Monday, May 07, 2012

Chocolate Liberty

Photo by P.R.Frank

This week my friend sent me this photo as he led students on a trip to NYC.  It reminded me of a story:

When I was in elementary school the Statue of Liberty was refurbished and celebrated its 100th birthday.  On the shirt-tails of the media hype, and to earn money, our school sold mini chocolate Statue of Liberties.  They were akin to Easter chocolate bunnies, but more patriotic.

I sold a few to friends and neighbors and was given them in a brown grocery bag to transport home on the school bus.  They came with a stern warning not to take them out of the bag, or box, or touch them, or look at them sideways until they were safely in their paying owner's possession.

Not five minutes into a forty minute bus ride, I had all of them out, on the green bus seat, admiring them: the shiny plastic window, the blue box, and mostly, the amount of chocolate in my private possession.  

Not 6 minutes into the forty minute bus ride, the engine of my big yellow school bus caught on fire.  The driver pulled over in a cloud of smoke, and the big kids in the back pulled open the emergency door.  The driver told all of us to leave the bus as quickly and orderly as possible and to leave all our things on the bus. 

I felt my eight year old heart pounding in my ears.   It was pounding with fear, yes, but mostly with guilt.  There was the empty brown bag, all the chocolate in a heap on the seat, and most of the bus length between me and the emergency exit.  Did I leave the chocolate on the seat and expose my rebellion?  Did burn up in an exploding school bus?  These were the questions my adrenaline was pushing through my mind.

I scrambled to stuff the chocolate back into the bag and exit through the back, just as the driver doused the fire with an extinguisher.  Mrs. Fitzpatrick would never know.  I sacrificed my safety for chocolate.

I stood in a line with the other students, our backs to the trashy miner's cabins that would soon be torn down, and waited for the rescue bus.

Still to this day, when I see that green statue, my stomach does a flip from the memory of the fire and the guilt.

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