Profanity was strictly forbidden in the home I grew up in. I don’t remember ever hearing a word of it spill from my mother’s lips. Nonetheless, she did have some very clear ways of letting us know when we were getting on her nerves; expressions that might well have been more scathing than an effusive tirade from the mouth of a seasoned sailor!
She would first slightly raise the volume of her voice, usually as she began repeating for the third time a command we had been choosing to ignore. If that still elicited no response or action, the next sound to reach our ears would be the singing of an excerpt from some old (usually ancient-old, to us) gospel hymn. Now this was neither intended nor presented in any way, shape, or form, as entertainment. Oh no! She belted this message out as if standing before a vast audience, dutifully sending the melodious admonitions out to the most distant listeners without the benefit of any electronic amplification. Her most frequent choice was, “Oh be not deceived for God is not mocked. Ye shall reap just wha-at you sow!” How that still rings in my ears today!
If we persisted in our selective hearing loss at this point, that’s when Mama would “cuss”…and that was also when things were about to become unforgivably serious.
Okay, it was all over now! Not only were we about to complete the chore we had thus far refused to begin, but it would only be done after we were sent to the back door to select a fresh switch from the bride’s wreath bush, so beautiful when in full bloom each spring but planted at the convenient location beside our back steps for just such occasions.
If we had pushed Mother’s patience to this point, we dared not ignore the order to go get the switch! It was with a hard-learned awareness that we complied, knowing full well that, if forced to go choose her own, Mother’s switch would be much larger than the one we would pick.
Our attention finally totally focused on Mother, we watched miserably as she painstakingly removed every strip of the thin bark and each little bump where a leaf had been connected before she would apply its cool, slightly-moist sting to what were usually bare legs.
It was never her desire to hurt us. She claimed (though we found it hard to believe at the time) it really hurt her more than it did us. And that was probably the truth since the bush outside our back door only rarely lost an appendage. It was apparently as much of a punishment to her as it was to us when we forced her to not “spare the rod” throughout our upbringing. Besides, only an idiot would sit there and ignore it if Mother started singing them one of her hymns!
Yes, we did comply with doing whatever we had originally been told to do. And the thin, red lines left behind on the calves of our legs were usually faded away even before we were finished. Training up a child in the way he should go involves a lot of work, commitment, and even pain, but I am eternally grateful for my parents having shouldered their responsibilities to do their best to help mold me into the type of adult I ultimately became.