Pop..pop..pop..pop..pop..pop..pop…the percussion of Daddy’s belt flying out of his belt loops would have brought me out of a coma. Of his various approaches to discipline, “Spontaneous Combustion” was my specialty and the one I experienced most, being both clumsy and a smart mouth. Things could be rocking along just fine till someone – usually me – broke a dish, made a smart remark, or embarrassed Daddy. Though I never set out to be “smart-alecky”, I could always count on my big mouth. What I thought was funny, didn’t always amuse him. I carefully memorized jokes, even if they were way over my head, to tell at just the right moment. My judgment of the right moment was poor, such as when we had the preacher’s family over to Sunday dinner and I told loudly a joke I’d overheard on the school bus.
I hadn’t understood it, but from the reaction of the kids on the bus, it was clearly hilarious. “What day is Queersday?” (A word of explanation here. We were strict Southern Baptist. I was nine years old with absolutely no understanding of sex – heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise. I had never heard the word “queer” used except in the context of “unusual.” I was surprised the kids found the joke so funny, but made a point to remember it, nonetheless. There was no question of political correctness on my part. I was totally ignorant.)
Patiently, the preacher asked, “I don’t know, Honey? What is Queersday?”
I spouted back.“Only queers ask that!” and collapsed into laughter, noticing only too late, I was the only one laughing. Daddy took me by the arm, escorted me to the back yard and Pop..pop…well, you can guess the rest.
A major argument for “Spontaneous Combustion” was that even though it was swift and terrible, it didn’t involve a wait and didn’t include a lecture, both of which Daddy used to great advantage.
Misbehavior committed during regular times called for different discipline. A lecture preceded the “whipping.” I only wish that I had grown up in more enlightened times when “whipping” was abuse, but unfortunately in the fifties, it was common. The lecture started out with a full explanation of what a horrible thing I had just done, showing where I was pointed in the future should I not be whipped that day. He droned on forever, mentioning at some point that rich people didn’t take time to correct their kids, just bought them lots of stuff (that sounded good to me) and concluding with, “I’m giving you this whipping because I love you.” I often wanted to voice, it was okay if he loved me a little less, but never did, considering he was holding a big switch the whole time.” Eventually the lecture was over and the main event began.
“Spontaneous combustion” was not Daddy’s exclusive domain. Mother could be prompted into action, but it took a little doing. She was a diminutive little woman with a high, squeaky voice but when she did cut loose, I felt ridiculous getting swatted by Minnie Mouse. One day the Standard Coffee Man came to call. In the fifties, the Standard Coffee Man made regular rounds calling on housewives. Mother routinely bought three pounds of medium roast delivered fresh in its round, white canister with gold stars. I always coveted those canisters, but she selfishly kept them for herself, storing other goods like flour, sugar, meal, and beans in them. Since we were a one-car family, and Mother rarely kept the car, any variation in the daily routine was a welcome event. While Mother went to fetch her purse and pay the coffee-man, I perched my smarty little self on the couch right next to our guest. Always friendly and chatty, I confided that Tommy Lindsey had told me a joke, and yes, Mr. Coffee Man did want to hear it.
“How did the little moron die?” The coffee-man had no idea. “He was smoking on the roof and threw the wrong butt off!” It was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, and the Coffee-Man laughed, too. He was still laughing when Mother walked back in with his money. Mother snatched me off the couch, spatted my bottom, and sent me to my room. I never even got to say, “Goodbye” to my new best friend. The spat didn’t hurt, but I was embarrassed to have gotten a swat in front of company.
You don’t hit out of love. You hit because you can!