“You Can Catch a Thief But Not a Liar”
Paper Airplanes flying all over the classroom. The children of Miss O’Hara’s fifth grade class were singing at the top of their lungs:
“From the halls of Blessed Sacrament to the shores of bubble gum bay.
We will hit our teachers all the time with spit balls, mud and clay.
First we fight for right and freedom; then to keep our desks a mess.
We are proud to claim the title of the TEACHERS FIRST CLASS PEST!”
Miss O’Hara could stand no more of the class. She fled from the classroom in tears. She found herself running down the corridor. Father O’Neil was walking down the corridor as they collided. He heard the caterwauling coming from the classroom. He suggested that Miss O’Hara find the principal Sister St. John while he restored order in the classroom.
Father O’Neil was a short, solid man who we used to call Friar Tuck. Robin Hood was big in those days. We were still yelling and throwing things when Father O’Neil entered the classroom. I spotted him first; quickly sitting down at my desk. Those around me sat down just as quickly. When Father entered the room there was bound to be trouble. Although our class had created the issue there were those who would have to take the blame. I had no intention of taking the blame for anything. I had already gotten rid of most of the paper airplanes.
Father stood in front of the teacher’s desk, his fists clenched; waiting for the class to simmer down before he spoke:
“Sit down” There was no doubt that Father was very annoyed with us.
“This entire class of hooligans have gone to far. I want to know who started
this free for all today. Miss O’Hara was in tears as she ran by me. You people
should be ashamed of yourselves.”
No one spoke up. I was one of the ring leaders along with several others. We did have a perpetual liar in our group; we all just hoped she would keep her mouth shut during Father’s inquiry. That was usually my job to keep her from blabbing something we had done. Her name was Sherry Patton. She could tell more lies than any of us could keep track of. Father watched each of us; he was good at reading faces. I just hoped he didn’t read mine or worse Sherry’s. Father knew basically who the problem children were and proceeded to reseat them so they would not be near each other. I had to sit next to my nemesis Arlene Porter. She made Miss Goodie Two Shoes look like a piker. Sherry was seated behind her. Sherry really disliked Arlene; she usually started a tale about Arlene at least once a week. This might work to our clicks benefit if we did not say anything stupid in the next week. It would take the nuns at least that long to find a replacement in the mean time Father O’Neil would be teaching. Old Friar Tuck himself, this was going to be long week to say the very least. Sherry smiled at Father O’Neil; like a cat smiles at a canary. I swung my leg back; giving her a swift kick in the shins. She stopped smiling; sitting there waiting for her opportune moment.
Father O’Neil in the meantime had finished moving the entire class around so no “trouble makers” were seated together, up until that point we were able to sit where we pleased. We had even sat on the window sills. Father was not having any of our guff; not at this point. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having to wait for a replacement for Miss O’Hara, who was in a mental health facility the next day.
Father O’Neil decided that since we could not seem to behave in class he would give the class a writing assignment:
“Since no one is willing to take responsibility for pushing Miss O’Hara to the brink I think
each of you should right a composition of five hundred words. This is due on Monday.
The title for this essay is: ‘you can catch a thief but never a liar.’ Class dismissed.”
Crap I thought just what I wanted to do over the weekend write an essay. Sherry waited until I was out of ear shot before she spoke to Father:
“I know who was behind this whole thing Father. I will tell you if I don’t have to write
Father O’Neil was no ones fool:
“Sherry, I need hard evidence before I can do anything.”
“Father I have evidence.”
Father took a deep breath:
“Please show me the evidence.”
“I can’t Father”
“Why in heavens name not?”
“Well Father I don’t exactly have it but I can tell you that Arlene Porter is one of the girls.
Jack West is another”
“Well, Sherry I want to read those essays first. Thank you for your help.”
Sherry, walked out of the classroom and out into the sunlight. She was not a happy camper; nothing would give her more pleasure than to see Arlene and Jack expelled. She really had no idea who the real culprits were. She would eventually figure it out. She hated the idea of writing an essay; she wondered how Father O’Neil’s reading them all would tell him who was responsible. She could not wait until Monday; to see who was responsible.
Sherry closed the front door of her home; proceeded to the fridge for milk and some cookies.
“Hey Mom, guess what happened in school today, we gave Miss O’Hara a breakdown or
so Father O’Neil said.
“Sherry, you need to stop lying about anything and everything.”
“Mom, I am not lying, call the school if you don’t believe me.”
“I don’t have time but I will.”
Sherry, knew exactly what that meant, she could stretch the story out even further.
“Mom, Miss O’Hara checked herself into Forest Avenue. Father O’Neil said so.”
“Sherry, ENOUGH. I have to leave right now if I am going to catch the bus.”
Sherry, wanted to convince her Mom; that was not going to happen. She knew she had told one to many fibs. She decided she would tell her Dad when he got home; it was just to juicy a story to not share it. Sherry waited patiently for her Dad to come home; if Mom wouldn’t listen Dad certainly would. He was the one that always called Father O’Neil, Friar Tuck, behind his back. Sherry awaited her Father eagerly. Finally he arrived home:
“Dad guess what happened today in school; Miss O’Hara went over the brink; whatever
“Sherry, what are you talking about?”
“Dad, Miss O’Hara snapped, Father O’Neil says she is in Forest Avenue.”
“Sherry that is the tallest tale you have ever told. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Dad, it really did happen today. We have to write a composition about a liar.”
“Then I suggest you get started.”
“Don’t you believe me Dad?”
“Sherry, let’s go have supper.”
Sherry decided to just write the essay.
I sat there trying to decide what to write. This was a strange riddle about catching a thief but not a liar? What exactly was Father attempting to do besides ruin my weekend. Dad was in the basement making a cabinet, Mom was at work so that left me sitting here staring at a blank lined piece of paper. The more I thought about this essay the more confusing the assignment became. I started with the title: “You Can Catch A Thief But Not A Liar”. Saturday became Sunday; I went to mass with Dad. I came back home, sat down and prayed I could understand what it was I had to write about. I remember I wrote some sort of drivel about a thief and a liar. However that quote from Father O’Neil stuck in my mind.
I handed it in on Monday along with the rest of the class. Father O’Neil seemed pleased, point one for our side. Then he introduced our new teacher Sister Mary Peter. We had Sister for the rest of the year.
I have a confession to make; I was one of those children who was responsible for Miss O’Hara having a mental breakdown. Through the years I have often thought about that day, Friar Tuck and that essay. I am seventy one now, hopefully a little wiser and more philosophical. That event was over sixty years ago yet somehow that quote stuck: “You can catch a thief but not a liar.” I think perhaps I understand now what the good Father was talking about. A thief steals things that are tangible, a liar steals intangible things such as honesty and integrity. Both steal, both take items that are important. The thief can be caught but the liar never can be.