I was six years old and my sister, Sally Kay, was a submissive three.For some reason, I thought we needed to earn some money. I decided we should “hire out” as maids. We visited the neighbors, offering to clean houses for them for a quarter cents.
Reasonable as our offer was, there were no takers. But one neighbor telephoned Mother to let her know what Mary Alice and Sally Kay were doing. Mother had just hung up the phone when we came bursting through the back door, into the kitchen of our apartment.“Girls,”Mother asked, “ Why were you two going around the neighborhood telling people you would clean their houses?”
Mother wasn't angry with us. In fact, we learned afterwards, she was amused that we had come up with such an idea. But, for some reason, we both denied having done any such thing. Shocked and terribly hurt that her dear little girls could be such “bold-faced liars,” Mother then told us that Mrs. Jones had just called to tell her we had been to her house and said we would clean it for a quarter.
Faced with the Truth, we admitted what we had done. Mother said that we had “fibbed.” We had not told the Truth. She was sure that we knew better. She tried to explain why a fib hurt but she didn't feel that we really understood.
Years later, she told us that the “lesson” she came up with for trying to teach us to be truthful would probably have been frowned upon by child psychologists. The idea came to her in a flash… and our tender-hearted mother told us it was the most difficult lesson she ever taught us. It was a lesson we never forgot.
After admonishing us, Mother cheerfully began preparing for lunch. As we munched on sandwiches, she asked, “ Would you two like to go to the movies this afternoon?”
“Wow! Would we ever!” We wondered what movie would be playing. Mother said The Matinee. Oh, fantastic! We would be going to The matinee! Weren't we lucky? We got bathed and all dressed up. It was like getting ready for a birthday party. We hurried outside the apartment, not wanting to miss the bus that would take us downtown. On the landing, Mother stunned us by saying, “Girls, we are not going to the movies today.”
We didn't hear her right. “What?” we objected. “What do you mean? Aren't we going to The Matinee? Mommy, you SAID we were going to go the The Matinee!”
Mother stooped and gathered us in her arms. I couldn't understand why there were tears in her eyes. We still had time to get the bus. But hugging us, she gently explained that this was what a fib felt like.
“It is important that what we SAY is TRUE,” Mother said, “ I fibbed to you just now and it felt awful to me. I don't ever want to fib again and I'm sure you don't want to fib again either. People must be able to believe each other. Do you understand?”
We assured her that we understood. We would never forget.
And since we had learned the lesson. Why not go on to The Matinee? There was still time.
“Not today,” Mother told us. We would go another time.
That is how, over fifty years ago, my sister and I learned to be truthful. We have never forgotten how much a fib can hurt.