Now don’t try to imagine some massive structure of weathered barn-board, full of cows and horses and the like. Plus, we had chickens, which provided lots of eggs and the occasional pot of chicken and dumplings. I even have a title for it, nice and intellectually pretentious: Bare-assed, I further assisted in my own execution, by hauling up my shirt, so the tail wouldn’t cover my tail end. This time, since Daddy had been working, he was wearing that belt. My ass, I will note, in brief, was typical for a slim, healthy fourteen-year-old. For a while, there was even a nanny goat named Myrtle. 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. Then I bent across the horse, reached out, and grabbed the legs.
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. But, I am convinced that the nerve endings in my bottom were closer to the surface when I was fourteen than they are now. No, my parents mainly used the short, sharp shock of a whipping to punish wrongdoing. That fact amused me, because I’d always thought of it as an expression of the American South. So, instead of enduring well-earned whippings from their daddies, they and whip each other with belts and assorted objects. But, when they look at the camera, they have smiles on their faces and they’re proud of the marks on their backs or butts. So, he rarely laid an , just a little, but not much. Where I grew up and when I grew up, no one saw such marks as evidence of child abuse. They were, to most folks, evidence of steady, committed parental love. I know lots of kids back then hollered right from the start, putting on a great performance of their agony. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was coined by someone from the land of cotton, that Welsh fellow’s first use in print notwithstanding. He wanted nothing to get in the way of the meeting. They could be a source of mild embarrassment in a school locker room or shower, but not a source of shame. They proclaimed to peers that a boy had misbehaved and suffered the consequences. Many, in fact, were urged to cry by parents who took it as the only sure evidence that a whipping was working: that was Mama’s way with my sisters, who yelped like kicked puppies when they got whipped. But, holding them in for as long as I could was the challenge I set for myself. Daddy lashed me low across the place where my buttocks met my legs. My knees buckled a little and I let out a gasping groan. I never worried about Daddy getting his engine revved up and then not being able to shut it down. Daddy’s manner made that accomplishment pretty easy. 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. That was the price I was paying Mama for the lift to town when she’d come for her meeting. 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.
He was sort of a mirror to look at when he came to the barn. 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). Being that Miss Mills was a spinster, her having condoms in her Bible would have looked mighty strange — and mighty suggestive. Then, someone would have quickly said something like, That lady was my mother! He’d stand there, calm, steady, ready to do his duty. 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 mean, honestly, Chris and I hadn’t made it too difficult for the ladies — especially Mama — to put two and two together! I wish, to this very day, despite everything, that I had been able to see her face when the spilled out before the assembled women. To use a bit of legalese: we’d had motive and opportunity! I tried to think about the fact that I really had been in the wrong. If you did argue, then she shouted until you stopped arguing, or she brought in Daddy and his gravel-pit voice. Once the shouting was done, then you headed on for your whipping. He just positioned himself, behind me, at the right distance to swing and apply the belt with the force he deemed necessary. That was almost always the punishment if you’d done wrong. He had swallowed a truckload of gravel when he was a teenager — so it sounded to us. So, when he talked with passion, you heard it even if he didn’t say it loud. She sounded like an angry blackbird when she was worked up.