Experience Brings Appreciation!

In my last commentary I made reference to the fact that I’d grown up with a large Reeves Spiraea growing at the end of our sidewalk, and that it had served as a perpetual supply of switches for keeping three rambunctious boys in line. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way being critical of the tactics my parents used to get us into adulthood. In fact, as I’ve gotten into advanced middle-age myself, I have come to more fully appreciate all that my parents did for us. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we never really lacked for anything either. I know now that for my parents to have provided for us as well as they did must have been a Herculean struggle indeed.


But I got to thinking of some of the whippings I got (and some I should’ve gotten but didn’t) and two particular incidents stand out among all the rest. Now let’s face it, no child ever understands why he needs to have his seat warmed up, but in the case of the two incidents I have in mind, I was convinced I was the victim of the most unjust, unfair cases of child abuse ever perpetrated in all of human history.


Both events must have occurred in the very early 70s because I think I must’ve been about 8 or 9 years old. The first incident happened at my grandmother’s house at some sort of family gathering or another when I got into trouble for following my dad’s advice. I have a cousin who’s maybe 3 or 4 years younger than I am who was a terrible child. Luckily for him, us and the rest of society he outgrew most of his flaws and is now, in fact, a very decent and hard-working family man.


At any rate, this youngster had, among a lot of other undesirable characteristics, the nasty habit of spitting on people. On the way to the function I’d complained to my parents about his proclivity to do this and my dad said, and I quote, “Well, if he spits on you, slap him.” We didn’t get in the door good before he did, and I did. There is a considerable developmental difference between an 8 year old and a 5 year old, and I know I shouldn’t have done it – I knew it even then – but he needed it and I had been given a green light, so I gave him an open-handed belt across the chops.


He screamed like he was on fire and every adult in the house came running. Before I could say anything my cousin pointed at me and said “He hit me!” I suspect my dad already knew the reason why but because the boy’s parents were standing there he asked my why I’d done it. And I replied, right there in front of the entire family, “You told me to!” He said “I did not!” and, like lightning, pulled off his belt and flailed the daylights out of me. I couldn’t believe the rank injustice of it at the time, but now, given the same situation, would do exactly the same to either of my boys. As you grow up you learn there are some things you just can’t say in some places, true or not, and I had left my dad no choice at all.


The other one happened because I thought I’d pull a funny prank on my mother. Both of my parents had a sense of humor, but my mom was a gifted practical joker. I just didn’t know at the time that some things are not funny to your momma.


At that time, and maybe even now for all I know, you could buy at the dime store a toothpaste sized tube of a product called Vampire Blood. The stuff actually did look pretty real, too. I had gotten a tube and, in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, stood in front of the mirror and emptied the entire package into my hair. It oozed out of my hairline and down across my face. I distinctly remember having to sneak past the bathroom door, where my mother was, to get out of the house and pull off the ruse. I could barely contain my laughter at the thought of scaring my mom like that and I knew she’d think it was hilarious too, once the shock wore off.


I got out of the house undetected and went a little way out into the yard, turned around, and ran screaming toward the house. At just about the time I got half-way up the sidewalk my mom, hearing the calamity, appeared at the screen door. I still remember the look on her face. I looked like I’d been hit in the top of the head with an axe and my mom looked like she thought I’d been hit in the top of the head with an axe, which was precisely the effect I’d hoped for.


Try as I might I couldn’t keep from laughing at her expression. I thought for sure she’d double over and laugh with me at how well I’d gotten her. As a child, you have no idea of how much a parent, the good ones anyway, worry about their children getting hurt. As such, you have no idea how unfunny a prank like this is to a mother and how unlikely it is she’s going to immediately laugh it off.


She tore my ass up, is what she did. She stomped down the steps, grabbed me by my wrist, and started dragging me toward the house. She marched me back up the steps, through the dining room and to their bedroom. My dad kept his belts hanging on a tie rack just inside the bedroom door and that’s as far as we made it. She wasn’t big enough to inflict any real pain, but it didn’t stop her from trying. I was, at the time, stunned at her reaction. In hindsight, once again, I’m certain I’d have reacted the same way.


It’s odd, really, the strange little things that make you miss your parents. And to be honest about it, if I could talk to them again I’d just as soon not get another whipping, but no children were ever raised who were more loved than my siblings and me. I am in no hurry to get there, but we’re going to have a lot to laugh about whenever I join them on the other side!

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