrying around with cash receipts and hadn't gotten to the bank before she had to take her child to the movies. After the movie she realized she lost a satchel that contained Twenty Four Thousand ($24,000.00)Dollars in cash in it. It had dropped out between the seats in the theater. The usher, one Christopher Montgomery of Lynbrook, found the satchel and the money and took it to his manager. The owner of the money was reunited with the cash and it saved her Christmas and probably a bunch of months receipts to come. She offered Christopher a reward but he refused. I like this kid.

People who know Christopher say this comes as no surprise to them. What surprises me is that it would surprise anyone. I agree that what Christopher did was admirable and reflects well not only on him but on his entire family, especially his parents, however, it ought to be the norm not the surprising exception. Actually I think it is the norm.

I often am called upon to represent thieves. They are usually not thieves by profession. Usually they are thieves by opportunity, which is what Christopher would have been had he not been honest. I will represent these people, but I always have the same question; Why would you take something that isn't yours and keep it from the person who owned it?

The answer I get is often "I thought no one would miss it" or another way, I thought no one would notice. My other favorite is "everybody does it." No actually almost no one does it. "I was bored", "My friend said it would be okay" and "I don't know", round out the list.

I can understand a lot of it. I can't excuse it and I will not condone it. I am reminded of two personal stories.

When I was young, someone left a Davy Crockett BB Gun in my grandfather's store. I wanted a gun like that. Every kid at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal elementary school wanted one. After a day or two, when no one claimed it, my grandfather let me have it. Of course a day later the owner and his father came in. It didn't dawn on me not to return it. Of course I was disappointed because there was no way in h-ll my parents could have afforded one for me. Just, it wasn't mine.

My doting aunts (only a little older than me,) were upset. One said to my Grandfather "Daddy finders keepers." My Grandfather, who would have rather swallowed arsenic than disappoint me or my aunts looked upset. My mom (his eldest daughter) stepped in and said, "Thank you for letting us borrow your gun" and looked at me. I knew what she wanted and said, "Yeah it was fun." The boy said, "You know, if you ever want to borrow it again, just come on over to my house. Maybe we can shoot together." The boy's dad looked at my mom, me and my Grandfather and said "Thank you for your honesty, it is a gift to him from my father,who he has never met. He lives in Germany. He was heartbroken when he mislaid it." He offered me a reward which, truth be told at 7 years old I would have taken, but my mom said "You don't accept money for doing what's right." So I didn't, though I always wanted to ask if that meant you should accept money for doing what's wrong, but why risk that look mother's give when you say stuff like that. As for the boy who lost the gun? He and I remain friends to this day. Funny how stuff like that works out.

The other story concerned my dad. It took place a few years later. I had gone with him to buy a cake for a combined birthday/Christmas party we always had for my dad and his brother who were born on the same day 7 years apart. Their birthdays were a couple of days before Christmas. When we came home, my father realized that the girl at the counter had given me more change than she should have. A lot more. I gave her a five and she gave me change of a Fifty! I hadn't noticed because as usual I wasn't paying attention to the change, I was checking out the Strawberry shortcakes (I am a strawberry fanatic.)

When I gave Dad his change, we noticed the difference. I got the usual speech about paying attention and then we had to figure out what to do. It was too late to go back. So I called and the owner and the girl in the store were still there. I told them what happened and asked if they would wait for us to drive back. He said he would and when we got there I gave her the money. She was about 18. I was maybe 11 or 12. She had been crying. The owner told my father that he was going to take the money she was short out of her pay. 50 bucks was a lot of money in 1970.

She thanked me and the owner offered me a five dollar bill. I think he might have been skeptical of my story of how I got the change until I told him I didn't want the money, but I'd love one of those strawberry shortcake pieces. He obliged. That was the best Strawberry shortcake I have ever had.

Every time I went into that store from then on, I was treated like royalty. It was the best feeling. The morale of the stories though are best summed up as follows:

The value of a man, is not what he does when everyone is looking, but rather, what he does when no one will ever find out what it is he has done.

I thank God for my Mom and Dad. Christopher Montgomery should too, and judging by his actions he probably is the kind of kid who does. My Dad would have been 74 on Friday December 22. Happy Birthday in Heaven Dad, I miss you.
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