Summer has arrived, 1935, and it is hot. Nothing is stirring. The birds, the crickets and even the mosquitoes are waiting for the sun to set, but Doris and I are not so smart! Daddy told us there were too many gophers near the house. They are raiding our garden, and for animals and people their holes are a hazard. So here we are, Doris and I, 14 and 13 respectively, and hot and bored.
“We have to snare the gophers,” said Doris.
“Why not drown them out as we did in that other bad spot?” I asked.
“You know, Marjie – our water supply is low. At least we will each get our penny a tail from Daddy, and that does buy a lot of penny candy.”
Snaring is slow work, especially when gophers are running around squeaking alarms. However we both set up at a hole, and wait and wish for shade.
“Look at them, Doris – I think those gophers are laughing at us. At least after we kill them and pull off their tails we will have more penny candy.”
“Yes, and it is so easy to pull off the tail – no effort at all.”
By late morning we are pleased with our work. The pile of gopher tails is good, and the bodies are in a neat pile. We trudge back to the farmyard and give Mommy the tails. She has the job of getting these penny-candy tails to Daddy. Doris and I take two apples and a small pail of cold water and head for the shade of the barn. We sit in the shade and cool off. Lassie, our dog, begs for some of our apple but a treat like this we do not give to our dog.
We start talking about the morning and I say, “Doris, do you think we could get the tails off without killing the gophers?”
“What a funny thing to say. Why do that?”
”I have an idea, but first, do you think the gopher would grow another tail?”
“Don’t know, but probably.”
“If they can, we could get at least two tails from every gopher.”
Doris looks at me and we lower our voices and look around. She says, “If we do that our candy money will build up quickly, but isn’t it cheating?”
“Yes, Doris, it is – but I don’t think it is really very bad, and who will know?”
We talk for a long time, making plans. How one of us could hold the gopher while the other one pulled off the tail. We struggle with our feeling of greed and sense of wrongdoing. Eventually and guiltily, we decide to try it.
The first gopher we try our method on gives us trouble. Doris holds him, I pull, he squeaks and runs off. With that experience we work better the next time, and he runs away tailless. We are both excited. In quick succession we catch and de-tail four more, and then decide that is enough. As it turns out, that is more than enough. It is our downfall.
Before long we realize that it is very easy to spot those tailless gophers running around. To our amazement, none of them are growing new tails. We are worried but cannot think of anything to do that will help. Will Daddy see them or not? Then the axe falls. Daddy calls us in and asks, “Have you girls noticed that we have a lot of tailless gophers running around?”
“Yes, Daddy,” we answer in chorus.
“Did you wonder about this?”
“No, Daddy,” we answer honestly.
“No more games, girls. Did you two do this?”
Our heads fall. Our tears trickle down our faces. Sobs are starting – and then the story is told. Then the final blow is delivered.
“Did you know this was wrong?”
We can barely talk but finally answer, “Yes”.
Daddy sits and looks at us. Finally he speaks. “For the first time I am disappointed in my daughters, and ashamed of their wrongdoing. There will be consequences, but I need time to think about this. Go to bed, and we will talk later.”
His decision, when it comes, is that the money for tails will continue, but we have to include it in our Sunday School donations. Mommy and Daddy talk seriously about the gravity of our deceit, and the effect on the whole family. But coming to our shared bedroom, they also gather two little sinners into their arms and assure us of the family’s ability to work things out.
Seventy-seven years later, I can still feel my shame, and their love.