My dad never said he used a five finger discount and I would never call him a thief. Yet, on occasion my dad would talk about things he could buy at a good price. He said the items had fallen off the back of a truck. As the meat manager in the A & P supermarket my dad would snicker when reminding us how he took advantage of selecting the best cuts of meat, slicing them to the perfect size to feed his family. He took pride when reminding us we ate better than the other families in our neighborhood. After all, he was the butcher.
As an adult I came to appreciate the benefit of my dad being a butcher. There were no vegetarians in our house. In particular I remember mom cooking up a porterhouse steak big enough to feed our family of six. There was usually enough leftovers for a steak sandwich the next day. From brisket to pot roast to lamb chops we were definitely a meat and potatoes eating family.
Each week my dad brought home a grocery bag full of meat. Mom would re-package it for freezing. One evening while I was helping her I noticed a huge ham. The price sticker indicated it was a chicken. “Mom,” I said, “this is a ham, why does it say chicken?” Rolling her eyes and shaking her head, she snapped, “That’s your father.” The implication, of course, was that since dad cut and priced the meat at the store, he controlled what the price tag said.
When I was in high school I wanted a Navy pea coat. My girlfriend, JoAnne, had one. Consider, too that watching the Coast Guard Sailors walking the boardwalk in Atlantic City was a favorite past time of mine. I was convinced that having a navy pea coat would make me a sailor. You can imagine how excited I was when my dad arrived home from work one evening. “Hey, look what I brought you,” he exclaimed. I caught the heavy wool coat as he tossed to me. I could barely contain my excitement. Before I could get one arm in the sleeve, my mother was raging. “Take it back,” she shrieked.” “But mom,” I begged. “It has real brass buttons.” (Maybe the buttons were plastic, what did I know.) The point was I so wanted this coat. Mom’s ranting told me to give it up.
Slowly, with pent up anger, I handed the coat back to my dad. The rest of the night my mom orated to no one in particular. “Now the police are going to come to the house and arrest you. What am I going to tell the neighbors? Get that stuff out of my house.”
Throughout mom’s rant my dad kept his sense of humor. Behind her back he mimicked a 10-year-old by placing his thumbs on the sides of his head while wiggling his fingers. If you were close to him you could hear him whisper, Na na Na na Na. Much to my chagrin, the navy pea coat vanished. I never got to wear. Not even once.
Over the years my dad would tell my mom other trucks had lost their cargo. I don’t remember the details of the items. Things like furniture or a washing machine were not uncommon. Regardless her response was always the same. You would have thought he robbed a bank. Maybe my dad’s behavior showed a bit of indiscretion, but he was hardly a criminal. If you ever spent time with my dad, you would know he was just a man taking advantage of what seemed like a reasonable deal.