My only frame of reference for childhood, obviously, is being raised in the south. But I can’t imagine preferring anything else. Times have changed all over of course, and not for the better. We live in the brazen age, with every possible perversion flaunted before us on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most kids are robbed of the gentle innocence which was the hallmark of a southern childhood in days gone by.
Back then, in the 1960’s, summer days were spent outside. After breakfast, our mothers (who were at home) would shoo us out of the house, where we would stay all day, only coming back inside when we heard her calling our name for lunch, or supper. The only other time we would scurry back to her apron was when she was needed to treat a skinned knee. She would dab our tears, pat our back, and then apply the dreaded mercurochrome. After the band aid was applied, we would head back out to conquer more Indians (unless a neighbor kid was first to call Cowboy.) If you weren’t quick enough to call it first, you weren’t quick enough to be a cowboy anyway.
I built many a road with my big yellow Tonka truck. Sometimes, we would ride our bikes down the street to Mr. Camp’s old country store, buy a Coca-Cola in the green bottle, and insert a pack of peanuts. Some days, we’d buy the glorious Orange Crush in the dark brown bottle. Mr. Camp had the chest cooler set just right, and there would be little shards of ice in it.
Mr. Camp had it going on.
I was forbidden to buy the candy cigarettes, although occasionally I would bum a smoke from Ricky Nixon, the neighborhood bully, whose mother was not the faux-smoking prohibitionist mine was. Sometimes, I’d buy a pack of baseball cards with a sliver of bubble gum. We’d stick the cards into the spokes of our bicycle wheels. Instant hot rods!
(As an aside, when I returned home years later, my dear mother had tossed my two shoe boxes full of baseball cards. But how could you remain angry? There were greens and cornbread on the table.)
My brother Sonny helped me build a go cart once. It had a rope for a steering wheel, and four tires, each of a different size. It had no safety belt, and I had no helmet. I was unsure of the wisdom of using it as transportation, when Sonny placed his hands on my back, and shoved me down the hill next to our house, right into the crawfish-infested creek. I made it in one piece. The go cart did not.
Discipline was a constant in those days for the wayward child. We had no ritalin, no skull doctors, no timeouts. We did have fannies, and the occasional lighting up of same with a switch served its purpose. But the hugs and kisses always outweighed the spankings. My older brother Sonny got the lion’s share of the rod of correction. The standards were not relaxed for me, but the sentencing phase was a tad more merciful. (Sonny would say, a lot more merciful.)
I recently ran into my good friend and philosopher Mickey Buck Talmadge on an excursion to the woods where he lives, when the subject of child rearing came up. As we sat at the base of a tall oak tree dining on vienna sausages and saltine crackers, Mickey Buck related how he handled the situation in his childhood. Mickey Buck’s mother was much like mine, a gracious yet firm disciplinarian. One day, Mickey Buck took his BB gun over to Old Man Petty’s house, where he proceeded to shoot out one of the taillights on his ’63 Buick Electra. When it all hit the fan, Mickey Buck’s mother sent him to his room, then went for the hickory switch which rested atop her old Frigidaire. Poor Mickey Buck was in for the licking of his life.
Mrs. Talmadge was unaware, however, that there was a saboteur in her home. A day before the unfortunate incident, as she was taking sheets off the clothesline in the backyard before coming back to the kitchen to tend to the pressure cooker full of tomatoes in her mason jars, Mickey Buck had collected the switch, and proceeded to conspicuously break it slightly in two-inch sections, but not so much as to appear broken.
As Mother Talmadge ordered Mickey Buck to lean over his bed, she rared back to apply the rod of God with fervor. When she did, the switch collapsed in two inch segments, and the force of impact was scattered across Mickey Buck’s bottom, the energy on impact being harmlessly scattered across the target. Successive swats confused her before it dawned on her the session was not producing the desired result.
She cast aside the rigged implement, ordered Mickey Buck not to move, and made a bee line toward the kitchen. Mickey Buck was unaware that his Mama had a backup switch, one hidden behind a can of Crisco in the top cabinet. When she returned, she was as determined with the second effort, but had apparently damaged her rotator cuff or something, as Mickey Buck swears the impact was not nearly as ferocious as she had intended. Plus, her exit had given him time to insert three additional pair of underwear into his blue jeans.
She concluded the session none the wiser, the saboteur considering he’d need another plan for future punishments.
I was amazed at the wisdom and cunning of Mickey Buck, wishing I’d been smart enough to devise such schemes.
We finished our meal, and went to hunt squirrels.
I left the woods that day with a renewed outlook on things. And in this mad age where kids play video games inside all day long, this truth occurred to me: It would be grand if we could recapture those wonderful days of innocence, filled with sweet tea, funeral home fans and front porches.
Kids today need more time playing outside, mamas at home, queens of the domestic.
And a few of them need more switches, and less underwear.
Underwear which is never seen, always hidden by blue jeans pulled up into their proper position.
© Copyright 2015 Tim Holcombe