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A Boy, A Barn, A Belt

by Mark Bench

Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 19 Aug 2012


Preface: For the following story, I had the alliterative title before I had anything except the most vague idea of what the story would be about: I had a title in search of a story! The following is what the title rustled up. I have to note that I stopped several times while writing this piece and asked out loud, Where is this coming from? I felt as if I were channeling someone! So, to Dr. Pierce Lloyd, wherever he is, I offer my thanks for his having let me be his oracle.
 

There’s a saying, It’s all over but the shouting (shoutin’). It refers to a matter having been decided — anything subsequent is just an anticlimax, mere shouting. A while back, I looked it up and learned that it first appeared in print in 1842, put down by a Welshman, Charles James Apperley. That fact amused me, because I’d always thought of it as an expression of the American South. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was coined by someone from the land of cotton, that Welsh fellow’s first use in print notwithstanding. Mind you, my confident guess is that the Southerner who coined it was named David Jones or Matthew Cadogan or John Llewelyn, or something like that. (My name, by the way, is Pierce Lloyd. I have Welsh ancestry through both my mother, nee Pierce, and my father.)

I mention the saying, because, when I was growing up in the South, I’d heard it enough times that I came up with a take-off on it: all over but the whipping (whippin’). You see, when I was a kid, the shouting wasn’t the anticlimax. It came before the whipping. Of course, the whipping wasn’t the anticlimax either. It was the main event. So maybe I should now come up with yet another take-off: all over but the butt rubbing, or maybe, all over but the crying. Rubbing my butt and crying; those were the inevitable anticlimaxes to a whipping.

When I was a kid, the shouting generally took place in the house. The living room or the kitchen — those were the locations my parents preferred when they shouted at one of us kids. A kid in trouble didn’t get a lick of privacy for the shouting. My parents wanted anybody or everybody to hear them lay into us for whatever it was we’d done. Whoever was around got to hear the bawling out. Even our friends got to stick around for that entertainment!

Now, don’t misunderstand, please. There wasn’t, in my opinion, an excess of shouting, and it wasn’t all that loud. Especially when my father handled things, the shouting really wasn’t shouting at all. Daddy just didn’t have to raise his voice much to be stern and scary. He had swallowed a truckload of gravel when he was a teenager — so it sounded to us. And he had strong lungs. So, when he talked with passion, you heard it even if he didn’t say it loud. Mama did shout. She sounded like an angry blackbird when she was worked up. But she got it over with quickly, especially if you didn’t argue with her. If you did argue, then she shouted until you stopped arguing, or she brought in Daddy and his gravel-pit voice. Daddy’s voice always shut down the arguing!

Once the shouting was done, then you headed on for your whipping. That was almost always the punishment if you’d done wrong. My parents didn’t know much about other things, like grounding or assigning extra chores, and we kids never got allowances that could have been cut off. No, my parents mainly used the short, sharp shock of a whipping to punish wrongdoing.

At the point of heading on for the whipping there was sex segregation. My sisters — they stayed in the house, the domestic sphere, Mama’s domain. Mama was queen of that castle; Daddy was just what the English call prince consort: Prince Philip to Mama’s Queen Elizabeth. My sisters would go to my parents’ bedroom. That’s where Mama dealt with them, with either her hand or her hairbrush, or sometimes a combination of the two.

We boys, on the other hand, headed out to Daddy’s domain: the barn. Now don’t try to imagine some massive structure of weathered barn-board, full of cows and horses and the like. Our barn was really just a large shed. But Daddy insisted on calling it a barn. He was a country lawyer, who’d grown up on a farm with a real barn, and he’d really wanted to raise his own kids on a place with a barn. So, he called our shed the barn. In his favor I will note that Daddy did plant a substantial garden every year and most of the vegetables we ate fresh came from that garden — and there were also lots of pickled things made from the substantial surpluses: my mouth waters if I think about Mama’s chow-chow and her pickled okra. Plus, we had chickens, which provided lots of eggs and the occasional pot of chicken and dumplings. For a while, there was even a nanny goat named Myrtle. But Mama and Myrtle had serious disagreements about things, and the goat was exiled from our property to a home where she was better appreciated.

The barn. That’s where we boys trudged when the shouting was over. When Daddy could trust us not to run away and hide someplace — which was just a damn fool thing to do — he sent us on ahead alone.

Out to the barn with you, he would say — or some variation on that.

So, with his eyes moist and his stomach bubbling and his heart a-pounding (I have to write a-pounding to get the mood right!), a boy would trudge to the barn. He wouldn’t hurry. There was no point in hurrying, because Daddy always gave a boy a good amount of time between the sending out and his coming along. He always left us time to think things over and anticipate what was coming. We boys even had a name for it: walkin’ and waitin’ time. In some ways, that was the worst part of the whole ordeal! There you were, knowing you were due for a whipping, and you had to wait on it, dreading it, and also, just as much, wishing Daddy would hurry up and come and get it done with. I wonder, do guys about to be executed think like that right ahead of their executions?

Now, speaking of an execution: that’s really what it was like. In the house, Daddy (with or without Mama) was the judge, the prosecutor, and the jury. In the house, he put a lot of passion into letting us know just what we had done that required us to pay in pain. There would be fire burning in his eyes, and I once was sure I saw real steam coming out of his ears. But, when he came to the barn, he was always as cool as a cucumber on a cloudy day. He was there just to do his duty. He was the executioner. I mean, the executioner at a hanging or a frying isn’t supposed to be all revved up with passion. He’s just supposed to do his job and see justice done. He might even feel a mite sorry for the condemned. He might even think the fellow is innocent! But he still does his job. That was Daddy. When he came to the barn, he was there to represent justice and to see justice done. Remember now! Daddy was a lawyer. He believed in justice. He lived by that belief.

I think that’s why my brothers and I never felt a drop of ill will toward Daddy when he whipped us. I know there are folks who won’t buy that — I know, because those folks have told me! But my brothers and I just didn’t hold it against Daddy that he had to whip us. We believed in justice, too. We tried pretty darn hard to live by that belief.

But wasn’t Daddy’s calm, cool, collected manner a problem? I’ve heard that claimed — folks saying how terrible it is for a parent to act like they’re untouched by what they’re doing. Well, now, I suppose that would be true, if my brothers and I had ever thought Daddy really was untouched by it! But, the fact is, we knew better. We knew Daddy didn’t like whipping us, and that it really did hurt him — not more than it hurt us, of course, but some, enough that he did suffer along with us. In short, we knew our father loved us, and would’ve sawed off his own arm for us, with a dull, rusty saw, if that had been needed. So, we just didn’t have hard feelings for how Daddy handled things when we were due a whipping.

In fact, I would say, Daddy’s calm, cool, collected manner was something we appreciated. I mean, a whipping is a scary enough event without having to face it when the one dishing it out is burning at you with rage. Then, you never can know how it’s going to turn out. My best friend, Billy — he had a father who was like that; he whipped Billy in fits of temper. Now, Billy’s father loved him, no doubt. But Billy was scared of his daddy in ways I never was scared of mine. I never worried about Daddy getting his engine revved up and then not being able to shut it down. Billy sometimes had real bruises and welts. I never did.

Another thing: we boys pretty quickly, each of us, got to wanting to be brave and manly when we took a whipping. Daddy’s manner made that accomplishment pretty easy. He was sort of a mirror to look at when he came to the barn. He’d stand there, calm, steady, ready to do his duty. We’d look at him, and we’d get calm (sort of!) and steady (sort of!) and we’d feel ready to do our duty (sort of!). It’s just a lot harder to fuss at a man who is carrying himself the way Daddy did — at least, that’s how it was for my brothers and me. Never with words, but with his way, Daddy invited us to take it like a man — and we did, a good deal of the time.

I’m thinking of one time, out of many. I was fourteen. I was a freshman in high school. Yes! We hayseeds did get more than an eighth grade education! As a matter of fact, I have a Ph.D.! Of course, back then I wasn’t Dr. Pierce Lloyd, professor of American History. I was just plain old Pierce Lloyd or Pierce, or Lloyd ... or One Eye — that latter, of course, is a nickname, which I picked up when I was ten, when I got wounded with a BB (You’ll shoot your eye out!), and had to wear an eye-patch for a while. At fourteen, I was still often called One Eye. I mention that, not to digress, but because it plays a very minor role in my recollection.

To quote: I dare you, One Eye!

That’s a friend, Chris Pritchard, you’re seeing quoted. He was always daring me to do things. Mostly, I refused his dares, knowing how stupid they were, and how much trouble I’d get into if I took them. But, once in a while, I did take a dare. I wonder sometimes at the fact that I took more than one — because, I got whipped for just about every one I took!

The dare, in this case, involved a prank against Miss Mills, President of the Ladies Auxiliary at our church. She had briskly scolded Chris and me for running in a hallway at the church, in front of some of our friends, embarrassing us, and we wanted to get back at her. Chris brought a handful of condoms when he met up with me at the church Saturday morning a week later. They were his older brother’s condoms, but, since Garrison wasn’t actually using them for anything, Chris had liberated them for our prank. Chris and I were in a parlor room at the church, laying out refreshments, arranging chairs, and setting out materials for a meeting of the Ladies Auxiliary. That was the price I was paying Mama for the lift to town when she’d come for her meeting. Chris and I were alone together. Mama had left us to our work. None of the other auxiliary ladies was present.

That gave us access to Miss Mills’ Bible, which was already there — Miss Mills having gone to chat with the reverend about some pressing theological matter or other. Chris handed me the condoms, pointed at the Bible, and issued the memorable dare, which I took. Miss Mills had lots of things already stuffed inside her Bible: old service bulletins, prayer cards, crocheted markers, flowers from weddings, a pencil, sermon notes, lists of prayer request — you name it; everything except a half-dozen prophylactic devices. So, I knew she wouldn’t notice the added bulges and bumps from the condoms, which I inserted at Proverbs 13, the chapter for the day’s devotions (I had looked at the meeting agenda). She didn’t notice them until she opened wide her Bible, while standing before the ladies, and several of the condoms fell out on the floor at her feet!

I wish, to this very day, despite everything, that I had been able to see her face when the safes spilled out before the assembled women. She must have been mortified. These were all quite proper Southern ladies. But they all knew what a condom was. Being that Miss Mills was a spinster, her having condoms in her Bible would have looked mighty strange — and mighty suggestive. At least for a moment. Then, someone would have quickly said something like, A crude prank by some delinquent boys, I’m sure! So, even if the condoms were Miss Mills’, everyone could’ve acted like they really weren’t.

That might have settled it. But, then, someone thought to ask, I wonder which delinquents it was?

To this question, a lady answered, I have a pretty good idea who the culprits were! That lady was my mother!

I mean, honestly, Chris and I hadn’t made it too difficult for the ladies — especially Mama — to put two and two together! To use a bit of legalese: we’d had motive and opportunity!

I won’t belabor all of this, since the point of this tale is to discuss the whipping. So, we speed ahead, skipping memorable scenes of apprehension and interrogation. I’ll note, simply, that Mama’s shouting started at church in the meeting room, in the presence of the entire Ladies Auxiliary and the Reverend Emerson, continued in the car on the way to Chris’s house (where Mama told his mother everything), and then resumed while Mama and I were in the car alone together. Mama was a really angry crow that whole time! Let’s also skip my brief trial at home, conducted in the kitchen, which is where Mama found Daddy, who was polishing off a leftover cherry pie, three slices worth, by Mama’s reckoning — she’d have really let him have it for his illicit pie consumption had she not already been furious with me. We come, then, to the point where the shouting was over and it was time for the whipping.

In this instance, Daddy said, Pierce. Barn. Just two words. That was all.

With the shouting over, I had nothing to do but obey the command. Head hanging, I turned, shuffled across the kitchen, pushed open the screen door, and staggered outside. During my slow, short journey from the house to the barn my thoughts turned briefly to Chris. I was sure that he was, at that moment, roughly at the same point in his miserable existence as I was in mine. I knew he would be getting it from his father with an old fraternity paddle. Encouraging me to crime, and especially, providing the weapons, had been a crime, for which Chris would be paying dearly.

As I got closer to the barn, I set my mind on what lay ahead. I never considered it better not to think about it. I always felt that cold-eyed realism was the way to go. I rehearsed the drill: Daddy’s arrival, my wordless and ready acts of preparation, Daddy’s announcement of the specific sentence, and, finally, his execution thereof. I knew it wouldn’t take long. Mercifully, it would be over quickly. Then, Daddy would leave. I’d be left on my own to reassemble myself. There would be no comforting hand. There would be no hug. At least, not in the barn. The barn was the place of punishment. Comfort, reassurance, and full forgiveness — they would happen elsewhere. And, I knew, they would happen; they always had. Every morning, the sun rose. Every time I got a whipping, afterward, Daddy assured me of his love and of his absolute forgiveness.

I reached the door. I lifted the latch and pulled the door open. I stepped inside and flipped the light switch. Yes, our barn had electricity, for two hanging bulbs and for electric tools. I stepped over by the sawhorse. I took note that it hadn’t been used for sawing since the last whipping — my brother Jason’s. The old horse blanket was still draped across it. I had nothing to do by way of preparing it. I waited.

I tried to think about the fact that I really had been in the wrong. I tried to fully accept it. It was hard. Miss Mills was an old biddy. She was a self-righteous twit