Chicken Dinner

    “Chicken Dinner,” New Era, Oct. 1984, 14

    Participatory Journalism:
    Chicken Dinner

    Don’t be a chicken. Mom will never miss a dime, she’s too busy making dinner.

    In the front window of the little grocery section of the Murdock service station in Beaver, Utah, was a poster advertising a big candy bar broken open with chocolate and nuts and filling, sending out a message the advertiser had intended. The candy bar was called Chicken Dinner. Every day I passed this window four times—twice going to school and twice coming home.

    We had no money to purchase such luxuries in our home, but the gnawing desire to eat one of those candy bars kept building up in me.

    Late one afternoon, my mother sent me to the store to purchase a loaf of bread for supper (one of the rare times in my young life to get store-bought bread). I had a quarter and purchased the bread for a dime.

    As Mrs. Murdock gave me the 15 cents change I was staring at the back side of that candy bar poster—knowing every detail that was on the front, as I had studied it so many times.

    The candy rack was to the side of the counter and open. I looked around the little store; no one else was in there at the time. I was very nervous, for I was going to be dishonest. I had made my plan, and I executed it by shoving the dime back across the counter and blurting out in a strained voice, “I’d like two Chicken Dinner bars,” and pointed to them as I put the nickel in my pocket. I don’t know why I bought two. I guess I was so nervous I didn’t really know what I was doing, and the two nickel candy bars added up to the dime I had in my hand at the time.

    “Help yourself,” she said with a look and sound of questioning in her voice, like it wasn’t right for a Hutchings kid to blow a whole dime on two candy bars.

    I was shaking as I reached over and took two bars and slid them in my pocket. She thanked me and I left.

    I walked very fast to get around the corner before anyone saw me and I could get to where I could eat one of those candy bars. I don’t know why I didn’t want anyone to see me.

    I slipped around behind Harry Deal’s electric shop, where I would be alone, and started eating one of the bars. It tasted all right, but it didn’t go down very well. Maybe I was eating it too fast since I was so hungry for candy.

    Having finished the first one behind the shed, I must have felt a little braver and walked out from behind the electric shop and down the sidewalk eating the other. I walked slowly so I could finish it well before I covered the three blocks to home. Besides, I needed time to plan how to account for one missing dime.

    I dropped the bread on the kitchen table and headed out of the room trying not to have eye-to-eye contact with my mother, thinking maybe she would have too much on her mind to think about wanting 15 cents change.

    “Don, thanks for getting the bread. Where is the change?”

    I fumbled in my pocket, pulled the nickel out, and put it on the table, pretending to search the rest of my pockets with such suggestions as, “I wonder if I lost it” or “Did Mrs. Murdock put the dime in the wrapper when she wrapped the bread?” (That last suggestion must have given my mother a clue that something was wrong.)

    “Did she give you the right change?” my mother asked.

    “Yes, I remember her giving me the 15 cents,” I said as my mother was reaching for the telephone to call the store.

    “Then you lost it?” my mother asked with a tone in her voice of doubting. “Let’s go look for the dime,” she said as she picked up her sweater and headed out the door.

    We backtracked the route and looked on both sides of the sidewalk. All the time, I was trying to call off this excursion, but my mother was locked in on getting to the bottom of the missing dime and would have no part of giving up until she found out just where that dime was.

    I said a silent prayer, asking the Lord to produce me one little thin dime to get the pressure off. I had found a quarter once along that same sidewalk, and I knew that the Lord could produce a little dime now. I reinforced my petition by telling him I would never do anything like that again if he would come to my aid.

    The voice inside of me seemed pretty loud, “No, Don!” I was getting desperate as we had worked our way now past Harry Deal’s electric shop and close to the store. I knew what the conversation would bring once my mother and Mrs. Murdock got together.

    Oh, how thankful I am for a mother that would follow up and help a boy learn a lesson he needed so badly. I’m sure as anything that my mother knew just about what had happened before we left the house to look for the lost dime, but in her wisdom she knew a teaching moment when she saw one. I don’t think she knew, though, the torment that was exploding inside a little boy who realized he was about to get caught in a big lie.

    As we stood outside the Murdock store, I told my mother, with tears running down my face, what I had done, right in front of that big poster of a Chicken Dinner bar.

    My mother stood there, I’m sure with her heart aching, as she confessed to part of the blame by being so limited with money that she could not give her children some of the things she would like to, especially when it would bring one of her children to lying and stealing.

    “Don, I brought the other nickel, and I would like you to go in and buy another of those bars, just to have to eat when you want it and to know that you do not have to steal anymore. Next time you come and ask, and we will find some way to buy it, the right way.”

    Illustrated by Dennis Millard