Those Con Artists Were Real!


It's been more than 30 years, but I vividly remember where I was when I learned I’d been swindled by some pretty impressive con artists. At the time, I worked at the Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. (Abit Bradshaw’s The Hicks—or more formally the Hickson School of American Studies—is loosely modeled after this wonderful school.)

Back then, all kinds of people were attracted to the school, so it wasn’t that unusual to see a mother and her two children show up, asking for refuge. They worked their way into our hearts with the saddest story about needing a place for the mother to die. I was struck by how warm and friendly they were, and oh, how I admired their amazing spirit in the face of death.

The school rented them a house to live in “for the duration,” and all kinds of folks baked and cooked for them. Just like Abit, I felt so sorry for them, I gave what money I could, and others joined me. Boy, were they smooth.

I wish I could say that taught me a lesson. Oh sure, I'm no longer as vulnerable to a conman’s creativity (though like Fiona in Welcome the Little Children, the third book in the trilogy, I’m superstitious enough to be knocking on wood right now). But over the years, I have to admit that I've fallen for smaller, shorter duration cons. Like the handsome young couple at the bus terminal who begged me for $10 so they could both buy a bus ticket home—otherwise they'd be stranded! After I handed it over, I might have headed home with a good feeling if my bus route hadn’t gone past the liquor store. The sun was setting, which made the store’s well-lit interior sparkle in the dusky light. And spotlight the young couple standing in line at the register. 

Or the skinny old woman with a hospital wristband who asked me for $5. Seems her daughter was late picking her up from a hospital stay, and she just needed “a little somethin’ on my stomach.” And you know, that daughter of hers still hadn’t picked her up two days later when she tried to reel me in again.

There have been others, but I figure it's better to keep our hearts open than to become bitter and suspicious. But I sure did enjoy exacting my own style of revenge by making that trio of cons the villains in The Roads to Damascus.

Have you ever been conned?  How did you deal with it? I'd love to hear—and commiserate. 


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