It wasn’t anything close to a felony. Even as misdemeanors go, it was pretty minor. Still, I didn’t want it forever on my record. Or, even worse, my conscience.

My husband and I were returning home from an 800-mile road trip. I bought a cup of coffee at a gas stop along the way, and on my way out of the store, I glanced at a rack of maps and brochures—the kind of promotional and complimentary material found at many rest stops and convenience stores located just off the expressway.

I picked up a pocket-sized booklet of state maps and thumbed through it, thinking about how we’re living in a different part of the country now, and aren’t as familiar with the terrain or features of Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, for example, as we are of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

I walked out with the booklet, and was skimming through it as we got back on the road. A short time later I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. It was a price—$4.95—printed on the back cover. So this wasn’t a free booklet; it was for sale. And I had just inadvertently shoplifted it.

“Is it too late to go back and pay for it?” I said to my husband—only half-joking—as we merged back onto the expressway. There had been a state trooper at the gas station at the same time we were there, and we now speculated as to whether we’d soon see him in our rear-view mirror, speeding down the road after us with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

“When we get home,” my husband said, “you can call them, explain what happened, and pay for it with a credit card.”

That made me feel better, and it’s exactly what I did. Or tried to do, anyway. When I called, apologized, and offered to pay for the booklet, the clerk said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. But thanks for calling about it.” I told her I was embarrassed to have made such a mistake, and was sorry for walking out without paying for the item. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “That actually happens a lot.”

I thought of saying, “Well, maybe you should put a sign up on the rack,” but I figured that might sound sarcastic or patronizing. So I just thanked her, apologized again, and left it at that.

You might roll your eyes or laugh at the idea of my making such a big deal over a five-dollar item. But I know it’s something that would have haunted me. The dollar amount wasn’t the issue. Taking something without paying for it was. And even though it was an innocent mistake, I wanted to make amends.

I plan to be more attentive to things like this, so that it never happens again. After all, as my husband and I explore and get familiar with the part of the country we now call home, I’m anticipating many more road trips and rest stops in our future. Especially now that we have all the maps we need to get us where we want to go.

August 18, 2017
©Betty Liedtke, 2017

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