One thing I could count on with my Mom when I was a little girl: she meant what she said. And Mom always carried through when she meted out punishment. Of course some things she let go, and some threats she exaggerated. I asked her once how she got so many kids to behave so well. She put her finger on her chin, raised one eyebrow, and said, “You know, I guess I was just blessed with good kids.” That’s revisionist history, if you ask me.
“I’ll beat you to a pulp,” Mom told me more than once. She never did, although she did give me a spanking with a rope Bonita kept tied around her waist as a lasso, ’cause ‘Cowboys and Indians’ was our favorite make-believe game. My friend, Diann said she wondered how I kept from laughing because of the things that came out of my Mom mouth. “Laughing’d be the last thing on your mind, if you were me.” I told her, which made Diann throw her head right back and laugh so hard she held her sides and begged me to stop clowning around. Diann had big brothers and not one single sister. She was born on April Fools Day; I said she was practical joke on her family. She sure liked to laugh a lot. Anyways, I realized Diann was probably right, Mom never would beat me to a pulp, or beat me to within an inch of my life, which was another thing she told me. Still and all, she was pretty interested in telling the truth, so I left that water untested. Most threats she carried through, so there was no sense in tempting fate.
She never cut a thumb off of a kindergartener who didn’t stop sucking her thumb, even though she threatened to plenty of times and one time she made Marcia put her thumb up on the cutting board when she was cutting up carrots to go in the pot roast. Since Mom’s the one who said a few worms in the cider added protein, there was no telling what value she might give a tender 5-year-old’s thumb, even if Marcie did suck her thumb into an old prune. Marcia’s eyes got round and wild and the black part got so big it almost took over the dark brown part, then tears welled up and wavered there, just behind her bottom lid, ready to spill over if she blinked. She hid her thumb in her back jeans pocket. Marcia figured she’d be better off not testing Mom on that threat.
“Stop playing around and get that shovel those oats over to the auger,” Mom looked at Frankie with her I-mean-business look, the one where her forehead pulled together in two straight lines between her eyebrows. Her voice was quiet and calm. I coulda told Frankie that quiet-calm like the stillness before tornado storm. He better take cover. But Frankie was like me, he had to find out for himself. That’s why we were pals, ’cause we were so much alike.
Frankie shot one eyebrow straight up at Julie and whispered, “She wouldn’t really do that, would she?” Julie just shrugged and rolled her eyes. He gave Julie a wink, “Naw,” he decided on his own. The two of them went back to kicking the oats every which-a-way, except toward the auger. I guessed those two Little Kids were gutsier than me, ’cause next thing you know, Frankie’s eyes flew wide open, so every bit of blue showed, and his mouth went into a big O with no sound coming out, while Julie let out a high-pitch yelp like a puppy getting spanked with a newspaper. She flew up in the air along with all that oat dust, her strawberry-blond hair flying out all around her like bits of oat shafts. Yup, Mom meant what she said. I could see why Frankie thought a poking in the hind-end with a pitchfork was one of those exaggerations. Still, it’s way better not to test Mom, ’cause most times she meant what she said.
Lots of times she told me ‘I’d be in dire straights,’ if I did one thing or another, like plug an old telephone into an electrical outlet or ate wild berries or got in a stranger’s car. Nothing bad ever happened, except I could see those things scared the begeezers out of her, and I did all of those things, except the last one only part-way: Bonita and I leaned our bellies in on the front seat of a stranger’s car ’cause he had something really interesting to show Dad and Dad was still at work, so we could take a look and tell Dad all about it when he got home. He just had a bunch of old license plates, like the ones Dad had hanging in the garage. I guess old people like old things. That man smelled sour and he had papers all over the car floor. I’d never get all the way in a car like that.
I tried hard not to do anything that would scare Mom or make her ashamed of me. Shaming her was about the worse thing a kid could do to Mom, like when Deanna played chicken in the road with her friend Brenda. Not because of the punishment; Deanna got grounded for a month: no TV, no going anywhere except for church and school, no radio, and no telephone. It was because of that hang-dog look on Mom’s face and how she got quiet and didn’t seem to even look the shameful kid in the eyes. That was worse punishment than any kind of thing she could threaten. A hundred billion times worse than getting beat to a pulp; I’m almost sure of that. That’s the way she looked when I lied to her, which I only did a couple of times, ’cause that look was about the most unbearable thing I ever experienced. Besides, I didn’t have that trick about lying Bonita had where she even believed her own lies. That’s ’cause I had a super-good memory.
I know someone enamored with cloning, “It would be great to have yourself as a child,” he declared. “Who better to raise a child than someone exactly like him. You’d understand everything about the child.”
“Are you daft?” I blurted out, leaving my diplomacy filter somewhere in the back of my head. “I had a hard enough time listening to my mother, I’d never listen to myself.” I could see myself rolling my eyes and blurting out, “If you know so much, why do you have to tell me. I should already know. So you must not be as smart as you think you are.” Then I’d have to think that one through, because maybe the new me is smarter than the old me.
It’s a good thing God gave me the mother He did. She did get to her rope’s end from time to time, and threatened things she would never, ever do. Still, I’d have gone bonkers if I had to raise myself. Maybe it’s a blessing she has a less than perfect memory, too, or maybe she has a heart full of forgiveness. At any rate: Lucky Me.