Joe and I needed some matches. I don’t remember why. Maybe someone had some firecrackers.

So we went to Corner Grocery and walked off with a few books of them near the checkout counter. I knew right away we shouldn’t be doing this. We were about 9.

Joe could tell I felt guilty about it and he took advantage of it. For the next couple of months he kept reminding me that I stole them. I found out much later that they were just the free ones they gave to customers buying cigarettes. He, of course, knew that since his folks smoked.

“I might tell,” Joe would say whenever he felt like it. I was devastated. My folks would kill me if they knew. I was raised in a pretty strict Lutheran family and you just did not steal. I felt physically sick over it. Even my mother could sense that something was wrong. Every time the phone rang I thought it was him calling.

“Mrs. Johnson, this is Joe. I just wanted to tell you that Randy stole some matches from Corner Grocery.” I could hear him say that over and over, even though he never did call.

One day he just smiled and said he wouldn’t tell and had just been kidding all along. I was bigger than him and should have pounded him right there. But I was so relieved I just smiled back and said I knew it all the time. Heck, he was just a guilty as I was.

This was one of those tiny turns in your life that change you forever and you never forget.

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