Mother wasn’t big on corporal punishment, deferring to Daddy to administer such discipline, which in my case was mostly when I got caught smoking. Even in those cases the level of pain was quite low and Daddy never left a mark on me, an indication that his heart really wasn’t in it.
But one day, when I was about ten years old, I pushed Mother to the limit. She was in the kitchen preparing lunch while my brother Nolen Robert and I were milling around on the adjacent screened-in porch. He thought of something he needed to do and went out the screen door toward the barn. He had walked maybe a hundred feet when Mother saw him, came out to the screen door and called out to him,
“Nolen Robert, where are you going?”
I was standing behind her left shoulder as he turned around to answer. Just as he told her, I said in a pretty loud voice near her ear,
She, unable to understand what Nolen Robert said, flashed a frown at me and asked him again as he was still walking away. When he turned to answer the second time, I again said in her ear,
She looked at me with greater ire and asked him a third time. I repeated this prank a third and final time as Mother was getting more desperate to find out if Nolen Robert was going to be back soon for lunch. This third time was more than she could bear.
In an instant she wheeled around, red-faced, grabbed me by the part of my shirt just below my neck, and slapped me with the front and back of her right hand three or four times! The Problem Child had just got his comeuppance.
This silenced me for a time, and justifiably so. I had never seen—or felt—anything like this. So I learned that day that Mother had a temper and that she wasn’t to be messed with. It was not a good idea to be on her bad side. I liked Daddy’s corporal punishment much more than Mother’s.
She had objected to Daddy’s corporal punishment of Nolen Robert and me when we were caught smoking in those earlier years. She had spoken out in our defense on several occasions because she felt that Daddy’s pipe smoking in front of us was setting a poor example that Nolen Robert and I were just trying to emulate. So her slaps that day after I had provoked her one too many times came as a complete surprise, seeming totally out of character.
From that day to this, whenever I hear references to the saying, “Three strikes and you’re out,” it isn’t baseball that comes to mind; it’s my three “Somewheres” in Mother’s ear that produced her swift justice on the back porch.
After that, I never gave her much backtalk, or if I did, it was never within arm’s length. I had found her limit.
Readers who have not seen my childhood smoking story, “Cold Turkey at Nine,” may view it at: