I’ve heard of people who could forget bad memories by removing them from their mind. I choose to keep all my memories, good or bad.
Once I was promoted to the rank of detective sergeant. I was placed in the plainclothes division, the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. This shift dealt with a lot of shoplifting cases.
This particular incident involved a call to a grocery store to pick up a shoplifter. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. When I arrived at the store, I was told they were holding the suspect in the manager’s office.
As I approached the office, I saw a little old lady standing in front of a rack of cakes. She appeared to be eating one of the cakes. As I approached the two men who were standing there with her, one of them walked off.
“You call the police?” I asked the one remaining.
He pointed to the little old lady. “Take her and charge her with shoplifting.”
I looked at the little old lady and I knew he could see the disbelief on my face. She had to be at least 80 years old and couldn’t have weighed more than 75 pounds. I watched as she ate the cake she had taken from the rack.
Turning to the clerk, I asked, “Are you going to prosecute this old lady?”
“Yes” he replied. “The manager wants her put in jail for shoplifting.”
“Look at her,” I said. “She’s no thief. She’s an old lady who’s hungry.”
“I know, but I have to do what the manager says.”
“Where’s the manager?” I asked.
The clerk pointed toward a closed door and I headed that way. The clerk called after me, “He doesn’t want to talk to you.” I know I replied, “Tough. He will talk to me.”
I tried to open the door but it was locked. I knocked and a girl opened it. “I want to talk to the store manager,” I told her. She opened the door and I walked into the office.
The manager sat behind the desk with a frown on his face. He made it quite plain that he didn’t want to talk to me. Taking a chair that was in front of his desk, I plopped it down next to him. He had to swivel to look at me.
“What can I do for you, detective?” he asked.
“We need to talk about that old lady you have out there,” I said.
“I want her prosecuted for shoplifting,” he said.
“I can’t put her in jail for shoplifting,” I replied.
He smirked as he said, “And tell me why not?”
“She has done no shoplifting,” I said.
“She took a cake from the rack and ate it!” the manager exclaimed.
We sat there a good 30 minutes arguing back and forth. I finally got him to agree to let me pay for the cake, with a promise that she would not come back into his store. I put the little old lady in the car and, on the way to the station, I stopped and picked up a hamburger and some fries. When we arrived I took her to our break room, bought her a coke, and sat her down to eat.
A female dispatcher was on duty and I explained to her what was going on. I asked her to meet with the old lady and try to find out her name and where she lived. Meanwhile, I called family services and explained the situation. The lady from family services said she was not familiar with her, but she would call some of the caseworkers to try to find someone who was.
Then I went back to the break room to see if the dispatcher had found out anything. She explained that the old lady didn’t know what her name was or where she lived. The other dispatcher came to the door and told me I had a call from family services. I picked up the telephone and the lady explained that she was familiar with the case and told me to meet her on First Avenue. That was apparently where the old lady lived.
I took the lady to the address on First Avenue. The caseworker was waiting for us. She explained that the old lady lived by herself but recently she had begun to develop dementia. The only known relative, a son, lived somewhere in Tennessee. She said she had a telephone number and would get in touch with him tomorrow.
She wanted me to go in the house with her and look around. The door was unlocked and the lights were on, so we went inside. I noticed that the mail box was stuffed full of mail, so I took the stack and placed it on a table in the living room.
There were several checks in the stack of mail. There was no food in the house. I often wondered how long that old lady had gone without food before eating the cake at the store.
The caseworker explained she would take the lady to a safe place, where she would receive care until her son could be notified. We found a key for the house, locked up and went to the street where the lady was waiting. I tried to escort her to the caseworker’s car but she pulled back and headed over to my car. I explained to her that she would have to go with the caseworker.
Up to now she hadn’t spoke a word to me. Now she mumbled something that I didn’t quite catch, but have wondered about all these years.
The next day, when I arrived at work I had a message to call the lady from family services, who told me the son had come down taken her back to Tennessee with him. It was good to hear that the little old lady had been taken care of. I hoped that I would never run across a case like that again.
Those words she mumbled to me sure did sound like, “Don’t forget me, Mister.”