Pat Boone: “The One Day In My Life I’m Ashamed Of . . .”
There are some things in your life you never like to talk about. Things you keep bottled up inside. Then one day, all of a sudden, you feel you want to let them all come out. I guess maybe I’m telling you about them now ’cause it’s good to get them out in the open. Maybe because someone reading this can be helped by the mistakes I made.
I remember a day—I think it’s the one day in my life I’m ashamed of. So let’s begin with something else, with what happened when I was a junior in high school. A lot of the fellows I went around with started drinking beer. I’m sure they did it just because they weren’t supposed to. I know my own folks were against it, but I went along and became “one of the boys.” We’d get together at night and the fellow who looked oldest would buy the beer. Then we’d go someplace and drink together. I didn’t like the taste of the stuff and knew my parents would be mad if they found out. But the idea of belonging to the group was too great a temptation.
At first I had to force myself to swallow the stuff. It made me choke and had a harsh strong smell. I felt like throwing up, but I wasn’t going to let the other fellows know that. So I kept on drinking, kept on being “one of the boys,” and soon I found I was really beginning to enjoy it.
But I felt guilty. Guilty because I was misusing the trust my parents had placed in me. They believed in me; believed in me enough not to cross-question me every time I came home. And all the while I was doing something they had taught me was wrong.
One night we bought more than we could drink. Since I’d chipped in the most money, I got to take the two leftover bottles home. That didn’t please me as much as it was supposed to because . . . what would happen if my mother and father found the bottles? As I left the boys to go home I grinned bravely and told them they were great for letting me have the extra beer. But I didn’t feel so great myself.
I slipped quietly into the house, trying to close the front door and creep up to my room without anyone hearing me. But just as I tiptoed onto the first step of the staircase, it gave a loud creak and my father shouted from the living room, “That you, Pat?”
“Come here a second. I want to speak to you.”
Be with you,” I shouted and leaped, two stairs at a time, up into my room and buried the bottles under the bed. Then I trotted, whistling as I went, down the stairs to speak to my father. All he wanted to know was if I were neglecting my schoolwork.
By the time I got to go to school the next day, I had forgotten about the beer under the bed. It wasn’t until ten o’clock, right in the middle of the English class, that I remembered. The bottles! My mother must have found them by now! I’ll really be in for it!
When school let out, I ran all the way home, dashed up the stairs and threw myself against the door of the room. When it swung back I had one of the happiest sights of my life. Staring at me was a rumpled, unmade bed. Yesterday’s clothes were thrown over a chair and my school-books were still on the table where I’d left them.
I looked under the bed. The bottles were untouched. Mom hadn’t made my bed or tidied the room as usual. I heard my mother’s voice calling to me from below.
“Pat. Pat.” And I could hear her footsteps on the stairs. She put her head around the door. “Pat—I left your room like this on purpose. How do you like coming home to such untidiness? You must learn to be neater.”
When she left I dove under the bed, grabbed the bottles, and, hiding them under my jacket, darted out of the house to ditch them in the first empty lot. I couldn’t face drinking the stuff. And I felt so ashamed. If she had found them I know she would have been more hurt than angry. That incident with the bed had taught me a lesson.
When you are young you do a lot of crazy things. But I had to get into trouble on account of a man who died one hundred and fourteen years ago; the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
First I’d better explain that I was in the eighth grade at the time. Each year the graduating class at the school gets to take a trip and this is always looked forward to as one of the highlights of the semester not only for its educational value but most of all because it means no classes on a regular school day! Our class outing was to the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, which is located a few miles outside of Nashville.
When the day of our trip arrived, we marched out of the building feeling very big-time because the other students were stuck in their classrooms. We could see a few of them, the ones with seats near a window, gazing down at us longingly as we all piled on to the chartered bus. During the ride, our teacher reminded us of the highlights of President Jackson’s life, some historical events that took place at the Hermitage, and then she ended by telling us that we were expected to behave like ladies and gentlemen. We were not to make too much noise and above all not to touch anything on the premises.
I can still remember my first view of the home as we drove up. It’s a big, sprawling, two-storied house with four white pillars which makes it resemble a Greek temple. Inside we didn’t know what to look at first: the crystal chandeliers, the heavy rose-colored draperies, or the exotic furniture.
We got to one bedroom and I remember the guide saying, “Even the wallpaper in this room has not been changed since President Jackson’s day.” As he mentioned the word wallpaper, old “Hawk-eye” Boone noticed that at the far corner of the room a chunk of the paper had peeled away from the wall and was hanging down. It wasn’t a very big hunk but I thought it would be great to have as a souvenir.
I stayed behind. When the others were out in the hallway, I reached up and grabbed off the drooping fragment of paper. In pulling it off a little bit more started to peel until finally I had quite a chunk. While I was figuring out where I could put the paper so it would be safe until I got home, a few of my buddies came back into the bedroom looking for me. I was caught “with the goods” as they say in mystery stories. Since I was caught I did the only thing I could think of at that moment. I gallantly tore some strips from my hunk of paper and distributed one to each of my buddies. That year I happened to be class president, and this “feat of daring” only served to enhance my reputation as a big man.
The rest of the day was uneventful. As soon as I got home I made a beeline for my bedroom and carefully slipped the paper into the back of a desk drawer. I was as proud of that souvenir as if I’d won a statue from the Smithsonian Institute! And I rationalized that it was really only a small piece of paper so nobody should miss it.
Well, the amount of paper I pulled off the wall might have seemed small to me, but not to the caretaker who evidently noticed the damage as he locked up for the evening. I learned later that he reported the incident to our principal because, having discovered it right after our thundering herd took off for home, he assumed that someone in our group was responsible.
The next morning, as soon as all of us had taken our seats, the teacher got up from behind her desk. She looked very upset as she said, “I have to ask you all a very important question. While I’m positive that none of my students could possibly be involved, we have been notified that a large piece of wallpaper is missing from a bedroom in the Hermitage. In fact the caretaker says the wall is defaced because some rowdy mutilated the paper.”
She paused, looked around the room, then added, “Is anyone here responsible?”
As she spoke I felt as if my face must be turning beet red. I was sure that guilt was written all over me. Yet as I listened to her it became increasingly clear to me that she obviously didn’t want anybody to confess, because it would have reflected on her. I felt awful. The realization of what I’d done hit me suddenly. I felt even more disturbed when it dawned on me that it would be fairly easy to just keep my mouth shut about the whole matter. I debated with myself for a few minutes, at first trying to reason things out by deciding I would be much kinder to her if I said nothing. The only people who knew what I’d done were a few close buddies, and I knew they’d never tell—especially since they all had chunks of paper almost as big as mine.
Then slowly I found myself raising my right arm high in the air. I’d wrestled with myself . . . and lost. As the teacher looked at me in disbelief, I said quietly, “I did it, ma’am. I took the wallpaper.” I thought she would sink right through the floor. Not only was one of her students the culprit but it had to be the class president to boot! After I made my brief announcement, she said nothing. She just walked back to her desk and continued the day’s lesson. When the bell rang she said quietly, “Pat, would you stay for a few minutes, please.”
When everyone had left, she took mt by the hand and, without saying a word, marched me straight to the principal’s office. I was asked to describe in detail just how I had accomplished the “foul deed.” When I was through talking, the principal gave me a long lecture, followed by a walloping, and then he called my home and told my mother what I’d done.
I took the long way home that afternoon to try to figure out what I would say to my folks. That night my father and I had a little talk. Then he gave me a walloping. When it was all over, I stood there while my father talked to me in his own quiet way. He told me that I had to be punished because I’d done something very wrong. At the same time he explained that he hadn’t hit me too hard because he was glad I owned up to what I’d done. “It takes courage to admit an error,” he said.
The way he said it made me feel so small, because I realized how stupid I’d been.
After Dad finished talking, he told me to go up to my room and write a letter to the people at the Hermitage and express my sincere apologies. I wrote the letter, but it took me hours to put the few words down on paper.
I learned a lot that day about thoughtlessness and being irresponsible and I think I became more considerate from then on. But it’s a funny thing about learning, you think you’ve learned for good and then suddenly you do something that sets you back with a sharp jolt.
That jolt for me became the story I’m going to tell you now. The story I’ve never told before. No one outside my immediate family and the few friends who were with me at the time know about it. But lately, I’ve wanted more and more to speak about it, especially since so many kids seem to think I was so perfect as a boy. Nobody is. We all have to learn, and the hard way, I guess.
I remember the day . . . it came at the end of my junior year at high school. There is a printed record of this error . . . in the files of the Nashville Juvenile Court. And it can never be erased.
It all started in a completely innocent, fun way. I guess a lot of trouble starts like that.
I can’t remember who actually first came up with the suggestion, but to add some excitement to what was apparently going to be a dull Friday night, we decided to sneak into the movie house without buying tickets.
We all had money with us to go in the normal way. That wasn’t the point. We were just thirsting for fun, an “adventure” which would be different.
By diversionary tactics, we managed to slip unnoticed passed the cashier. The man who was tearing tickets presented a more difficult problem as he was not so busy and had better view of everyone around him. We ambled about as though waiting for someone, then finally managed to slip past him when a large group of kids went in. Smart, we thought.
But as we stood by the candy machine, pleasantly drunk with achievement and wondering where to sit, the manager slipped unnoticed up to us and in a commanding voice began, “Hey, you fellas. . . .”
But before he had had time to get out his words we were off. He caught one fellow by the arm hut my buddy twisted neatly and ran off with me and the other guy.
Down the dark aisles he chased us. with the doorman close behind. We ducked into an empty row and clambered over the seats, making for an exit at the side of the theater. The two guys with me made it—but I tripped against one of the seats and stumbled long enough for the doorman to grab me.
He took me to the manager’s office and the manager called the police. I was terrified. I could just see mother crying.
“Is this the kid?” I vaguely remember hearing a cop say as he plodded into the manager’s office.
The police drove me down to the station. There I was, sitting in the back of a police car, wanting to sink right through the floor with shame and guilt. What would they do? What would my father say?
We stopped at traffic lights and to my horror I noticed some of my friends drive up alongside. One fellow noticed me cowering in the back of the patrol car and I could see him gesticulating to his friends, evidently pointing me out to them. I managed to open the window a little and yelled, “Don’t tell anyone you saw me!”
Then we arrived at the police station. And they checked to see if I had any former record. When they found I didn’t, they became much nicer and the sergeant just lectured me. Then he took me into a small room at the back and told me to sit and wait until my father came. His last words were that my name was now part of the permanent records of the juvenile court and that the next time I was caught doing anything. I’d be in for far more than just the warning I was getting now.
That wait seemed endless and to this day I can still see my father’s shocked face as he walked through the door into that little room. He was as pale as a ghost That he had lived to see the day when he would be picking up his son at a police station, seemed completely to crush him.
All I could say was, “I’m sorry, Dad.” We didn’t say a word to each other all the way home. That was the worst of alt because I knew by his silence he had been terribly hurt. Every time I was about to say something, that look on his face stopped me.
It isn’t true that I was once caught shoplifting. That’s just a rumor. It is true that I was once part of a bunch of guys who did shoplift some clothes. We were looking for excitement, but then I remembered the look on my father’s face when he’d come to the police station to pick me up. I confessed to my high-school principal and he helped arrange for me to pay for the things I’d taken. I earned the money by singing nights.
Thoughtlessly, I’d hurt the people I cared for most. It taught me a great deal, that in hurting the people we love we ourselves are the ones who get hurt the worst.
So you see, it’s not true to say I’m perfect; so perfect I make it tough for kids whose parents set me up as an example. I’m proud that they do but I’m happier now that I’ve been able to explain that I made my mistakes, same as any kid, and learned by them too.
PAT’S IN “MARDI GRAS” FOR 20TH AND CAN BE SEEN EVERY THURSDAY AT 9 P.M. EST, OVER ABC-TV ON “PAT BOONE CHEVY SHOWROOM.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1959