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May 31, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Gentle Giant

When I was seven, my dad whipped me with a belt and cried. My mom would’ve never cried. She had no qualms whatsoever about corporal punishment and relied on it with the same regularity you can expect from Ex-Lax.  (For more on Mom’s methods, please refer to “Spare the Rod and Raise a Psycho.”) Needless to say, my parents’ philosophies on childrearing were polar opposites.

While mom was a screamer, able to rip your eardrum as efficiently as a front row seat at a Who concert, Dad was laid-back and soft-spoken.  Rarely, did he raise his voice, and never, during my deepest growing pains, did he ever yell at me. His way was to sit you down, reason with you, talk WITH you, rather than AT you. With only a few words, he could express his dismay or disappointment in my misbehavior in a manner that could hurt far worse than a physical blow. I often thought I’d prefer a beating to one of Dad’s talks. Usually, he’d give you the option of deciding your own consequences, or at least, you’d be allowed to offer your opinion on his judgment. I’ll have to admit that most of the time, the punishment fit the crime. The bottom line was that even though Mom was in charge of the majority of discipline, Dad had the final say in the more serious offenses.

I used to think that Dad’s reluctance to deal with us kids physically was due to his sheer size. He was a big man, several inches over six feet in height, with hands the size of a grizzly’s paws. His arms were roped with muscle, his fingers so thick he had to have his wedding band stretched. With his strength he could’ve seriously hurt us before realizing too late, the damage done. I realized later in life that I’d been wrong. It wasn’t Dad’s size that kept him from sparing the rod. It was his heart.

By the time I was in second grade I’d already developed a full-blown conscience, honed sharp as a razor’s edge by my mother’s fiery temper and my church upbringing. I’m quite sure the first thing I learned to read was the Ten Commandments (my mother’s idea, of course).  Number one on the list, the one about honoring thy mother and father, was so branded into my brain I could feel the flames of hell licking at my heels every time I had as much as an unkind thought about my parents. Therefore, I simply can’t say what made me do what I did. Maybe it was envy. Maybe it was the devil. All I know for sure, is that when I saw Cindy Lou’s (yes, that was really her name), box of colored pencils, I had to have them.

She was one of those girls destined to be prom queen. You know the type: porcelain skin, delicate features, eyes like sapphires, and a fluff of blonde curls. Naturally, I hated her. There she sat, across the aisle, in her white anklets, Mary Jane shoes, and a cashmere sweater the color of an October sky. I had no idea what cashmere was, only that it looked lush and soft, and more expensive than my entire wardrobe. On her desk was a box of colored pencils which I suddenly knew I couldn’t live without. Colored pencils, when all I had was crappy crayons!

I overheard her tell another girl that she would take a nickel for them. There was no two ways about it. I MUST find a way to get a nickel and buy those lovely pencils. In five seconds, I’d developed my first case of lust, but even the fear of damnation could not deter me from my evil plan. Cindy Lou had a nickel lying in plain view just inside her desk. I would steal that nickel and buy those pencils from her with her own nickel! Oh, surely, I would burn with Jezebel!

It was all so easy. I waited until she asked to be excused to go to the bathroom, and then I strolled up to the pencil sharpener at the front of the classroom. How convenient that I had to pass Cindy Lou’s desk along the way. What a slithering snake I was, snatching that nickel out of her desk as I dawdled back to my seat! Payment was made, and before I could blink, I had the coveted pencils clutched in my greedy little fist.

An assortment of colored pencils

An assortment of colored pencils (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then, to my unexpected horror, the objects of my obsession began to lose their appeal as quickly as they’d ensnared me. The vibrant colors seemed to fade before my eyes, and their smooth, streamlined design felt slimy in my fingers. Guilt washed over me in a wave of nausea. I’m going to die, I thought. Mom will find out and tear my face off, and I’m going to die. In the span of a few seconds I’d morphed from Lottery Winner to Death Row Inmate. It never occurred to me at the time how easy it would’ve been to hide my dastardly deed. I could’ve kept the colored pencils in my school locker, and no one would ever know I was a thief. Cindy Lou, my parents, everyone, would’ve been clueless. The problem, of course, was that I would know.

Mom was at the ironing board when I slumped through the door. “Look what I have,” I said, waving the hideous box of colored pencils when she turned to greet me.

“Hmm?” she said absently, reaching for the hot iron. “Where’d you get those?”

“I bought them,” I said. Might as well bite the bullet, I figured.

“Bought them? Where did you get money to do that?” She smoothed one of Dad’s shirts as she placed it on the hanger and paused to cast me a suspicious glance.

English: Colored pencils. Français : Crayons d...

English: Colored pencils. Français : Crayons de couleur. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taking a deep breath, wondering if there would be flowers at my funeral, I took the plunge. “I stole a nickel out of Cindy Lou’s desk and bought them from her.” For a moment she appeared not to have heard me, tearing a loose button from a blue shirt and tossing it in the sewing pile. Then, her body stiffened and she whirled on me, her face, gone pale. “You did what?”

“I stole it,” I croaked, my throat gone as dry as a cat’s butt. “Are you going to kill me now?” Reluctantly, I met her gaze, and instead of the smoldering rage I’d expected, I saw bewilderment in her dark eyes. Somehow, that enlarged the lump in my throat to choking size. “You want me to get the spatula?” I asked, offering myself up to her favorite instrument of torture. Like a deflated balloon, the air just seemed to leak out of her at those words, and she sank into a chair by the ironing board.

“No spatula,” she said. “You’ll have to tell your dad what you’ve done.” With the desperation of a drowning victim clutching the raft’s edge, I grabbed this hope. Yes, telling Dad would make it all better. He would talk to me, and I would stop feeling so rotten. I cast Mom a grateful smile and retreated to my room to await sentencing.

I heard Dad’s voice, his tread on the stairs when he came in, felt the joyful little tingle his presence always provoked. Stifling the urge to fling open my bedroom door and run into his arms to blurt out my shame, I stayed put. Pacing, jittery, I counted the minutes, waiting, while in the next room their muted voices droned on. I wanted it over with!

Finally, when I thought I could stand it no longer, there was a knock on my door. Dad walked in, sat on the edge of my bed, and studied me for a moment. “You mother says you’ve got something to tell me,” he said. “So, make sure you tell it all.” One look into his blue eyes, and I was able to sum up my situation. Mom had only told him I had something to talk to him about. He knew nothing of the details.

I took a deep breath and let it all hang out. He said nothing, listening intently, his unwavering gaze trained on my face. When I’d finished, he sat motionless, his eyes wide, his lips pressed in a grim line. Say something, please! I begged silently. Finally, he let out his breath, as though he’d been holding it the entire time. “I’ll be back,” he said. “Stay here.”

When he left, I realized something. In telling my tale, I’d thought to relieve myself of the tight feeling in my chest, the nagging nausea that swam in my gut. Instead, I felt worse. Seeing the look on my dad’s face had done that. In the next room, once again, their voices mingled, rising and falling, stopping and starting, as they strove to determine the fate of their evil spawn. When dad returned, my guilt and shame had risen up within me in a surging tide of grief I could no longer dam, and the mere sight of him brought on the flood. I was crying by the time he slid his belt through his pant loops and folded it in half.

I stiffened in shock at the sight of that dangling belt. “Daddy, are you going to hit me with that?” He’d never laid a hand on me in my life, no matter how many times I’d neglected to pick up my room. Silently, he motioned for me to sit on the bed where he joined me. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I cried. “I’ll never do it again!”

“Maybe you won’t” he said softly, “but we still have today to deal with.”

My sobs grew louder, out of control. “Daddy, please don’t whip me! You never whip me!” Reaching across the bedspread, he squeezed my hand lightly in his big one. “Do you know what makes stealing so bad?” He spoke in a low tone, even though my storm of tears continued to rage. “Every bad thing that people can do is a form of stealing,” he said.

“It is?” I was starting to snub, now.

“Murder is stealing someone’s life,” he continued, ignoring my hitching gasps. “Adultery is stealing someone’s wife or husband, and even lying is stealing the truth. It’s all about taking what you haven’t got the right to take.” I struggled to focus on his words, his soothing voice, but everything was a sickening blur.

“What can I do to fix it?” I asked.

Giving my hand another squeeze, he sighed, and gripping the belt in his other hand, stood over me beside the bed. “For starters, you’ll return that nickel out of your allowance money, and you’ll apologize to Cindy Lou. And you’ll do it in front of the teacher during recess. I’ll be calling her to make sure you follow through.” The whole class will know, I thought, the gall flooding my mouth. Might as well put it in the paper!

“Well, if I do all that, you won’t need to use that belt, right?” Right up until the bitter end I had harbored the hope that this horror could be avoided.

“Do you think this is easy for me?” he asked, and I could hear the catch in his throat. “I have to give you a reminder that will stay with you…something you’ll always think of anytime you’re put in a place where you think stealing is an option.” My insides turned to jelly at that, and I knew there was no turning back. Looking up at him as he towered over me, searching his face, I saw the resolve in his set features and the slight tremor of his hand holding the belt. “I don’t like doing this, Baby,” he said, his voice breaking. “I want you to know this is going to hurt me more than it could ever hurt you. You believe me, don’t you?”

“How could it, when you’re not the one getting whipped?” I was shaking, unable to prevent my outburst.

“Now, come over here and stand by me,” he said, squaring his shoulders. He didn’t bend me over his knee. He simply grasped my arm to keep me in one place, and raised the belt. In that instant, my heart broke. I believe I heard it, and it was a small, clean sound, like the tinkling of fine crystal. I’m not going to lie and say that it didn’t hurt. He struck my backside five times with the folded belt, and it stung like the dickens. I didn’t stand still and take it like a man, either. I screamed like the little girl I was, hopping and jittering like a go-go dancer doing the “pony.” He never spoke the entire time, and when it was over, he turned and left my room again.

Before bedtime, he called me into the living room where he sat in his chair, reading. “You okay?” he asked. I nodded. His eyes were red and swollen and his voice had a snotty sound like when he had a head cold. That’s when I knew he’d been crying, just as I’d cried. I couldn’t resist asking him that age-old question all children want to know:

“Do you still love me, Daddy?”

Without a word, he held out his hands, and I crawled into his lap, where he enveloped me with his arms. “You’ll never know how much,” he said. “If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care what you do. If I didn’t love you, I would’ve just let you off the hook.” He tightened his arms around me. “Do you believe me?”

“Yes,” I said. “I do.”

In all my life, I saw my dad cry only three times. Once was at his mother’s funeral. The other two were because of me, because he loved me so.

6 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. tdhenson / Jun 1 2012 2:14 am

    Here I sit bawling my eyes out at 2am, reminded of my big ole uncle (the author’s father) & his sister (my grandmother). Neither of them were ever quick to show their emotions and both tall and broad shouldered. The night he passed was the 1st time in all of my 18yrs of living had I ever heard my grandmother cry. I can only imagine the bond that the two shared.

    • hippiechickamblings / Jun 1 2012 7:18 am

      Now you’ve done gone and made me cry too, dag nab it! You’re right. They had an incredible bond that I was priviledged to catch glimpses of over the years. Lordy the tales those two could tell! It was truly rare for him to exhibit strong emotion, so when he did, things were get-down serious. In truth, he was such a big ole marshmallow, it wasn’t even funny.

  2. Wonnie / Jun 2 2012 6:08 am

    Why is it that even though we are long past the days of being a “little girl” when it comes to our daddy’s, we will ALWAYS be their little girls. To this day, my dad can still touch my heart in a special way that no one else can and as he ages it I appreciate him more and more. God bless you Daddy.

    • hippiechickamblings / Jun 2 2012 8:30 am

      That is so true for many, for there is some kind of magic between a girl and her Daddy. Maybe it’s because he is her first knight in shining armour. Our dads, if we’re lucky, give us a unique perspective on the world that no one else can. Mine left an eternal impression on me that to live a life without integrity is no better than death. I miss him every day!

  3. Ruth / Jun 8 2012 2:52 pm

    Great! I loved it. Keep up the good work

    • hippiechickamblings / Jun 8 2012 3:43 pm

      Glad you liked it. I appreciate your time to take a look and comment.

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