My father has decided to take my sister and me to a dude ranch in Arizona. I am in the third grade, eleven years old; my sister is in the fifth grade and thirteen years old. We play poker in the evening for real money. We go on a guided walking tour of the desert. On the tour the guide warns us about the types of cacti not to touch. Even though we have been told which ones not to touch, one boy disregards the warnings and now howls his head off about the pain.
My father brings out his Swiss army knife that, miraculously enough, has tweezers. Within minutes the howling stops. I feel very proud that it is my father who has had the Swiss army knife that stopped the boy's crying.
The next day my father wants my sister and me to go out on horses together, but that requires me to lie about my age. I stand there nodding vigorously when the guide asks if I am really 13 years old, but when it is time to get on the horse, the tears run down my face. I can not get on the horse, and my father who is standing there asks to see me in private.
"Just get on the horse! You'll have more fun if you're with your sister."
"No, I can't. They're older than me."
He and I go back to the cabin, and I can feel from his silence a confusion over why his child can't lie about even the simplest things. From what I understand, my father lied his head off in school. All the kids cheated their way through exams and would have never considered turning a classmate in for such an offense. There is enough pre-war chaos in 1930s Vienna that everyone behaves in whatever way will keep them clear of trouble and require the least amount of work possible.
At my private school in Atlanta, I must right down a pledge of honor on every major test, exam or essay. I am deeply convinced that an all powerful God can see any lies and cheating and feels displeasure when we act in a dishonorable way.
We say little as we wait to pick up my sister from her horse ride through the desert. Tomorrow there will be a long car ride to the Grand Canyon, and the day after we are home.
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