The Vista Cruiser was packed to the hilt with bags filled of food, diapers for my brothers, clothes, books, and as many other things as we could fit inside. When I was young, summers on Prudence Island were simple and yet filled with anticipation.
Visitors would occasionally come to the island to see what we were up to and that would always be a nice change of pace from our back to basics routine. Relatives and family friends would come in large groups, usually for day trips, giving us the chance to show off our island.
One summer, things were a little different. I was about ten or eleven years old and being the oldest of six, I was the first of my siblings to be allowed to have a friend visit the island by herself AND spend the night in our crazy rented summer home! This was quite extraordinary – even for island standards – and I was beyond excited.
Alicia Philippe was a classmate and she was so pretty. She had shiny dark brown hair that rested just below her shoulder. She also wore the latest styles from popular brands at the time. I remember being envious of her fashion sense, wishing I could dress like her. Looks aside, one thing I noticed right away when she got off the boat was her new wallet. Oh – it was so clever! The velcro wallet was all the rage in the 80s – made out of a durable nylon fabric with tons of pouches – and if you were lucky, you could have a design on the exterior. Boy, did I want one just like it! I knew there would be a fat chance of me getting one as it would have been considered low on the priority list – food and diapers seemed to be where it was at back then.
I probably thought, “What will I do with Alicia first?” I’m sure I made a mental list of dozens of things that we could explore on the island. Maybe she’d like to ride bikes over to Canario’s to buy some penny candy – my favorite was the pack of gum dressed up like cigarettes that actually “blew” smoke, a.k.a. sugar on the end! Or what about taking her to Sandy Point to jump off the docks? How about asking my mom to take us digging for clams on the West Shore. When it got dark, a game of Capture the Flag with the kids living around us could be fun. Maybe she’d like to visit the gift shop to purchase a rope bracelet just like mine? Ooh – I know I probably wanted to show her the rock houses I’d built by layering super thin rocks. Perhaps she’d like to play “house” with my brothers’ matchbox cars? That might have seemed too babyish – I bet I held off on that one.
It was nearing the time for Alicia to get to the ferry so she could head back home. The ride was about a half hour, making 1-2 stops before reaching its final destination in Bristol.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the wallet. Alicia ended up leaving it behind. It’s possible that I put the wallet in a different spot, say a closed dresser drawer in my shared bedroom before her departure, but she was not privy to this information.
I remember thinking she would notice that she didn’t have the wallet with the rest of her belongings and my plan would be foiled. Nope. I couldn’t believe my luck! The wallet was so calling my name.
“Mom, look what I found!” I innocently exclaimed. “It must have been left here by the family before ours. Finders keepers!”
My mom – bless her heart – went along with my little scheme at the start. She was quick to point out that the person who left it was probably looking for it, and maybe even a little sad about the loss. She suggested that we leave the wallet where we found it in case the person came back looking for it, knowing full-well that it was Alicia’s wallet. If only I hadn’t made such a big fuss about Alicia’s wallet, maybe I could have fooled the tired mother of six. Nonetheless, I wanted that wallet and by default, it became mine for what was left of that summer on Prudence Island.
Call it what you will, but I do believe my conscience intervened and helped me realize my misstep. As summer neared a close, and we packed our things back into the Vista Cruiser to head home and start a new school year, I decided that Alicia should have her wallet back. Somehow, the velcro wallet that I’d temporarily made my own, was returned to its rightful owner.
I accepted that I made a mistake claiming someone else’s property as my own and I learned how smart my mom really was. She never accused me of wrongdoing, which she could have easily done. Instead, she let me wrestle with my own choices, probably faithfully praying that I would eventually see the light.