Stealing State Property - Moving On

My wife (Barbara) comes from a good Mennonite background, inheriting by blood or tradition many of the attributes of those raised in the simple lifestyle of Mennonites. In addition to frugality, those attributed include cooking and preserving whatever nature gives you at the moment.

We moved to Hays, Kansas in 1983. I was a young lawyer, trying to find my footing (and clients) in a new town. A year after our move, we started having children, pulling my wife from the workforce and making me the sole breadwinner with a new solo law practice.

Given our circumstances, and my wife’s background, imagine our delight when we discovered several apricot trees with no one picking their fruit. The trees were located on the campus of Fort Hays State University, just across the street to the west of the Memorial Union (the area is now a parking lot). It was summer, and all the students were gone.

Barb and I, armed with a couple five gallon buckets, a one year old child in a backpack, and our trusty St. Bernard mixed dog, Bruno, would gather fruit (and eat some along the way). We would then wash the fruit, set aside some for friends, and then Barb would begin the process of preserving and making other apricot based dishes. We would return day after day to pick more. As we got near the end of the season, we would spread sheets on the ground, I would climb into the trees, and then shake the branches until we had enough to fill our buckets for the day.

This continued for several summers. However, the second year while gathering the fruit, a Fort Hays State University Campus Policeman showed up. He asked who had given us permission to pick the fruit, and I shared that no one had. He alleged we were stealing state property. My lawyer mode kicked in (as young lawyers are apt to do), and I made several arguments, including that this was State fruit and anyone from the State should be entitled to enjoy the bounty from the State. The exchange was mildly heated.

The officer (“Fred” for the purposes of this article) eventually stated that he was sure that what we were doing was wrong, but he just could not figure out what the violation was. My first impression of Fred was not very good. It is not unusual to have a bad experience with someone, but what happens next is really the key.

Some clients I work with may hold grudges, and they can be over the simplest things. Most disturbing is when the animosity is directed toward a family member, particularly a child or a sibling. It can result in a refusal to participate in joint family gatherings and celebrations. People can actually terminate relationships over something as simple as “apricots”. Life is too short.

In the past few years, I am lucky to have had an opportunity to visit with my father before his death, talking through some issues going back to my youth. I have made a point to write down names of people that I was angry with, and either talk it out with them, or just let my anger go. For me, a big part of it was realizing that some, if not all of the anger or frustration, was coming from my actions or my overreactions. As I grow older, I realize that my family, and my friends, are too important to lose over “apricots”.

Let me go back to Fred. Fred must have either bought my legal argument or just given up. On occasion, he would stop by and help us pick the apricots. In kind of an interesting twist, Fred went on to law school and became a fine lawyer. Through the years, I have referred several cases to him. Once, Fred even helped one of my sons with a difficult traffic citation. I am happy to call Fred my friend. Wouldn’t it have been unfortunate if Fred and I remained angry over “apricots”?

My wish for all of you is to be able to move on with the relationships with your family and friends, and not lose part of yourself because of anger.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts