Lately, I find myself dreaming of the days when I was a scrawny eleven-year-old boy who spent most of his autumn afternoons kicking a football around the front yard of his family’s Southwest Virginia cow farm — somewhere deep in the forgotten mountains of Appalachia.
Life back in those days was simple, generally carefree and I was blessed. Through my sixth-grade eyes, the world before me was boundless and the future was as wide open as the views from atop the mountain vistas my family would climb so frequently.
When I think about these days, the one word that comes to mind above all others is “order”. There was a hierarchy to life and as an adolescent boy in a house of adults, I ranked at the bottom of this structured world.
Still, there was a great peace in knowing that so long as I performed whatever was asked of me, I would continue to enjoy boundless peace, worry free living and happiness.
On the other hand, I also learned very early in my life that rebellion against this divine order always resulted in pain, excruciating and great physical pain: focused nearly entirely on my rear end.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” wasn’t seen as some catchy saying from a bygone era in the home that I grew up in, instead, it served as a motto for daily life.
For my mother, the slightest sense of sarcasm in my voice or rebellion in my soul was met with a quick and unceremonial swack from whatever smaller, sturdy and flat object was close by — although her favorite instrument of forced compliance was the wire end of a fly-swatter. There’s no telling how many fly-swatter handles the two of us destroyed through the course of my childhood.
No sooner than completing what she saw as her “motherly duty” she’d continue on with whatever task she was doing prior to administering a little corporal punishment without ever mentioning my misdeed again.
On the other hand, whoop’ns from my father were considerably fewer, but when they came, they carried with them a seriousness unlike few things I’ve ever experienced in life: These moments “in the woodshed” carried shades of a courtroom trial, Sunday morning sermon and a dread so terrible it can only be bested by a prisoner awaiting his execution.
Not once have I ever heard him use the term whipping, spanking or time out. No, my father had a simple phrase that even to this day, decades later, sends a shock of fear through my veins: “I’m ah ’bout to set your britches on ‘faarr'”.
“Faarr” is the Appalachian-English word for “fire” in case you were wondering and though he never literally took a lighter or match to my pants, after he’d gotten done with a belt, it sure felt like there was smoke rising from back there!
Though the lead up to them was shear terror, the aftermath was great pain — pain so bad that modern social service workers would undoubtedly launch a full-fledged investigation into should such a punishment have occurred in today’s world.
I could fill the pages of a book on the many times as a child my lack of obedience resulted in one of my parents dealing with my behavior in such a manner and contrary to many of the “experts”, I never for a moment doubted whether my parents truly loved me nor do I live with any debilitating scars from a traumatic childhood that was haunted by beatings — nope, instead, I’m just an ordinary productive member of society who makes a living writing stories about the cherished memories of his childhood. Imagine that.
Though there are right and wrong ways of doing just about everything and I am certainly not defending, denying or belittling true instances of real abuse, the fact remains that as a society, somewhere along the past few decades parents have forgotten that there is a natural order to things and that they’re the boss and that, frankly, the opinion of a seven-year-old with zero life’s experiences is about as worthless as “nipples on a boar hog”!
Each time I stroll through the local grocery store and see the frustrated looks of exhausted parents at their wit’s end, arguing with a 6-year-old about what meal they’ll be eating next Tuesday, I can’t help but wish to myself that my father could spend a week with the pair and offer his old school Appalachian insight into parenting. Perhaps he’d even introduce them to the great phrase, “I’m ah ’bout to set your britches on ‘faarr'”.
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