In 1985, I applied for a job in the personnel department at First Atlanta Bank. To get the job, I was required to take a polygraph test. I didn’t know anything about lie detectors except they scared everyone to death. I was put in a small room with a stern looking man who was administering the exam. He connected me to the machine and interrogated me through a series of questions. It was just like from the crime dramas on T.V. – the polygraph pen wildly gyrating on a moving chart. He asked me if I had every stole money. I answered “no” along with more no answers to a bunch of other questions about my morals and character. I realized soon after exiting the exam room that I had lied in response to the question about stealing money. I was sure that it would be detected on the exam and that I had failed the test and would remain unemployed.
When did I steal money? When I was a little girl in grade school, I would sneak into my parent’s clothes closet and rummage for spare change in the bottom of my mother’s many purses or on the floor under my dad’s slacks. I found ample supplies of pennies, nickels and dimes. I used the “found” money to buy myself penny candies at the corner grocery store. My all-time favorite candies were Twizzlers and Krackle. I remember feeling guilty about sneaking into my parent’s room without permission because I knew deep down that I was stealing and if I got caught, my parent’s would be very disappointed in me. But the pull of the candy was stronger than my young, moral fiber so I committed this crime repeatedly over one summer.
One afternoon, after walking back from buying candies with poached pennies, the Twizzler still poking out of my mouth, my mother met me in the front yard and asked me to get in the car and go with her as she had something she needed to share with me. I knew she had caught me at my crime and was going to talk to me privately about it in the car, away from my nosey brothers. I was so afraid of what she would say that I sat mute in the front seat looking at the top of my tennies. My mother drove us up Main Street to the drug store where a bunch of people had gathered inside and out. We went inside and everyone started applauding our arrival. Come to find out, my mother had guessed the closest number to the exact number of candies in a large clear container as part of a store promotion. The prize was a new bicycle – all pink and made just right for a girl my size. I quickly realized that she brought me to the store to surprise me with the gift, not for the punishment that I expected. I felt so guilty and ashamed that I burst into tears. My mother thought they were tears of joy but as soon as we got to the car, I confessed about my summer of coin snatching and pledged to never do it again. I think, because I looked so miserable and distraught, that she let me go with minimal punishment and I rode the perfect pink bike for many years to come.
But I never again stole pennies from my parent’s closet or from anyone every again. The guilt was too much to live with I had discovered that summer day. Spring forward twenty years, and I learned after a couple of restless days and nights, that I passed the polygraph and got the bank job. I guess they decided they could trust me with their pennies.