Thursday, April 20, 2006


If I look back and try real hard, I can still hear the voices that kept me in line throughout my life. Right now I can hear two, not an entire neighborhood, that were especially important to how I turned out.

I can’t really say the entire neighborhood was important, but I can still hear kids screaming up and down the street I lived on, as their mothers warmed their backsides, and this tends to remind you that your own parents were just waiting for the opportunity to rip a limb off a tree, or quickly slither their belt from the loops of their pants. Though most of it was my imagination, the thought tended to keep me in line.

Voice number one I can hear vividly after 59 years - Ma. She was a skinny little snuff dipping lady with about 4 feet of hair rolled up in a tight bun, and held in place on the back of her head by long brown plastic pins. She was tough as they come. Pa didn’t dare cross her, and neither did her 7 kids - 6 of which were good size boys.

One day when I was 4 or 5, I was left in Ma’s care. Almost immediately I felt free to do as I pleased and began to “get on her last nerve”. I quickly found out that even with this old woman, I wasn’t safe. She too had a quick bony hand and it soon found the seat of my dirty pants. In shock, I protested that she should not be whipping me and that I would tell my Mom on her just as soon as she got back. “Well, you go right ahead, young man, but you will do as I say while she’s gone.”

“No! You’re not my mom,” I again protested, and ran off to hide.

Poor old Ma spent at least an hour walking around and around the farm looking for me, but I was secretly hidden behind her beautiful red Cannas at the side of the house. I watched her pass several times, thinking to myself that she was really going to be in trouble when my Mom got back. It was so exciting that I could hardly wait to see my Mom whip my Ma!

Finally, I heard the car pull in the drive way. Out from my sanctuary I ran and in defiance, right past Ma, so close her apron waved in the rush of air, and right into my Mother’s arms. “She hit me!” I whined, as if still injured by the terrible blows she was supposed to have inflicted on me. “See da, I told you I’d tell,” I said pointing at her as if I were a witness on the stand fingering a criminal, and smiling and waiting on the wrath of my mother to come!

“That’s right; I spanked him for not minding and sassing me. And the little devil’s been hiding ever since,” Ma replied in her defense.

“Is that right?” Mom asked.

Not being old enough to pick out the right answers to all the parts of the question, I shook my head “yes” to the “she hit me” part, which answered “yes” to all the other things Ma had said. Needless to say, I got another spanking from my mother. The village system was working! I learned that I needed to stay on the good side of everyone in the village.

Yes, Ma was one of the voices I can still hear that keeps me in line. The one thing she said that always stuck with me and made me want to please her was, “If you do as well as you look, you’ll go far, son.” Well, I don’t know about my looks, but I’ve been a better person just to please that old lady. I miss her. If I could have talked to her when I was older, I’m sure I would have learned much more on the subject of how to act.

I even remember one particular contribution I made to the “village system”. I was 8 years old, playing in the backyard, and had a towel proudly safety-pined around my neck. I was fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way” - I was Superman! I was faster than a speeding Daddy!

Dad had come home from work and had found out that I had lied to him about something that now escapes me. Dad couldn’t stand a liar and he came out and I heard the distinctive slithering sound of leather leaving belt loops. I knew immediately 2 things: he was near and he knew what I’d lied about!

Up, up, and away! With neighbors and kids watching from their backyard fences, I was headed for the sky to escape the lapping leather of the evil Beltman! However, I wasn’t rising. The terry cloth cape wasn’t working, but I was headed for the garden faster than a speeding bullet! However, another super power wasn’t working - my x-ray vision either didn’t see or forgot that the garden was fenced in! I was trapped!

Well, I’ll spare you the details, but Beltman won that day, and all of the neighborhood super-heroes were reminded that it could happen to them IF THEY WEREN’T GOOD.

Voice number two was, of course, my Mom. Though she wasn’t blood kin to Ma, they had a lot in common. She too was a little wiry woman with a quick temper and good sense of right from wrong. However, it wasn’t the quick hand up beside my head that keep me in line the most, though it helped to keep me guessing, it was her pride in me, and the way she used the “village”.

“You know, I saw Ms. Henderson yesterday, she said you were such a good boy. I’m really proud of you.” Or, “Ms. Duff said she saw you in town the other day, and you were such a gentleman.” Who were these people? Where were they? I didn’t remember seeing them. Did Mom hire them to keep an eye on me?

Well, of course not, but I was always conscious of the fact that someone who knew my Mom might be watching me, and I didn’t want any body telling my Mom I was being bad or doing something I shouldn’t. I wanted to keep my Mom’s pride in me. It was important to me. Something I didn’t want to lose. It’s that darn village again - making me “be good”, even when I didn’t want to be.

I told her recently that this was her witness to me, and she didn’t understand. I told her that I learned that my actions reflected upon her. If I was good, she was a good mother. If I was bad, she was a bad mother. The witness part came when I realized that if I say I’m Christian, then I’d better act like Christ. What I do is a direct reflection on my Lord too! Our witness helps the entire village learn right from wrong. Thanks Mom. Thanks to everyone that helped her.

"Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." - James Baldwin



Ron Southern said...

good post; good quote.

Ron Southern said...

good post; good quote.

Ron Southern said...

Thanks for the link!

The_Mrs said...

I think about the spankings/whippings I got as a kid and some of them I deserved because I was being a huge butthead. Others... not so much.

The belt whishing from the belt loops .. I remember that sound. Although my dad's weapon of choice was a leather razor strap.