Saturday, September 6, 2008

In which I learn that revenge is a dessert best served cold....

My dad had a short fuse. Growing up, we had regular spankings (hard), backhands, biffs, cruel words, shoves, and sometimes worse (for my brothers). If I knew I would be spanked that day, I would put several pairs of underwear on, to cushion the blows. (I'd have to change them later, since I often peed my pants when I got spanked.)

We all tiptoed around Dad, trying not to make him angry. It's sad, but I remember being relieved if one of my siblings got Dad's wrath, because I figured that would decrease my chances of getting it. There wasn't always a rhyme or reason to a blow-up, though; unpredictability was a hallmark of life with Dad, but I tried very hard to avoid being the victim of his anger.

One summer day, my sister Judy, brother Dennis, and I were playing at the park a block from our house. I'm guessing I was about 6 or 7, making Dennis 7 or 8. Some older boys dared Dennis to pull mine and Judy's pants down. He did, and I knew just the way to pay him back. I called out, "You're going to 'get it.'" I'm telling on you!" and I ran all the way home to do so, charged with a thrill of knowing Dennis was going to regret shaming me and Judy like that.

Racing into the house, I breathlessly told my parents what Dennis had done at the park, and my dad said, "Go get your brother." Elated, I skipped back to the park to sing to Dennis, "You're- gonna-get-it, You're-gonna-get-it." I can only imagine what was going through Dennis's mind on his way home, but I remember feeling very vindicated to see the anxiety in his face. I couldn't wait to see Dennis 'get his."

When we arrived home, we found Dad sitting on the front porch in a lawn chair, wearing shorts and his classic "wife-beater*" undershirt, holding the fly-swatter from the wrong end, tapping the metal handle on his other palm. He ordered Dennis to pull his pants down, and I watched, stunned, as Dad beat Dennis's poor little white butt blue with that flyswatter handle. The glee that I had had was replaced with sorrow and regret. My poor brother...

That night, when we went to bed (we shared a room) I remember Dennis showing me the purple welts. We tearfully held each other until we fell asleep. I felt horrible about what had been done to Dennis; to us. I also remember that Dennis was not mad at me for telling on him; we both knew, I guess, that it was just something that happened in our house.

It's no surprise to me that Dennis has no memory of this incident; I thank God (literally) that the human mind has a survival instinct that allows us to forget painful memories. The good news is that none of us nine kids grew up to abuse our children. We are living proof that such cycles need not continue.

When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become. Louis Pasteur
*For the record, my dad never beat my mom; "wife beater" is a tank-style of undershirt.

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