When I was nineteen years old, my family made a move from Atlanta, Georgia to Ft. Worth, Texas. I was ending my freshman year of college and had planned to transfer to Baylor University in Waco. Wanting to get a jump on summer employment, I chose to move into the new house with my dad while the rest of the family remained in Atlanta, pending the sale of the house there. My dad and I had several weeks of bachelorhood and we did the best we could to feed ourselves and keep up chores like laundry and cleaning. Our place was not the coziest of homes, but neither was it a pig sty. We got by.
One evening, the doorbell rang, and I was greeted by Mrs. Dietz, a neighbor from a few houses down the street. “I heard that just you and your dad were here, so I thought you might like something special to eat,” she said. “I don”t like to brag, but I make some of the best coconut cake you”ve ever tasted, and I brought you a portion to enjoy.” We made some small talk, and I was impressed by her pleasant demeanor. It warmed my heart to know that someone would be so kind to the newcomers on the block.
Once Mrs. Dietz left, I made a beeline to the kitchen sink and promptly shoved the coconut cake into the garbage disposal. The poor lady had no idea that I had a deep dislike for coconut. Of all the foods she could have picked, coconut was absolutely the worst selection. Just the sight and smell of it made me gag. I”ve been accused of being neurotic about the subject of coconut, but no label or accusation could ever cause me to look kindly on such nasty food. I”d rather take a beating than eat coconut. Later I told my dad about the incident and he had a good chuckle since he knew how aggressively I avoided coconut. He chided me for not giving him the chance to determine how good of a cook Mrs. Dietz was, nonetheless, he was amused by the whole situation.
The next evening I realized that I needed to return the plate that had come with the cake, so I made my way to Mrs. Dietz”s house and knocked on her door. Ever cheery, she greeted me with great enthusiasm and insisted that I come in for a visit. I refused, but I made a point to tell her how excellent her cake had tasted. Giving my best Eddie Haskell imitation, I lauded her for her exceptional cooking and told her that I had never before enjoyed such delicious coconut cake. As I turned to leave, she grabbed me by the arm and again insisted that I come in. “I know that you don”t have any plans for the evening,” she accurately speculated, “and the family was just sitting down for some dessert. You just need to come inside for another taste of that cake.” I smiled on the outside, but inside I was horrified. I was trapped by this lady who was going to force feed me the most awful food known to humanity.
Her family was sitting in their formal dining room, which struck me as odd since we hardly ever used ours, and they too greeted me warmly as Mrs. Dietz explained with great enthusiasm how much I loved her cooking. In just a moment she slapped an enormous slice of coconut cake in front of me, encouraging me to eat to my heart”s content. Just the smell of it made me nauseous and before I partook I asked for a tall glass of milk. Maybe if I could chase it with something I liked, it would kill the taste. All eyes focused on me as I offered upbeat commentary with each forkful of cake. I”d quickly wash each bite down with large gulps of milk which did absolutely nothing to ease my misery, but eventually I disposed of the whole slice. Of course, Mrs. Dietz offered me more, but having done my duty, I was able to beg off. I honestly feared I would barf on the spot and I certainly didn”t want to hurry that process along.
Eventually I made my way home and had to explain to my dad why I had been gone so long. I”ve seen him laugh many times, but as I told him about my experience, he was clearly entertained to a degree rarely enjoyed before. Of course, I did not share his glee, but nonetheless, I guess it was good that someone found something amusing about the episode.
The moral of the story is this: Lying has a way of catching up with you. When we lie, we are attempting to avert temporary pain or humiliation, but we set the stage for even greater pain. Commonly our lies are made “necessary” by devious behavior and we rationalize to ourselves that the other persons would be so upset by the truth that it is better just to say whatever is most expedient at the time. No such rationalization, however, can legitimize lying. Instead, we can prioritize the alternative of clean living and open disclosures. Life is much less complicated when we do not expend so much energy generating false impressions.
I got caught big-time in my lie to Mrs. Dietz and I had to pay the penalty, but at least one good thing came from it. I learned that while there is always a need to be tactful in expressing thoughts that might run counter to another”s preferences, truth is better. Decades later, I can still remember how nasty that cake tasted as it slid down my throat.