By Stephanie Cavanaugh
I RECENTLY read, in some Agony Aunt* column or other, that picking up bits of broken plants fallen to the floor of a garden center is stealing.
I’ve twice been guilty of what I consider actual theft, although in the second instance I still feel the act was (somewhat) excusable.
The first was when I was perhaps 9 years old. Could have been 8. But I was let loose in a McGrory or Woolworth’s and, heeding some demonic whim, I lifted a bottle of nail polish. I don’t recall the brand or color, but let us say it was sparkly pink. I do recall I got the shakes as I stuffed the bottle in my pocket or whatnot and hustled out the door waiting for screams of Thief! Thief!
Was I disappointed not to have landed behind bars? I don’t recall.
Anyway, I never used the polish. I was too ashamed, and my mother would ask where it came from and I’m not good at lying. It was stuffed in the back of a drawer where it languished. . . .
The second time, I was a teenager cruising Macy’s, the flagship store featured in Miracle on 34th Street (was Macy’s yet a chain?). It was not an inviting place, as I recall. The lighting was dreary and the wooden escalators went rickety-clack between floors. Some years later they would add snoot: completely remodeling and adding a fancy deli, in an attempt at Harrods upscale. That was around the time Bloomingdale’s transitioned from the place to buy housekeeping sundries and maids’ uniforms to the Bloomingdale’s where you loitered about looking for a Saturday night date.
Anyway. Macy’s. I was there because I needed sunglasses and I parked myself at the counter and found a pair in a sale basket that probably cost two bucks, about my budget, and I looked at the salesgirl (that’s what we called them back then) and she ignored me for obviously better prospects draped in mink and Gucci buckled shoes. It was as if I were invisible, a feeling I experienced again only when I passed 65.
I was ignored for so long and so rudely that I palmed those sunglasses and wandered off, feeling puffed up and morally justified. At first I moved casually, then at speed, out of the store and into the sun.
I’m not sure if I ever again wore those shades; they may well have gone into the Drawer of Shame to nuzzle the nail polish.
And so, I thought, I’d closed out my history of larceny.
But now! It seems I’m a career criminal, unapologetically lifting sprigs of this, broken bits of that, which fall from garden-center pots and baskets. I DO NOT PLUCK from plants for sale (well . . . maybe once or twice when I considered the price of the pot highway robbery). These were stray bits that would, no doubt, be tromped upon then broomed into the trash. Really? The store would take these sad leavings and pot them up? I don’t think so.
I would, however, and did and do. This is not thievery, it is rescue. I’ve taken these sorry snippets without a tremor and will continue to do so until my tetchy knees will no longer bend to reach them, or allow me to stand up again.
Those bits so tenderly stuffed into my purse or pocket will come home to rest in porch pots and as they grow into plants are removed to places of glory in the garden.
Or, anyway, a spot in the garden.
*Agony Aunt. A delightful British term for advice columnist.