Falsely Accused

Since my parents were pathological liars, I have always attempted to tell the truth because I hate to be lied to. Now, everyone tells the little “white lies,” as people call them, but this isn’t what I’m referring to. When someone asks a direct question about a relevant situation, I’ve been honest with them, unless the situation is something private and painful for me, and then, I simply don’t give an answer.

When I was sixteen years old, my stepfather asked if I wanted to help him and some friends move an old man’s belongings from one house to the other. Since it was Saturday, and I didn’t have anything else to do, I tagged along.

The old man, Mr. Griffith, lived in a suburb of Rainsville, Alabama. I didn’t have much information about him before we reached his house, but when we arrived, I vaguely recognized the house. I had come to this house with my friend, Ed. Ed’s father had bought some chickens from the man, and we came at night to catch them from their roosts in the trees. Of course, the place looked a lot different in the daylight. The house had a homey atmosphere.

My stepfather parked his truck in the driveway between a nice small home and a large building. The other four trucks parked behind us, almost like a police swarm arriving at a house. When we stepped out of the vehicle, Mr. Griffith got out of his yellow International pickup truck. My guess was that he was in his late sixties, at least, and he walked toward us. The other volunteers got out of their trucks and gathered around him.

Upon first impressions, he was a kind, gentle man, and I liked him. In some ways, he reminded me of my grandfather. He instructed us that we needed to load all the materials from inside the shed, which turned out to be his leatherworking workshop. He made belts, pouches, packs, dog collars, and saddle tack. A craft he had worked at for over forty years.

When he opened the door to the shop, I stood amazed at the numerous styles of belts, dog collars, and other items he had setting atop tables and benches. From the outside, I’d have never guessed such a business existed on the inside.

His hands shook slightly as he told us about how he was being forced to move. His wife of thirty + years had demanded a divorce, and she wanted him gone. His expressions revealed so many emotions: anger, sadness, grief, and confusion. While he spoke, one of his sons had come out of the house and talked to some of the help that had come to the house with us. Basically, he informed us that all of Mr. Griffith’s belongings were outside of the house, and he had nothing left on the inside. His wife refused to come out, and for whatever reasons, she did not want to see him at all.

Mr. Griffith looked at his son for a moment, still fighting through his emotions, but he didn’t address his son. After his son went back into the house, Mr. Griffith fought tears and cleared his throat, informing us he had a deadline to be off the property by noon. A detail we had not been given beforehand. So, we got to work.

My stepfather showed me all the machinery Mr. Griffith used to fashion belts and dog collars. Mr. Griffith talked with pride of how long he had worked crafting leather, and still he seemed like such a great guy, full of stories. But, he also played the victim quite well.

After we loaded up all his tack, gear, and machines into the pickup trucks, my stepfather got into the truck with a broad smile. He showed me an old handgun in its holster and slid it under his seat. He mentioned that he wanted to trade or buy it from Mr. Griffith.

Moments later, Mr. Griffith took a long 2 X 4 and walked to the side of his workshop and started ramming the board against the electrical line that ran from the house to the shop. He said, “I was the one that placed that line up there, and by God, if they want it there, they can put it back up!”

We got out of the pickup truck. Mr. Griffith’s son came outside the house and told my stepfather, “Make him stop or the law will be here to arrest him.”

My stepfather placed a hand on the old man’s shoulder and gently persuaded him to stop. With mention of being arrested, Mr. Griffith set the board against the side of the workshop and glared at his son with total disdain. The tension was heated.

Here stood a man who was being forced to leave a lifetime of memories, a home and business, where he and his wife had probably raised their children. His hurt was evident and his anger was a normal reaction. A long stream of whispering curses came from his mouth.

“Come on, now,” my stepfather told him. “We’ve got your stuff, which is what we came for. Now, you’ll have to show us where to deliver it.”

Mr. Griffith took a handkerchief and wiped his wrinkled brow. After a few moments, he surrendered a few nods and then shook his head. His brief fit of anger conceded to despair. He turned away and walked toward his International pickup. “Follow me.”

Our small convoy drove about fifteen minutes across the county, and finally he parked alongside a small house on a corner lot. We parked alongside the edge of the road.

Mr. Griffith came to the driver side of my stepfather’s truck. He said, “They’ve agreed to let me move my stuff in here.”

Sadly, the house was smaller than his former home. He seldom spoke once we started unloading the trucks, and forty-five minutes later, the trucks were empty and we headed home.

Some hours later, I was at my stepfather’s parents’ house. His nephew, Chris, and I were out on the long dirt driveway throwing a football. We stopped for a moment when Mr. Griffith’s yellow International truck crept down the driveway. As he drove closer, I smiled and waved. He didn’t wave back. He pulled up beside me and said, “Where’s my gun?”

I frowned. With all the commotion immediately after my stepfather placed the gun under his truck seat, I had completely forgotten about the gun. It had been a quick fleeting moment, and I simply had forgotten. “I don’t know.”

He turned off the truck engine and glared at me. “What did you do with my gun?”

“I don’t have it,” I replied.

“I’ll give you fifty dollars if you just give me my gun back.”

The statement pissed me off. “I don’t have your gun.”

He took a deep breath and sighed. He pulled out his wallet. “I’ll give you one hundred dollars if you’ll give me my gun back.”

“I don’t have your gun,” I replied. By now, his accusations had stirred my anger and instantly changed my opinion about the man.

“I gave the gun to your stepfather,” he said. It clicked then for me. “So what did you do with it?”

Not: “Where did he put it?” He was still accusing me of theft. But, I did suddenly remember my stepfather placing it under his seat.

“He put it under his truck seat,” I said. “That’s where he placed it. We can go look.”

“Hop in,” he said, still bitterly hateful.

We lived less than a mile away, so in a few minutes we were at my house. I got out of his truck and walked to the driver’s side of my stepdad’s pickup, opened the door, and patted under the seat until I found the gun. I retrieved it and carried it to Mr. Griffith. He was standing outside his truck at this point. When I handed it to him, he slid it partway out of its holster and inspected it. He told me how long he had owned it, and I asked if I could look at it. He obliged.

“Is it loaded?” I asked.

He nodded.

After looking at it, I handed the gun back to him.

“Come on,” he said, “I’ll drive you back.”

“No, that’s okay. I’d rather walk,” I replied.

“No, get in, and I’ll take you back.”

No apologies for accusing me of something I had not done. No one hundred dollars, either, not that I would have taken it.

As he drove back, he said, “I don’t care if you were a preacher, it wouldn’t have changed the situation.”

I was fuming mad then because his accusation still hung in the air. Apparently, he had too much pride to admit when he was wrong.

“I happen to be one,” I replied.

He jerked and straightened in his seat but didn’t make eye contact with me.

At the time, what I had said was true. I taught Sunday School, youth Bible classes on Wednesdays, and had spoken before several church congregations after turning fourteen.

His voice broke somewhat. “That’s a good thing.”

Still no apology when I got out of his truck. He drove off.

Chris looked at me and noticed the anger on my face. “What was that all about?”

I told him and my stepfather’s mother what had happened.

Having been honest with people, even during that time, his accusations of stealing his gun angered me. The situation still does when I think back to it. And then, for the man not to apologize? Strange. Sadly, this changed my feelings about him because he had shown his true self. There are much better ways to handle asking for an item, rather than immediately accuse someone of stealing. I held no interest in his gun, regardless of its worth.

About six months later, my stepfather asked if I wanted to ride with him to the next county. I agreed, but he hadn’t told me where we were going. Thirty minutes later, he turned onto a narrow backroad and then into a small drive where a silver motor home, pull-behind trailer set beside a large leafless tree. There set the yellow International pickup. The kind folks, who had taken Mr. Griffith in, apparently had their fill of him, and promptly kicked him out. He had to sell his leatherworking supplies and was reduced to this tiny trailer with winter settling upon us.

Perhaps this was why after over thirty years of marriage, his wife had finally managed to get out of their marriage. I cannot imagine what she must have endured since I had only captured a glimpse of his true personality.

The last I had heard of Mr. Griffith was his small trailer had caught fire from a kerosene heater while he was gone. The burned out shell was all that remained. Where he ended up? I don’t know. But, it makes me think of how Karma plays out. People do reap what they sow. What is on the inside eventually makes its way to the surface for all to see. You cannot hide the monster forever.

 

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