I've mentioned that my mom used to call me, and more specifically, my general behavior "peppery". It was a polite way of calling me a "smart ass".
And even though she wasn't always thrilled with my antics, she did know the difference between a "youthful indiscretion" and a "punishable offense".
The following is a great example of this. And while it's not a great overall story, it does illustrate the type of person she was and how nobody, not even the cops, had the right to mess with a mother lion and her cubs.
I had my first real run in with the law when I was 16 years old.
I say "first", but really, aside from a few traffic violations, as of this writing, it's been my only run in.
Late one night, I was walking past a Dunkin Donuts with two friends.
All three of us were in sophomores in High School and we had probably just split a 6 pack of Budweiser between us.
…because that's what suburban sophomores do…
We were joking around and carrying on. Being loud, but generally minding our own business.
At that time, right in front of Dunkin Donuts was a raised rectangular landscape box made of railroad ties.
And planted inside this box was a bunch of small perennial bushes.
For whatever reason, as a joke, I grabbed one of the plants, uprooted it and threw it at one of my friends.
Just basic goofy kid shenanigans.
The second this little, half-dead shrub left my hands…even before it went completely airborne, I heard sirens and saw red flashing lights.
And by the time the literal dirt hit the ground, I was in handcuffs.
It seems the cops were parked just to the side of Dunkin Donuts. In the shadows, with their lights off.
And yes, I fully acknowledge the "cops eating donuts" cliché. In fact, as I was being placed under arrest, I said "What a shock, cops at Dunkin Donuts".
Now, you're probably wondering why I was arrested.
Surely it can't be just because of my spontaneous midnight landscaping.
I mean, is that even an arrestable offense?
Don't these cops have anything better to do?
Who in their right mind would actually arrest a teenager for something so ridiculously trivial?
What kind of Nazi Gestapo is being funded by our tax dollars?
Well, those are exactly the questions my mom asked when she came down to the 4th precinct to get me.
When she first walked in, I could tell she was somewhat embarrassed and ashamed.
Having to collect your son from jail at 1:00 am is not an enviable position for any parent to be in.
But once she was told what had happened and why I had been arrested, she went from being contrite to being irate.
She demanded to see the arresting officers and when they finally appeared, she tore into them without hesitation or mercy.
Delivering her own special one-two combination of "Who the hell" and "What the fuck" and finally finishing them off with a roundhouse flurry of personal insults and admonishments.
It was nothing short of spectacular.
Watching these two grandstanding blowhards being reduced to emotional rubble by a woman half their size and twice their age was pure bliss.
And in the end, they both apologized and admitted that I never should have been arrested in the first place.
But the problem was, that I had been arrested and even though I was released, I still had to go before a judge.
A trial date was set and I would have to answer for 1 count of "Criminal Mischief", 1 count "Destruction of Property" and 1 count "Resisting Arrest".
…I guess my crack about the cops already being at Dunkin Donuts was considered "resisting".
About a month later, I found myself at the H. Lee Dennison Court Buildings in Hauppauge, NY. Located about 3 miles from the scene of the crime.
Google Maps image of the actual Dunkin Donuts
I remember sitting inside the actual courtroom waiting for my case to be called.
I remember my mom was sitting right next to me.
And I remember that one of the two arresting officers was sitting in the front row, on the opposite side of the room.
When my case was finally called, my mom and I both stood up together.
The judge read over offenses out loud and then quietly read through the case file to himself.
He looked up, took his glasses off, stared right at the cop who arrested me and said, "You're kidding, right?"
My mom, in her typical enthusiastic style, added "That's exactly what I said!"
The judge looked over at us and said, "Oh, I see you have your mother with you."
I nodded silently in agreement.
He continued, "Seeing as how this is a first offense and a very mild one at that (a special emphasis was put on the word "mild" as an extra dig at the cop), I'll dismiss all charges under the condition that you stay out of trouble for 6 months.
To which I graciously agreed.
The judge banged his gavel and that was that.
However, I didn't quite get off scot-free.
I was forced to pay Dunkin Donuts $50.00 for the bush and make a formal apology for my callous and wanton destruction.
And unlike everything else, this punishment was one my mom thought I fully deserved.
After all, I did do the crime and it was now my responsibility to do the time.
And she made sure the money came out of my savings and the apology was delivered promptly and in person.
Because unlike many parents today, she was not incapable of seeing that her son could actually do wrong.
But she made sure to keep everything in perspective.
My mom had a seemingly endless amount of amazing qualities.
But the one I always admired most was that she never forgot what it was like to be young.
She never let her age stop her from doing something she wanted and she never let the, sometimes misguided actions of youth, cloud her opinion of the bigger picture.
It's a lesson that one day I hope to fully appreciate and accept.
Kids are kids…boys will be boys….people make mistakes.