In order to become a member, one had to pass through an initiation which was to steal something from a downtown Harlan store without getting caught. I knew the commandment “Thy shalt not steal,” but the desire to be accepted by the clique overpowered my conscience. Ambling through Newberry’s Five and Ten Cent Store, managed by Mr. Frank Hasty, I saw a small lapel pin which resembled a tiny ball of yarn with two toothpicks stuck through it which looked like miniature knitting needles. It was so small I could steal it and hide it easily, which I did. I took the loot to the older girls, showed them what I had done, was congratulated and deemed thereafter “a member of the club.”
But, membership and acceptance by the older girls was not what it was cracked up to be. My conscience kept plaguing me for having stolen, for being a thief, for breaking a commandment. The guilt was just too much. I never told the older girls, but I returned to Newberry’s, confessed to Mr. Hasty what I had done and asked for his pardon and forgiveness. You can believe me when I say returning that stolen pin one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But my conscience was so relieved when he smiled at me softly, patted me on the shoulder, congratulated me for being honest and forgave my transgression. Not only that, but as a reward for my being honest, he gave the pin back to me as a gift. That, dear friends, is the first and last thing I ever stole. The experience was agony. From childhood I had been brought up in the church and was aware of the sin I had committed. Conscience is a wonderful thing which pinches and pursues anyone who breaks the law of God or man. Certainly, I learned that lesson the hard way and was never tempted again to break the commandment.
The older girls meant no harm. The initiation into their exclusive club was more or less a joke to them and I am sure they did not realize the broader and deeper implication. Now, as an adult, when I see a ball of yarn penetrated by knitting needles, I am painfully reminded of the experience I had many years ago as a common thief. It matters not how small or large the object, or its cost; stealing is stealing. The importance of that principle is forever rooted in my being. The incident began as a prank having to do with an overpowering desire to “belong.” It came home to me in a very dramatic fashion that if one has to break a commandment in order to belong, it isn’t worth it. Succumbing to peer pressure “ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.”