What makes good people do bad things?

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By David Davis

I knew this kid growing up. He was a good kid, quiet, friendly. I liked him. I liked his sister better. I never knew of Sonny doing anything truly bad, just kid stuff, teenager stuff, stuff that I hope he grew out of.

He and his sister were raised by their father, Shorty, a single parent, who mowed yards and probably collected welfare for a living. I grew up in a very small, rural town. It was in an agricultural area and once a retail hub where farmers and their families shopped. Then came WWII and it seemed like most people moved to Dallas to go to work. The town was dying, but it never seemed to take its last breath. So, most of the people I knew were on government assistance in one form or another.

Shorty worked hard mowing lawns. Back then, landscapers were as strange to me as a Toyota or a Datsun (Nissan). There was no such thing as a Honda car or motorcycle, at least in America. If I ever saw a Toyota, Datsun or a landscaper, it was only because they were lost or I was lost. A lot of people unfamiliar with local roads took a wrong turn on their way to Lake Texoma, but found themselves lost in my little hometown where the main highway through the once vibrant downtown came to a dead end.

No self-respecting American would ever buy a Japanese- or German-built anything because we still remembered Pearl Harbor and two World Wars in Europe. Everything was made in America.

But, Shorty would tuck a bandanna or handkerchief into his hip pocket and set a gallon jug of regular gas and a gallon jug of water on his lawnmower. He pushed the mower up one, hot, dusty dirt streets and down another, from one yard to the next until one of the old widow women let him mow their yard for $3. It seems most lawnmowers and garden tractors came from a Montgomery Ward or Sears spring or winter catalogue. Clothing came from the J.C. Penney catalogue.

I never heard anyone refer to their yard as a lawn. There were church yards, school yards and then there were yards — mostly of Johnson grass, clover and maybe a little bit of Bermuda grass. In my mind, clover was a grass and dandelions were flowers and if there was any Bermuda grass, then that was fine too.

Shorty was a good man, a hard-working man. I don’t think he went to church, but his brother was the song leader in the Church of Christ, so I knew that Shorty knew about God.

Sonny knew about God. He had a conscience and immediately confessed to anything he did once he was caught. I met him one day as we were walking along the street in front of the school.

He was carrying a fishing rod with an open-face reel. We stopped to talk and I was about ready to suggest that I go get my rod and open-face reel because I couldn’t cast with it and I thought maybe he could show me how to use it. He seemed a bit uneasy around me and that’s how I remember him to this day, a bit uneasy.

“That’s a nice rod and reel,” I said. “It looks a lot like the one I have.”

Mine was in the attic of a house we’d just moved from. I never went fishing, so it was just up there in the attic catching dust.

“You want it?” he asked.

“No, I don’t want it,” I replied.

“Here, you can have it. Take it, I don’t want it,” he said as he shoved it into my hands and hurriedly walked away.

I carried the rod and reel to the old house where I intended to put it in the attic with the other one, but, as it turned out, it was the other one!