I was recently watching a local news story involving a man who was arrested for child abuse for spanking a child with a his belt. His bond was set at fifty thousand dollars and it made me think of how I was disciplined when I was a child, I was whipped for committing a cardinal sin….. Backtalk. I also realized that I adopted the same philosophy in disciplining children. Not so much in the spanking, but with the same intensity. I thought then that they were making a big deal over nothing when they spanked me. Now being a little over their age, during the time of my infractions, I realize that they did the right thing.
Growing up in a traditional African-American family during the 1960’s, I learned of what was considered acceptable behavior by children. My first memories were of learning manners, (saying please and thank you, and to say yes sir or yes ma’am, and always addressing an elders as Mister or Miss) learning etiquette, (keeping your elbows off the table when dining, and saying “Excuse Me” if you have to interrupt someone during a conversation, and never, ever,ever,ever, interrupt an adult conversation.) Any back talk to parents, teachers, police men, dog-catcher,and even hobos (transients) was punishable by death. Almost. Suffice it to say that if a child talked back, he or she would have been dealt with severely. Immediately. Repeatedly.
Once, I had ridden my bike out of our neighborhood, with some friends. We were still on the “colored”side of to the town but not the “coloreds” that we went to school, church. and Cub Scouts with. As we were riding back towards our neighborhood, I was at the end of a procession that passed a group of kids that were amidst a scolding for something or another, given by a black lady with big blue rollers in her hair (with a scarf, another thing that I noticed about the sixties was that people respected their appearance in public). As I pedaled on by the “Giving Respect to Elders” lecture, I was called over to the porch by this woman to join them and to get my portion of chastising. I failed to stop my forward progress and this action forced her to call me again. “Hey boy on the bike! Come over here!” she announced again. I simply glanced in her direction and kept on moving. She said to the gathered crowd of children that I was the example of a child with no home training and if I were hers, that she would have beat that out of me by now. I brought my bike to a halt on the dirt road. I yelled out to her ” I think you are a liar! You ain’t going to hit me!” and beat it out of there at the best speed I could manage. I rode all the way back to my neighborhood( about two miles) without anyone chasing after me. This happened early Saturday morning and that evening, when I saw the Grocery owner’s Cadillac Fleet-wood coming down our street, I didn’t think anything of it. I had gotten away clean with giving the old nag a piece of my mind. I didn’t know any of those kids or the woman giving the lecture on the porch and Mr. Davenport came down delivered groceries to people all of the time. Davenport’s Grocery was one of the last few grocery stores that serviced the Black neighborhoods. So consequently nearly every Black family traded at their store, and had credit with them where they could get food and other goods and pay at the end of the month. It was the time when not all people had phones, and many times when money was scarce and many families chose to eat rather than pay the expense for a phone. Mr. Davenport also delivered important messages. Mrs. Sullivan (the lady with the big blue rollers) had called to the store and gave them my description and that’s how they knew I was the one that had committed the offense. I was the only red -skinned Black kid in the neighborhood at that time, so I was easily pinpointed. He went past our house and pulled in my Aunt’s driveway. He got out and went to the door and knocked on the screen door. Aunt Mary answered and they chatted for a minute, then Mr. Davenport returned to his car and left.
Minutes later my Aunt walked slowly down the street, with her willow switch unsheathed. I sat in wonder as to who was to be the recipient of the Butt Whipping of the Summer Award. My brother Lorenzo had been the leading candidate that summer. He had went to jail for theft, and had gotten caught taking 20 dollars out of Mom’s purse and going on a Oreo cookie binge with our cousin Junior the “Fountain of Mischief”. Yep, it was probably for him. We all sat on the porch and watched her approach.
She lit into me with without saying a word. My words were ” What did I do?” She continued her onslaught in virtual silence saved her Unh! Unh! Unh! grunts of effort as she swung the branch across my backsides. Aunt Mary wielded her switch like a Jedi Knight. She could hit you with a switch from her Living room recliner, while you were in her kitchen. Anywhere in her kitchen. She concluded giving out the Award and as I stood admiring my new markings. She said to me “don’t you Ever!… Ever!… Ever!… Never!… Talk back to grown folks… ” With that she stood there and gave me the evil eye for thirty seconds or so. Then she whipped me again.
After she left, Mom came home from work and Aunt Mary came back to the house and told Mom what I had done. You guessed it, round #3 and #4 ensued. By this time I had received 4 whippings for the same offense. Then Mom took me over to the lady’s house, with a flurry of angry words, not one a curse word. Mom made me apologize to her, and afterward offered the switch to her. She declined to further tenderize my sore behind, but I had to cut her yard with a reel mower (no motor, it used push power ) the rest of the summer. Mr. Davenport also declined to flog me, and instead, I delivered the grocery sale circulars every Thursday for the rest of the millennium. Though I don’t know all the details of the man arrested for child abuse, I have no idea what will happen if we continue to allow the State to regulate the raising of our children. But I know that I was wrong as two left shoes and got what I deserved. I had read a children’s fable about the Gingerbread Man, the morale of the story was to show the fate of disobedient boys will always come to a bad end. The Gingerbread Man only showed remorse as the wolf ate him alive in sections. “A quarter gone!” as the wolf took the fist bite. “Half way gone!” after the second bite. “Almost gone!” after the third bite. “All the way gone!” as the wolf took the last bite. If you will excused me, it is time to put some more ointment on my whelps. The scars are still healing…. I will just say that the story book Gingerbread Man got off easy.