A spoonful of childhood nostalgia
A little something I read in the paper recently:Based on data collected between 1968 to 1980, the Institute of Human Development at UC Berkeley has concluded that mild to moderate spanking of preschoolers resulted in “no negative effects on cognitive, social or behavioral skills” when compared to the kids whose parents didn’t use corporal punishment. Ahhh … my mind drifts back …It was summertime, early ’70s, and the whole family was going from Mississippi to Florida in a station wagon. There was my aunt, uncle and mother, my five cousins and me. That’s nine people, one station wagon, 20 plus hours of driving with kids ages 7-15. In case you aren’t good at math, that equals exactly 130 beatings.Once all the luggage is taken into account, each child was allotted a section of seating that was slightly smaller than they were. This means overlap, overlap means trouble, trouble means discipline, and discipline, on this trip, was my mother’s department.When a flare-up would occur in the back, my mother would calmly turn around and, with Ninja-like skill, begin to beat the nearest kid with a wooden spoon. There was no pre-beating investigation, none of that namby-pamby “who started it” line of inquiry, just a quick and decisive whacking on the shins and thighs with a blunt kitchen utensil. This was always enough to regain order in the back seat for the next few miles.As the youngest in this posse, I was assigned a seat all the way in the back, out of her reach, so it was like watching a show from the bleachers. I held on to no illusion of safety from my faraway place, though. I knew that, if need be, she would either crawl back or, even worse, pass the spoon back to a cousin and give them the OK to have at me. About halfway through the trip, she actually broke the spoon in half on the kneecap of the oldest cousin. Our amnesty didn’t last long, though. At our next Stuckey’s pit stop she bought a souvenir back scratcher, which turned out to have even more stopping power than the spoon. This behavior may sound odd today, but at the time it was just what was. The occasional ass whoopin’ was as much a part of growing up in the Deep South as humidity and mosquitoes. And my mother wasn’t tyrannical about it, but instead approached it in a rather playful way. Hey, if the kids need a spoonin’, why not make a game out of it, right? Sometimes she’s just reach back and do long, swooping figure eights with the spoon, effectively beating 3-4 children at once. Kinda fun, really.My father, by contrast, was known to wield a Sears reversible belt on the hindquarters of a child with such passion and focus that I can only assume his doctor had lectured him on the cardiovascular benefits of such a workout. “Mr. Smith, your cholesterol is a little high. I’m gonna put you on a strict regimen of beating the hell out of your kids. Come back and see me in six weeks.”I’m joking, of course … they weren’t actually testing for cholesterol back then.In all fairness, my father was more into near-beatings than actual beatings. A near-beating was when my dad would reach down, unbuckle his belt and snap it quickly out of the loops. Picture Clint Eastwood in “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” only armed with a belt rather than a six-shooter. That was my dad. As the belt was yanked from around the waist, it made a chilling, spaghetti-western-like sound, all reverberating and menacing. This noise alone was usually enough to put an end to whatever heinous transgression had warranted the belt quick-draw, like an elbow on the table or not saying “sir.”My brother and I shared a secret fantasy that one day Dad would whip his belt off as he marched towards a cowering child, only to find his pants around his ankles once he arrived. This image sent us into giggles each time the belt came off – and if you’re trying to prevent a near-beating from escalating to an actual beating, giggling is NOT the best course of action. At least not according to my research data.Barry Smith’s column appears on Mondays. Read more on Barry’s blog, http://www.barrysmith.wordpress.com.
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For the past five-plus years I have sat in a big chair in a small office on Hyman Avenue watching life in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley play out in front of me.