"Innocent Until Proven Guilty.” It's one of the most basic tenets in our justice system – unless, of course, you're dealing with kids. Then the whole notion gets tossed on its head. Or at least that's how things usually played out at our house, especially when it came to our son Jason.
I don't know what it was about him, but in terms of childhood antics, that kid had a rap sheet a mile long. Let's see, there was The Case of the Water Hose in the Living Room (guilty); The Case of the Sneaker in the Treetop (guilty); The Case of the Wristwatch Down the Toilet (guilty); and my favorite, The Case of the Retainer in the School Cafeteria Dumpster (guilty on four separate counts!)
As Jason would be the first to tell you, the problem with having so many prior convictions is that it can sometimes be difficult to find an impartial jury when charged with a new crime. And I have the perfect illustration to back that up. I call this one "The Case of The Hit and Run Barber”.
Here's how it all unfolded: It was a bitterly cold, gray afternoon in late December 1987. School was not yet back in session following the Christmas holidays, and on top of that my husband's parents were also spending the week with us; so to get away from all the coziness for a few minutes, I walked out in the backyard for a breath of frigid fresh air.
At that particular point in time we happened to own two darling young kittens – a cute little gray ball of fluff named Crackers and an orange tabby named Cheese. So anyway, when I stepped out on the patio that day, Crackers emerged from her warm insulated kitty shelter to greet me. I immediately noticed that her normally long luxurious fur bore the unmistakable signs of a haircut – and a rather bad one at that. Random tufts were whacked off at odd angles; in some patches her fur had been clipped so short I could see bare skin; and the top of her head looked like a Marine on the second day of boot camp. My sharp exclamation brought Cheese out of the shelter to see what the matter was, and I discovered to my horror that a similar fate had also befallen him!
And so it began – the familiar third degree interrogation of our young son under hot lights. First our accusation was met with his customary stunned facial expression, "Who me?” followed by a predictable adamant denial. Next we put his older sister, Lauren on the witness stand, where she proceeded to testify that while she hadn't actually seen Jason do it, she was almost certain that he could have. After all, wasn't he the one who had recently fed crayons to the dog, just to see if the "end result” would come out in Technicolor? (Yes he was, and yes it did.)
Unfortunately, all our evidence in the current kitty caper was circumstantial. There were no traceable fingerprints on the scissors, and no eye witnesses except the cats themselves, and they weren't talking. We didn't even have a clear motive. Things were definitely at a stalemate, with us trying to coerce a confession out of Jason, and him stubbornly refusing to admit to anything, so we finally just banished him to his room for a while, to "think things over.”
Now right about here I'd love to be able to claim credit for solving the mystery, but it was actually my very sage mother-in-law who ultimately cracked the case, for it was she who picked up on a clue that the rest of us had overlooked. According to her, just before Jason was hauled off to solitary confinement, he did something that firmly convinced her of his innocence. He asked to see the cats' new haircut! As she wisely pointed out, if Jason had committed the crime he'd have had no reason to want to see the results. So in essence, this was one time when curiosity didn't kill the cats; it ended up acquitting their accused barber instead! (As it turned out, the guilty party was the one person we least suspected – Lauren!)
You'd think, of course, after such an ordeal I wouldn't be so quick to declare Jason guilty until proven innocent, but just two months later a Frisbee got stuck in the chimney. That was more than twenty years ago now, and to this day the perpetrator has yet to be identified…but you'll never be able to convince me he didn't do it.