Seventy years ago I was in the eighth grade. It was a good time in Portland. Mr. S was our principal, a large balding man with a stern gaze.
In the middle of the year, he called an assembly to announce a schoolwide fundraising event. The students were to sell magazine subscriptions, with competition between the seventh and eighth grades as well as between each homeroom. Mr. S appointed me the chairman of the drive.
Each homeroom had an agent whose job was to bring the money and subscription information to my homeroom, where I would put it in my lift-top desk while I recorded each room’s performance. After that I would take the money to the office, where Mr. S would place it in the school safe.
On the final day, a large amount of new subscriptions and cash pushed us over our goal. There was a great cheer and celebration as I gave out prizes to all, especially to the seventh-graders, who’d bested their elders.
Partway through the first period, I was summoned to the principal’s office. Aha – I expected nothing less than the Nobel Prize for magazine sales!
Instead, Mr. S was sitting rather sternly behind his desk when he said that I had not brought the weekly money to his office. Oh, my, in our celebration, I had forgotten. I apologized and said I would go quickly to get it. I interrupted the class in session and went to my desk, opened the desk top and found it – empty! I quickly looked in adjacent desks – no money.
I then began a walk of a thousand miles back to the office. How would I repay the loss? Could I expand my morning paper route? Or work an extra night setting up pins in the bowling alley? Would a bank give a 12-year-old a loan? Would the police be called? Would I go to jail? Worse yet, would my parents find out?
Trembling and near tears, I arrived back in Mr. S’s office. Only then did he tell me that he personally had gone and retrieved the money and it was secure in the safe. He gave me a brief lecture on responsibility, which I deserved, then he beamed, stood and came around his desk to shake my hand and pat me on the back for a job well done.
To say that I danced back to my first class would be an understatement. Child psychologists of today might question the “teachable moment” of Mr. S, but not its effectiveness.
I met Mr S several times over the years. He always seemed interested in my career as he did of all students. He never mentioned that morning ever again – he didn’t have to.