Switch ‘dem Legs

“Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret.” – Unknown

The young boy-child held a long privet branch, stripped of its leaves, maybe three-eights of an inch at its broken base before tapering to nothing at the “business” end.  It needed to be a “keen hickory” as in “Go out yonder and break me off a keen hickory and be quick about it.”  My grandmother was quite specific concerning her needs…much to my dismay.

The young boy that was me, was hesitant but even his young brain realized that waiting was only postponing the inevitable…and possibly making things worse. My legs were going to be switched no matter how long I waited and often the wait was worse than the punishment.

Punishment was to be swift and the question, “should the punishment fit the crime,” was never asked.  It was to be corporal and somewhat “Old Testament.”  “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was a guiding principle.

Rarely was I sent to my room without my supper, never did I stand with my nose in the corner.  Discipline was a thick privet brach applied to the bare legs.  Whelps that faded quickly while the lessons did not…may be.  All were accompanied by “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” and while it was being administered, “quit that cryin’ fore I give you a reason to cry.”

Spare the rod…” actually never appears in the Bible but my Nannie had memorized Proverbs it seems.  Six verses speak to disciplining children with a rod in Proverbs beginning with Prov 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him often” and ending with Prov 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” All from the King James version of course.

My parents were shift workers at a nearby textile plant and my care along with my brother’s and three girl-child cousins’ were primarily in the hands of my grandmother.  Care and discipline along with many life lessons.

We would spend the night at my grandparent’s house and would spend the morning and early afternoon with them until my parents returned from their first shift work or their morning sleep when they worked the third shift.  I only mention this to emphasize that we had ample opportunity to run afoul of my grandmother’s wrath…or a lesson or five. 

Not to say I couldn’t incur the wrath of my parents, I did, but it was different.  The line I had to toe with my parents seemed a bit more crooked than the line my grandmother had etched in the sand.  Her line was a sharp, thin line like the crease on a Marine’s dress trousers. Not to say my parents weren’t disciplinarians, they were.  But they took a different tack. 

My father was a talker, an explainer…a pontificator reminiscent of a Southern diplomat stumping for reelection.  Many times I thought, “Please get to the beating, you are killing me.”  He would eventually, a thin belt across the buttocks, done with a purpose but without any emotion other than disappointment.  His disappointment might have been the most painful of all.

My mother…her’s was a reaction to emotion…and her first emotion was raging anger.  She was the stereotype of the explosive Scot Irish redhead.  She went off like twenty sticks of dynamite, swiftly and violently, and then it was over.  The whelps might last a bit longer and some may not have landed where she aimed, others might be a bit weepy with blood.  By today’s standards, the word abuse might have been used but this was a different time.

If you are over fifty and reading this, my guess is you can relate.  If you are over fifty and from the Bible Belt I know you can relate.  Corporal punishment was, maybe is, the Southern way but it is not the only way.  As I’ve gotten older I wonder if it was just an easy way to address the behavior without the cause.

Understand, I hold no deep seated animosity for the discipline I received and am reasonably well adjusted. Any maladjustments were not due to the “whoopins'” I received. While the discipline was swift so were demonstrations of love and when I heard, “Now Donnie, this is for your own good” deep down I knew they were correct.

I began my teaching career in the last decade or so of teacher dispensed corporal punishment and while I dispensed many “licks” with a wooden paddle, I was never comfortable with it.  Early on, I learned I had a good bit of my mother in me and that punishment, like revenge, was best served cold and without a side dish of anger.  I’m proud I had this revelation.  I tried to become a happy medium between my mother and father…no, I became my father complete with pontification.

I was once assigned a classroom across from the principal’s office.  The principal was an imposing woman, the best principal I ever had.  When a male student ran afoul of the system her secretary would step into my classroom and inform me, “Ms. Koon needs your assistance.”  Those were code words that I needed to administer a paddling.

I found those paddlings much easier to administer because I was emotionally detached.  Three firm licks across the buttocks of a young man who hadn’t made me mad.  There was no “this is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you,” lie. 

Some I can remember that make a smile cross my face.  One crawled across Ms. Koon’s desk while I was in my backswing.  “Come on, I haven’t even hit you yet.”  Another, I found had padded his backside with notebooks.  Chortle.

I hear assurances that what is wrong with America is we have gotten away from “whoopin’ our youngins’.”  I don’t know.  I believe there is an absence of limits and discipline being taught but discipline takes many forms beginning with teaching what is right or wrong and what is expected.  We seem to lack self-discipline.

I spanked my daughter once.  Not even a spanking, a light tap on a bare leg.  I don’t remember what it was over and it doesn’t matter.  She cried like I had hit her with a rock.  I’d like to think her tears were over being disappointed that she had disappointed me.  I think we are a lot alike in that area.  Most of my pain was not from the rod but from realizing I had disappointed my parents or grandparents or teachers.  I had fallen short of their expectations.

Deep down I wanted to be the perfect child and repeatedly, due to my lack of self-discipline, fell short.  I hope they forgave me for my many transgressions.  Hopefully, I made them proud. 

My dearest Ashley, you did not fall short.  You were almost a perfect child.  You have made me proud.

***

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who writes on many subjects, fiction and non-fiction. His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3vG_2EfWcuXYSOufYCAOFURnisANCQjCQITPrds5zWwlSO8MKkBqFFhJo

8 thoughts on “Switch ‘dem Legs

  1. Though I’m not from the American Bible Belt, I can definitely relate, Don. In the part of the world where I grew up, corporal punishment was also the go-to means of keeping kids on the straight and narrow path of righteousness. Based on my limited observations of two young mothers in our apartment complex, I also share your belief that “there is an absence of limits and discipline being taught.” Just yesterday, a five-year-old daughter appeared all puffed up with anger and chastised her mother for being “distracted” in stopping to chat with me after collecting the mail!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ah…our childhoods were a different time. Parents spanked. Principals spanked. Teachers spanked.
    I only remember being spanked a couple of times at home. Never at school I was a good kid and didn’t want to disappoint my parents or teachers. Okay, my brothers and I did a few things we shouldn’t have gotten spanked for…But we didn’t get caught. More mischievous than bad. 🙂

    We never spanked our kids…they were great kids…and they turned out to be amazing adults! I’m so proud of the Human-Beans I brought into the world. They, through their jobs, volunteer work, humanitarian trips to other countries, donations of money, etc., have helped other people in some great ways. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I can relate. Mom said, “Get me the belt.” We knew which belt. This was in the 1960s. As part of Mom’s fashion accessories, she had a four-inch wide belt with a double row of large belt holes rimmed with gold metal. That was the belt. Man, did it hurt. Never saw her wear it…I always wondered why she really bought it.

    I hid the belt a few times. Which only made things worse. Once, knowing that I’d hid the belt and she couldn’t find it and that she was going to swat my ass with her bare palm, I quickly shoved a book down my pants for protection. Mom was furious at the time but went out and called my aunt. She said the two of them howled with laughter over that.

    Ah, good times.

    Now, of course, Mom is a great grandmother. She’s never given any of her grandchildren or ggc a whipping with a belt. Of course, they probably never tested her patience or the limits of behavior with what they said or did, either. Ah, youth.

    Cheers

    Liked by 2 people

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