I loved Miss Miller. I was sure that she was the best teacher ever. I was barely five years old and in the first grade--the youngest student in the class. We were learning how to read and to write and how to hold our pencils properly to write clearly. There was a small library of books in the back of the classroom. And Miss Miller would choose a different book each day and read it to us. I just couldn’t wait to be able to read all those books by myself.
Our classroom was on the first floor and in the left hand corner of the brick building called Public School Number Eight. My seat was near one of the giant windows that went all the way up to the ceiling. Sometimes the sun shone so brightly on my desk that I had to hold my hand over my eyes to shade them.
Rosalind sat next to me. I did not like Rosalind. She was rich and had a different dress on every day and she even had lots of shoes to match her dresses. She would say to me, “You wore that dress on Monday. Is that all the dresses that you have?” Or she would say, “Is that the only pair of shoes you own?” Then one day she said, “I’m going shopping after school to buy more clothes. I’m getting tired of the ones I have.” I don’t think I was jealous of her clothes, I just hated her for always being so nasty to me.
On this particular day, Miss Miller announced that we were going to make a surprise Christmas present for our mothers and to do that we must all bring in a clean mayonnaise jar. In looking back, she must have said that the jar was to be used to make a surprise for our mothers at Christmastime so don’t tell her about the surprise. What I heard her say is that because it was a surprise for our mothers we were not to say anything about it to our mothers. I sat there lost in my confusion. How could I get a jar, a mayonnaise jar, from home without talking to my mother? As a good Italian girl with Italian parents and living in an Italian neighborhood, I knew that Italians did not eat mayonnaise. Nobody. Nada. No one. It was white and it jiggled. And it even looked funny. I had no understanding about how or why people would eat mayonnaise.
I walked home slowly, wondering all the way about how I would get a clean mayonnaise jar or even a dirty one. I asked my Aunt Vinnie who lived upstairs if she had a mayonnaise jar. No. She never used mayonnaise. I knew that all the other Italian mamas that were our neighbors didn’t use mayonnaise either. And, I could not ask my mother because it was to be a surprise. I wondered if that nice lady across the street, Mrs. Kelly ate mayonnaise. She’s Irish. Maybe Irish people eat mayonnaise. But I couldn’t go over there because I was not allowed to cross the street on my own and I couldn’t ask Mama if I could go without telling her the surprise.
I know now, as an adult, that I could have told Miss Miller that we didn’t eat mayonnaise at my house and she would have brought in a jar from her home. But I was afraid that she would think badly of me if she knew that we never ate mayonnaise at our house. This might be a mortal sin to her. I also know now that I could have used one of my mother’s quart canning jars. But, five year olds don’t know these things.
As the days progressed, other kids began bringing in mayonnaise jars. They were put on the wide wooden shelf by the door at the end of the cloakroom with each person’s name written on a piece of paper and taped to her personal jar. Then one day Miss Miller said that some of us had not brought in our jars and that all jars had to be in by Friday so that we could begin our project. I panicked. What to do? What to do!
On Friday morning I arrived early and was the first one there. Miss Miller was not at her desk as I walked into the long cloakroom and took off my boots. I put them in my assigned space and hung up my coat, hat and gloves on my hook. I looked over at the shelf filled with jars and impulsively grabbed one of the jars and ripped off the name printed on it. The name was Rosalind. I quickly walked to my desk and started reading something.
That afternoon Miss Miller said that everyone should get their jars and bring them to their seats. I raced up front, picked up the one with no name on it and rushed back to my seat. Rosalind was up front telling Miss Miller that she could not find her jar. Then she looked at me, went over to Miss Miller’s desk and whispered something in the teacher’s ear. Miss Miller came over to my desk and asked to see my jar. I handed it to her. She looked it over and then said, “Are you sure this is your jar?”
“Oh, yes,” I lied. “I brought it in this morning.” Rosalind pointed to me and said, “She stole my jar.”
I raised my voice and cried out, “I did not! It’s mine.” Miss Miller looked at me and then at Rosalind and then back again to me. “Well, let’s not start this project today. We’ll start it on Monday.” I sunk into my seat, head down, tears in both eyes. My wonderful teacher, Miss Miller, knows that I am a liar. And a thief! I cried intermittently the rest of the day and didn’t do anything right. When the bell rang to go home, I ran to the cloakroom grabbed my things and ran out of school without even putting on my coat.
My whole weekend was ruined because of the specter of what would happen to me on Monday. On Monday morning, I trudged to school expecting to have to face up to that nasty deed that I had done. When class started, Miss Miller said, “I think this morning we will start with our Christmas project. Everyone get your jars. I got up and, hesitatingly, walked up to the wooden shelf and there in the front was a jar marked, ‘Norma’ and another one marked ‘Rosalind’. I know now that Miss Miller brought in the extra jar and I was never reprimanded for my dark deed. I loved Miss Miller even more after this.
I have never told a living soul about this crime, but have carried that sin in the recesses of my mind for the rest of my life. Okay, I admit it. I lied and I stole. Now after all these years, I confess this to all of you to clear my conscience of that dark deed. It WAS Rosalind’s jar. And I’ll take any punishment that will be required. I admit to being a recovering mayonnaise jar thief. BUT, I have not stolen any mayonnaise jars since that day. Not one! Today I can walk down any grocery store mayonnaise jar aisle and not even be tempted. Of course, today so many of the jars are made of that awful plastic stuff. Ugh!