I know what you’re thinking. He only got his ass beat once? In truth, no. I was a slow learner.
Nevertheless, this particular occurrence of motherly discipline stands out. My brother and I have laughed about it over the years, Mama not so much. So, here’s the story.
It was about 1960, which means I was about nine years old and my brother a year and a half younger. On a hot summer day in Petersburg, Virginia, we had been playing in the field behind our house and found a snake. It was nothing out of the ordinary, just an old black snake. Definitely non-poisonous, and definitely not alive. There had been some construction equipment clearing the field and old Mr. Snake had got himself run over, squashed dead.
Now being young, fun-loving and extremely inventive youths we decided it would be exciting, and funny to share our discovery with our mother. So, we took old Mr. Snake and draped his three-foot length over the handle of a rake, went to the back door of the house, and knocked. Standing to the side, we waited, stifling our laughs with our hands, letting the dead, non-poisonous snake hang from the rake at about Mama’s eye height.
The door opened. The shriek that pierced into the hazy summer sky scared the piss out of us, so we did the only rational thing we could. We dropped the rake, leaving the dead squashed snake on the doorstep and ran like hell. I swear we must have been a half a mile down the road before we stopped hearing the shrieks.
Did I forget to mention that Mama was deathly afraid of snakes. I don’t just mean, ‘oh, there’s a creepy crawly snake, let’s go the other way’, afraid. I mean, ‘there’s a vile evil slithering monstrosity of a snake, let’s burn the field, and for good measure the house down, and move to another state, afraid. Mama didn’t like snakes. We knew this.
And yet, we decided that it would be good fun to have a laugh at her expense. Needless to say, we stayed away from the house for as long as we could despite, her shouts that we should return home immediately. We knew she was serious because she used our full names. “Glenn Stephen Trust, you come home right now!” When there was no response, she would add an expletive or two. “Glenn Stephen Trust, Michael Wayne Trust, you get your asses home right now!” Yes, that’s right she would shout curse words down the street…in public…in the middle of the day. I learned some of my best ones from Mama.
As an aside, the neighbors were used to it. It wasn’t the first time we had been vocally instructed to get our asses home. For you younger readers, you should remember that this was decades before cell phones and text messaging. When you were out, you were out.
We decided that staying out that day was the wisest course of action. So we did, at least until we began to get hungry, and thirsty. Eventually, we decided we might as well go take our ass whuppin’, before we died of starvation or dehydration.
Back at the house, we found Mama calmly sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee, a frying pan on the table ready for our return. You should know that Mama was a little lady, maybe five foot three and skinny as a rail. She always used some household implement when she administered punishment so as not to break a bone on our hard heads. Broom handles, frying pans, spatulas were among the many instruments she used on my backside over the years. You should also know that we never fought back. Mama was Mama. You didn’t fight your mama. We bent over and took our punishment like men…or at least like boys who weren’t going to run away from it…at least not when we were hungry and thirsty.
Now some of you may be saying to yourselves, “Oh, my God. You were struck, even beaten as a child. How awful.”
Bullshit. I deserved every one of the whuppins’ I received over the years and probably a few more for things Mama never found out about. Amazingly, I turned out just fine…at least in my opinion, although some might debate it… just like most of the other members of humankind for a hundred thousand years who have received similar discipline during their developmental age.
But this is not about the pros and cons of corporal punishment. We can talk about that some other time. This is about lessons learned from Mama, in particular, one specific lesson learned by two boys who scared the crap out of their mother on a hot summer day in 1960.
Respect. We knew Mama was terrified of snakes, but we failed to respect her feelings on the matter. To this day, I hear those piercing, terror-filled shrieks in my mind and I feel guilty as hell about tormenting my mother that day. I should have respected her. I certainly did every day after that.
I am not saying that I learned respect because I got whupped across the backside with a frying pan. I am saying that my mother was not afraid to teach the lesson that we should respect others and their feelings. And she was not afraid to make the point in a way that we would remember. It is not okay to hurt someone for your own pleasure, or to be discourteous rude or disrespectful.
In a world full of narcissistic self-interest, I worry that the simple idea of respecting others is vanishing from our society. And it is not just a problem among young people. The young learn from their parents.
I don’t mean to sound preachy, but what the hell, here’s the point. Take the time to teach your children and grandchildren to respect others. The world would be a different place if we did.
Mom has passed on now. Michael passed too recently, unexpectedly. But I remember those days…rambunctious boys…barefoot summers…thinking of mischief to do…and the lessons learned. Thanks Mom for the lessons. Mike, you look out for her. I expect I’ll see you both soon enough.
Best – Glenn