1950s Wife is on summer vacation. In the meantime enjoy this nostalgic childhood tale by her alter ego, Claire Colinsgrove
This story is fiction, mostly. And dedicated to the memory of my father."Thump. Thump. Thump."
"Boom! Boom! Boom!"
"Thump. Thump. Thump."
"Boom! Boom! Boom!"
Even with noise that comes from my usual morning activity this summer of 1974, the year I turn 12, smacking a tennis ball against the garage door pretending to be star player Chris Evert, I recognize the other sound.
Firecrackers! From a yard down the street. I drop my tennis racket and ball and hurry out my driveway.
No need to go inside first to ask Mom’s permission. In the 1970s, neighborhood kids and our dogs play in packs free to run from yard to yard with minimal adult supervision. Younger children of six and seven are told not to go beyond next-door yards, but kids my age can acceptably roam in areas forming concentric circles around our houses of approximately one square mile without getting in trouble for “going too far.”
I walk quickly to the back yard of the house where I heard the explosions coming from. No need to announce my presence to the property owners and request permission to recreate on their grounds. In the 1970s, a crowd of children in a back yard is open invitation to any child of comparable age to come by and play.
Just as I come round the house into the back yard, I hear the explosion. An action figurine flies into the air.
“Far out,” a boy cries. “That was cool, man! Really cool!”
I come closer. Several boys and a few girls, most my age but a few younger ones, gather round a partially destroyed “GI Joe” figurine. An arm is missing and his Army uniform frayed.
“Is he still alive, corporal?” a boy shouts.
“Barely,” another kid says. “He’s got a pulse but he won’t last long.”
“Give him a morphine shot,” the boy-in-command says. “I’m radioing the MASH unit to send a chopper.”
“But there’s enemy fire,” another kid screams. “We’ll never get a bird in here.”
“Damn it, private,” boy-in-command says. “We need that helicopter. I’m not losing another of my men to the fucking Gooks!”
“Those are bad words,” a girl cries, genuinely shocked. “You shouldn’t say those words!”
“My older brother was in the ‘Nam,” says boy-in-command with an authoritative tone befitting an officer. “That’s what they called ‘em, ‘Gooks’.”
“Well, you shouldn’t say the ‘F word’,” the girl scolds. “It’s bad.”
I know the girl from school, but don’t consider her a friend. Susan is a goody-goody who never has her name put in the “talking box.” I, on the other hand, hold the school record for being punished this way more than any other student.
The “talking box” is my elementary school’s primary means of student discipline. Repeated misbehavior, particularly talking without permission, results in a student’s name written in box on the chalkboard and subjects the offender to five minutes after school. Additional misbehavior places a check mark by a kid’s name meaning five more minutes of detention up to a maximum of twenty minutes after school.
Serving maximum sentences of after-school punishment was such an everyday occurrence that Mom for most of elementary school didn’t show until 20 minutes after school ended to drive me home. On the rare occasion when I only served five- or ten-minute detentions, I stood around by the school entry door waiting for her.
Susan’s scolding the boys for cursing and using racist slurs makes no effect. A boy carries a toy helicopter through the air pretending to transport injured GI Joe to the MASH unit. After running several feet, the boy slams the helicopter down on the ground.
“Motherfuck,” boy-in-command says. “The fucking Gooks shot down our bird. Two proud American soldiers dead.”
Boy-in-command carries the GI Joe figurine over to me.
“Mrs. Colinsgrove, I regret to inform you that your son perished in combat in Vietnam,” he says, handing me the battered figurine. “He died a hero.”
I take the bait. “Oh my God!,” I wail at the top of my lungs.
“My son. My son. My beautiful baby boy. Dead. Damn this senseless war. Damn President Nixon. If only McGovern won the election my child would be alive today.”
“Claire, it’s illegal to talk like that about the president,” goody-goody Susan cries. “I’m telling.”
“I don’t care if you do tell because it’s not illegal,” I shout at her. “We have freedom of speech in America because of the First Amendment.”
Susan looks at me with a puzzled expression on her face. She’s probably heard the term “First Amendment” but I’m sure has no idea what it means. Afraid to look foolish in her reply, she shuts up.
I hand GI Joe back to boy-in-command.
“Hey Claire,” he says as he takes the doll back. “I thought you had a tennis lesson today.”
“No that’s Wednesday,” I say.
I feel a strange sensation, a tingling, shoot through me. I think this boy looks cute, at least as cute as a 12-year-old boy can look to the eyes of a 12-year-old girl who still agrees with her friends that boys are “icky.”
He knows I take tennis lessons, I say to myself, feeling pleasure at the thought that this boy knows something about me.
Boy-in-command walks a few feet over to a burned-out area in the grass. He puts a firecracker under GI Joe’s behind and pulls a cigarette lighter out of his pocket. I feel the tingling sensation again as I see the boy’s familiarity with a contraption kids our age are forbidden to use.
The firecracker explodes and GI Joe flies high in the air. Boys cry “Far out!” and “Cool, Man!” The chopper again attempts to transport dying GI Joe to the MASH unit only to again crash to the ground to shouts of “Fucking Gooks.”
Boy-in-command tries handing dead GI Joe to prissy Susan, but she’s either too shy or too stupid to engage in make-believe grieving over a dead soldier’s passing.
GI Joe is blown up a couple more times. Now just a torso is left. Boy-in-command carries the doll’s body parts to the garden in the back yard, kicks up dirt, tosses down the toy and smoothes the loose soil over it.
GI Joe, proud American soldier who lost his life in the senseless tragedy of Vietnam, is committed to the ground of make-believe Arlington Cemetery.
“One firecracker left,” says boy-in-command. “Let’s catch a stray cat and tie it to its tail and light it.”
“You better not!” Susan shouts. “I’ll tell.”
“OK I won’t,” boy-in-command says. He takes the cigarette lighter from his pocket preparing the light the firecracker.
“Hey wait,” I shout. “I’ve got an idea.”
I enter my house still having second thoughts. I’ll get in a lot of trouble with Mom if I get caught, maybe even whipped.
As soon as the words pop out of my mouth, I regret it. But the tingle I feel at boy-in-command’s gleeful look and encouraging words cause me to go through with it.
“I haven’t heard your tennis ball for awhile,” Mom says as I pass by her heading to the stairway. “What are you up to?”
“I was over at Sharon’s house,” I lie, knowing that my best friend is home now, is quick to answer the phone when it rings, and will cover for me if Mom calls asking about my whereabouts.
“I’m going back,” I say. “She wants to look at my Barbies. She’s thinking of getting her little sister one for her birthday.”
“Oh that’s sweet,” Mom says as I walk upstairs. “You haven’t played with your Barbies in a long time. You’re still my little girl.”
I enter my room and walk to the toy chest where stuffed animals and dolls are kept, marveling at my ability to improvise such a convincing lie to explain carrying my Barbies out of the house.
I grab all four of them. I don’t care which one is used. I not interested in playing with any of my Barbies anymore. I’m practically a teenager. I don’t want to play with dolls.
I walk back down the stairs with my quartet of Barbies. “Bye Mom,” I shout as I walk out the door. “Be back in a little while.”
I walk quickly down the street and round the house into the back yard. The younger kids and most of the girls have left leaving just the boys my age and the prissy Susan girl.
The boys belch loudly. “That’s so gross,” Susan scolds.
Boy-in-command spies me. “You got them,” he says delightedly. “Far out!”
“Which one do you want to use,” I ask.
“It doesn’t matter,” says boy-in-command. “Any of them.”
I toss him a Barbie dressed in a 1970s-style pants suit.
Boy-in-command picks up the doll.
“She’s a VC operative who hangs out by the base posing as a hooker,” he says. “She intentionally gives soldiers ‘the clap’.”
“That’s so gross,” Susan shouts. “You better not talk about that stuff. I’ll tell.”
I don’t know what “the clap” is except that it’s must have something to do with sex. But I don’t like the idea of Caucasian-looking Barbie being Vietnamese.
“She can’t be VC. She’s not Asian,” I say. “She’s ‘Hanoi Jane’.”
“Who?” asks one of the boys.
“You know, Jane Fonda, the movie actress,” I say. “She was one of those anti-war protestors in the 1960s. She visited North Vietnam and posed in photos with Ho Chi Min, the head of the VC. That’s why they call her ‘Hanoi Jane’.”
“Yeah, ‘Hanoi Jane.’ My older brother talks about her,” says boy-in-command. “She sold out the American troops. She’s a traitor.”
Boy-in-command holds the Barbie doll up in the air.
“We’ve gone on a mission deep into VC territory and discovered ‘Hanoi Jane’ at a base camp,” boy-in-command says. “She’s letting the VC officers fuck her.”
“You better not say that word again,” shouts prissy Susan. “I’m telling.”
“I’m a master interrogator, ‘Hanoi Jane’,” says boy-in-command. “Tell us what you know!”
“I will never ever talk, imperialist U.S. Army pig,” I shout. “Long live the third world. Long live Chairman Mao and Che Guevara!”
Boy-and-command walks over to me grinning.
“We have ways of making you talk, ‘Hanoi Jane.’ Confess or it will be all the worse for you.”
“I won’t,” I cry. “The boot of American imperialism will never crush the fighting spirit of the Viet Cong, true representatives of the Vietnamese people.”
“Confess or you’ll be tortured,” says boy-in-command.
“I won’t,” I shout.
“Very well. You leave me no choice.”
Boy-in-command lays the Barbie doll on the ground and sets the last firecracker under her plastic behind. “Last chance,” he says.
He takes the cigarette lighter and lights the firecracker. A second later, then “Boom!”
Barbie flies high in the air to cheers of me and the boys.
“Corporal,” shouts boy-in-command. “Is she dead?”
Another kid picks up the tattered Barbie. “Yes Sir,” he says. “No pulse.”
“Chop off her head and stick it on a post as a sign to locals of what happens when they defy the U.S. Army,” boy-in-command says. “But shave off the ears for you and the soldiers to keep as souvenirs.”
“Yes Sir,” says the other kid. He tugs at Barbie’s head popping it off. He tosses the torso to me and the head to prissy Susan.
“That’s so gross,” she says.
“No more firecrackers,” says boy-in-command. He fishes in his pocket pulling out a loose cigarette.
“I stole one from my brother’s pack,” he says. “Who wants a puff?”
“I’m leaving,” declares Susan. “And you better leave too Claire or I’m telling on you for smoking.”
I look over at boy-in-command. “I better head home. It’s almost lunch time.”
I toss Barbie’s torso to him. “Can you throw this away for me?”
“Sure,” says boy-in-command. I turn to leave. “Hey Claire,” he calls after me. “Wait up.”
He catches up with me as we turn round the house into the front yard. We’re out of sight and sound of the other kids.
Boy-in-command looks bashful all of a sudden. “Um, Claire, um …”
He’s lost some of his “command presence.” But, thankfully, not all.
“Um … would you like to play tennis with me sometime?,” he finally stammers.
I feel my heart leap. “Sure,” I say excitedly. “Call me. We’re in the phone book.”
I turn to leave. “Hey Claire,” says boy-in-command.
He reaches one arm out to hold my shoulder then his other. My hands hold my remaining three Barbies, so I can’t help but let him pull me closer.
Boy-in-command kisses me lightly on the lips.
My first kiss! And it’s not icky at all.
“Bye,” says grinning boy-in-command.
“Byeee!!!,” I sing out.
I hurry home resisting the urge to skip instead of walk because I know he may be watching me and I don’t want to look like a kid.
What a great day!
I head out the back door the next morning, Tuesday, carrying my tennis racket and ball ready to do battle with the garage door.
As usual, I prepare with a hearty breakfast except this morning I had some of the yucky-tasting bran flakes Mom eats instead of sugared cereal. Got to watch my weight now that I have a boyfriend.
Boy-in-command telephoned yesterday night just as we finished supper. Today he has a baseball game, Wednesday is my tennis lesson, so our tennis match is set for Thursday. Mom shook her head “no” when I asked, but Dad overruled her.
“Tennis only,” Mom told me. “No going to his house after.”
Later that night, as I watched TV in the den, I overheard my parents talking in the kitchen.
“She’s only 12,” Mom said. “It’s harmless,” Dad replied.
“She needs to begin learning how to interact with boys at some point. She knows not to do anything wrong,” Dad continued. “You’ve got to accept the fact that her life growing up is going to be different from yours. We can’t afford to send her to a girl’s boarding school for high school. She’s going to be in a co-educational environment.”
I’m about to walk out the door when Mom says “Claire, I need to talk to you.”
I walk back into the kitchen. Mom’s sitting at the table finishing her coffee. I’m not too worried. She hasn’t been my room since I returned yesterday for lunch. If she’d asked then, I was prepared to explain the missing Barbie by saying I left it with Sharon’s little sister to play with. But Mom didn’t notice that I only returned with three dolls.
My parents rarely interact with my best friend Sharon’s parents, who, unlike Mom and Dad, didn’t go to prestigious East Coast colleges and don’t belong to the country club. So, if Mom ever discovers the missing Barbie, I can likely get away with lying that it’s at Sharon’s house and Mom probably won’t ever follow up on it.
But, as the poet says, “The best laid plans or mice and man (and 12-year-old girls lying to their mothers) go oft astray and leave us not but grief and pain…”
Just how much pain I’m about to find out.
I stand a few feet from Mom. “What were you up to yesterday morning?” she asks.
This isn’t good. I try to sound confident, but I feel the bravado drain from my voice as I say “What do you mean?”
“Between when you quit bouncing the tennis ball against the garage door and lunch. Where did you go with your Barbies?”
“I went to Sharon’s house,” I say. “Her little sister wanted to look at them. I let her keep one to play with for awhile.”
“I don’t like you lending those dolls to other kids,” Mom says. “Other toys maybe, but not your Barbies. Santa brought them to you. Hurry over to Sharon’s house and bring it back.”
I feel a bit of hope. With a convincing performance I can get out of this. Maybe.
“But Mom,” I whine, “I told Sharon’s little sister she could play with it. A bunch of her friends are coming over later this week to put on a pageant with their dolls. What’s the big deal? I don’t really play that much with Barbies any more. They’re for younger kids.”
But Mom is unmoved. “Go and get it,” she says.
“I can’t,” I say, starting to plead.
“I just can’t,” I mumble.
“Is this why,” says Mom, pulling my late Barbie’s head out of her dress pocket.
I flush, more with anger than fear, and feel my heart pound. That bitch Susan tattled on me! Oh she is so dead the next time I see her.
“Susan Miller’s mother stopped by early this morning before you got up,” Mom says. “Hanging out with boys who smoke and shoot off fireworks. How could you? Santa brought you that Barbie for Christmas!”
“I dunno,” I mumble. “I heard the firecrackers and went over. These kids were blowing up a GI Joe doll and it looked funny. They had one firecracker left and they thought it would be cool to blow up a Barbie.”
I continue: “I know I shouldn’t have been around firecrackers. I’m sorry.”
“What else are you sorry about?” Mom demands.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you sorry that you lied to me just now?”
Mom continues: “What is the punishment for lying.”
I feel the tears start to flow. I can’t believe it! I’m 12 years old. She can’t be planning on washing my mouth out with soap.
“Mom, I’m too old.”
“What’s the punishment?” she demands.
“I get a soapy mouth,” I mumble.
“Very well,” says Mom. “Let’s get you upstairs.”
Mom assists me in walking upstairs to my bathroom by grabbing an earlobe and tugging me along. Great. Nothing like the pain and humiliation of being “taken by ear” to the bathroom to get your mouth washed out with soap at age 12.
I sit down on the toilet lid. “Please Mom,” I cry.
No response. Mom is busy lathering up a soapy rag.
She turns from the sink to me. “Open,” she says.
I comply, trying to maintain my dignity in my mind by fantasizing that I’m at the dentist.
Mom would certainly make a great dental assistant. She’s very thorough: My lower teeth and gums, the upper set, across the tongue and under it, the top of my mouth, all soundly soaped.
Finally, she’s done and I stand by the sink. My whole being rebels at the horrible taste in my mouth, but I know from past routine that I better not spit yet.
“One minute,” Mom says looking down at her watch.
I count the seconds in my head of the longest minute in my life. At last Mom says, “Spit.”
I expectorate a load of soapy spit. Mom gives me a small paper cup from the dispenser. “Wash your mouth out,” she says. I comply, refilling the cup to wash my mouth out several times.
“OK,” Mom says. “Brush your teeth.”
I brush away, doing a much more thorough job than usual. At last the horrible taste is gone from my mouth. I spit one last time and wash my toothbrush off with water.
What next, I wonder. Hopefully, she’s not going to tell me my tennis date is cancelled.
“Now go fetch the “ouchy stick” and meet me in the living room,” Mom says.
“But Mom,” I cry. “I’ve been punished enough. I’m sorry!”
“What are you sorry for?” Mom demands.
“I’m sorry that I was hanging out with kids playing firecrackers.”
“I’m sorry that I lied to you.”
“Mom, that’s all I did. I said I’m sorry. Why are you being like this?”
“Apparently, you’re not sorry enough,” Mom says. “Go fetch the ouchy stick.”
I walk out the bathroom down the stairs to the broom closet. I feel a mixture of rage and fear, my stomach churning. I’ve already gotten one humiliating punishment. This is too much. It’s abuse.
I open the broom closet and retrieve the “ouchy stick” from its customary place hanging on the wall. Its purpose is obvious, so obvious that I’ve taken in the past year to make sure the broom closet is closed when friends visit.
Nearly all my friends got spanked by their parents as young children, no big deal about that. But those who still get it at age 12 are likely to be teased should other kids know. I’ve been working up my nerve the past several months to make a formal request to my parents to declare me “too old” for spanking and throw away the ouchy stick. But, not having been whipped in several months, I haven’t pressed the issue.
The ‘ouchy stick” got its name from Mom referring to the hand spanks I got as a toddler and young child on my backside as “ouchies.” By the time I turned ten, hand spanks were considered insufficient. So Mom acquired an “ouchy stick,” which consists of a 12-inch ruler with handle affixed. The handle has a strap allowing it to be hung on a wall.
I have no idea where Mom got the ouchy stick. She probably went around the neighborhood asking parents of grown children if they had an implement no longer needed she could buy from them so she’d have something handy to beat her daughter with. In the 1970s, parents were less hung-up about this sort of thing.
Applied to a 12-year-old bottom covered by panties and jeans, the ouchy stick doesn’t hurt that bad. Applied to bare legs, it stings like the dickens. Better to get the ouchy stick in winter than summer.
I walk into the living room and hand Mom the ouchy stick. By now, the fear has left. All that remains is anger. Because I’ve figured out what this whipping is about.
Mom holds the handle of the stick with her right hand and runs the fingers of the left along the face of the implement.
“If you tell me all three things you should be sorry about, we won’t have to go through with this,” Mom says.
“I’m sorry that I played with firecrackers,” I say. “I’m sorry that I lied to you.”
“What else?” Mom demands.
“That’s all I did,” I wail.
Mom walks behind me and cracks the back of each bare thigh twice with the stick.
“What else,” she screams.
“That’s all I did,” I holler back, tears rolling down my face.
“Crack! Crack!” on the right thigh. “Crack! Crack!” on the left.
“What else?” Mom again shouts.
“Nothing else,” I say in a voice choked with tears.
“Crack! Crack!” on the right thigh.
“Crack! Crack!” on the left.
Mom ceases interrogating and but continues spanking. The thigh cracks continue, by now I’ve had at least a dozen spanks on each thigh. I’ve never been beaten this bad before. The few whippings I’ve had before that came close I would have long since been jumping up and down doing the “Ouchy Dance.”
But I stand completely still. I know what she wants, but I’m not going to give it to her.
I’m not going to say “Sorry” about blowing up my Barbie.
It was fun seeing the GI Joe and Barbie dolls blown up. If was fun pretending to be the grieving mother of a dead soldier lost in the senseless tragedy of Vietnam. It was fun pretending to be “Hanoi Jane.”
But, most important, it’s a huge ego boost that I got the coolest boy in the sixth grade to like me, that he gave me my first kiss, that he asked me to play tennis. I’m not going to let my bitch of a mother steal my victory from me no matter how badly she tortures me with the ouchy stick.
At last, Mom stops spanking me. Nothing is said for several seconds. My tears stop.
“How could you, Claire?” Mom finally asks in a wounded voice. “How could you destroy your Barbie? Santa brought it to you.”
“There is no Santa,” I say firmly. “It’s my Barbie and I can do what I want with it. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
“What?” My Mom asks. Her tone of voice is genuinely perplexed, not angry.
“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” I say, citing the maxim that we kids say when refusing to return another kid’s toy that was left in a neighboring yard. Though it’s mainly younger children who rely on this rule in settling disputes over found property, even to my more advanced 12-year-old brain the simple saying justifiably fits the situation I’m in:
It’s my Barbie and I can do what I want with it!
“Just go to your room,” Mom says. “I’ll call you when it’s lunch time.”
“Fine,” I shout as I depart.
“I don’t want any lunch,” I call down from the top of the stairs as I prepare to go in my room and slam the door. “I hate you!”
Less than 30 minutes later, Mom calls up the stairs that my punishment is over and I can come out of my room. But I don’t reply and continue to lie on the bed reading the “Wizard of Oz.”
American POWs captured by the VC spent years inside tiny bamboo cages. I can stay in my room long enough to force Mom to come upstairs and beg forgiveness for spanking me too hard.
I’ve got the complete series of “Oz” books penned by the author L. Frank Baum and it’s been awhile since I’ve read all fourteen books back-to-back at breakneck speed to prove my mental prowess. I had ample bran flakes for breakfast to enable me to miss lunch without much discomfort, particularly as I didn’t burn any calories this morning knocking a tennis ball against the garage door. I can easily last till dinner time if I have to.
I’m about two-thirds through the “Wizard of Oz” when Mom calls out, “Claire, your lunch is ready.”
I don’t reply. Fifteen minutes and an impressive number of read pages later, I hear Mom coming up the stairs. I lay down the book and roll over on my stomach with the streaky red backs of my thighs displayed. I want Mom to see the full measure of her evil.
The door opens of my room opens, but I don’t look up as I hear Mom set down a tray on my night stand.
“Claire, honey, I brought you some lunch,” says Mom.
She continues: “I know I spanked you way too hard. I was upset about the Barbie doll. You were so happy to get it that Christmas. I can understand if you want to stay in your room this afternoon, but you’re welcome to come downstairs anytime you want.”
That’s it? No promises to never spank nor wash my mouth out with soap again and that she’ll burn the ouchy stick?
No reply from me. Mom might as well be a female President Nixon apologizing for the Watergate scandal by blaming her underlings and assuring the American public she’s “not a crook.” I know from watching TV news and reading the copy of the Washington Post that’s delivered to our house each morning that neither the American public nor Congress is in a forgiving mood. I’m certainly not.
Mom leaves. I wait until the sounds of her footsteps indicate she’s back in the kitchen, then get off the bed and shut my door. Then I check out the lunch tray.
Yum: Bologna and melted American cheese on white bread, one of my favorite style sandwiches! And two large chocolate chip cookies, one more than usual.
I eat the cookies first dunking them in my glass of milk. Then I eat the bologna sandwich, dunking it in milk as well. Mom hates when I do that with a sandwich. For good measure, I peel off the bread crusts and drop them in the milk glass, which I leave unfinished. A nice soggy mess for Mom to clean.
Sated, I return to the “Wizard of Oz.” About an hour later I’m done. Next is “The “Land of Oz,” which introduces the seminal character of “Ozma,” princess of Oz, to Oz readers.
The celebration of the “Dorothy” character in popular culture is unseemly to Oz scholars such as me. “Ozma” is the true heroine when considering the literary qualities of all 14 books in their entirety.
But before I begin the “Land of Oz” I have to pee.
I open my door to walk to my adjoining bathroom. I can hear Mom talking on the phone downstairs. From the conversation, I can tell she’s speaking to Dad about me. But unlike usual when she calls him after I’ve been punished, she sounds sad rather than angry.
My bathroom needs completed, I return to my room, shut the door, lie on my bed and begin reading page one of “The Land of Oz.”
Three hours later and I’m nearly done. Boy oh boy, am I impressive! No one can read “Oz books” faster than me. Still, my brain is fatigued from the effort and I’d prefer not to start my third Oz book before dinner starts.
I hope Dad will be home from work soon. Then I can listen in enjoyment as Dad scolds Mom in a loud voice that’s she’s too strict with me, that she needs to cut me some slack and remember that I’m just a kid.
Mom’s excessive discipline has been a regular point of contention between my parents for the past year. I love Dad for defending me. My father is the “good parent.” He never punishes me. He doesn’t have to. Just a few words to me of disappointment from him are as painful as a dozen spanks with the ouchy stick.
To my pleasure, I hear the sound of Dad’s car pulling into our driveway at 4:30 pm, a good hour earlier than normal. Dad never works past 5:00 pm. “If I wanted to work late, I wouldn’t work for the federal government and federal government pay,” Dad is fond of saying.
Dad enters the house. I walk over to my bedroom door and open it a crack looking forward to the sounds of Dad giving Mom a good lecture. Hopefully it’ll end as it sometimes does with her screaming at him and running up to their bedroom in tears to slam the door.
Then I can go downstairs to give Dad a sympathetic look, as I usually do after Mom’s finished verbally abusing him, and go outside and put in good hour of smacking a tennis ball against the garage door before dinner. I’m feeling kind of logy from being cooped up inside all day.
But, to my disappointment, I can’t make out what my parents are saying as they speak in hushed tones. After several minutes they stop talking and I hear my Dad walking up the stairs.
I shut my door and hurry over to my bed and lie down on my stomach with my face buried in my pillow and the backs of my thighs visible. The red streaks have faded quite a bit in the several hours since my whipping, but there’s still convincing evidence of Mom’s crime.
Dad enters my room and sits down beside me on the bed. I keep my face buried in the pillow.
“Claire, I spoke to your mother,” Dad says. “I told her she had no business spanking you like that.”
I try to work up a sniffle as I whisper “OK.”
Darn it, the tears won’t come.
Dad continues: “Your Mom knows she was wrong. She’d come upstairs and apologize to you again but she knows you don’t want to talk to her now. We’ve talked and we agree you’re too old for spanking. You’re not going to be punished that way anymore.”
“I’m also too old to get my mouth washed out with soap,” I say in a voice slightly above a whisper.
“I’m going to tell her you’re too old to be punished that way as well,” Dad says. “So how about coming downstairs now? Mom is making your favorite for dinner: spaghetti.”
I look up at my father for the first time since he entered the room. “OK,” I say in a normal tone.
I follow Dad out my room and down the stairs carrying the lunch tray into the kitchen. Mom is at the table arranging plates for dinner.
I wash off the plate that held my sandwich and put it in the dishwasher. Then I stick my fingers into the milk glass pulling out the soggy bread crusts and wash them down the disposal. Then I wash out the glass and put it in the dishwasher.
Mom doesn’t look up from the dinner table as she says “Thank you Claire.”
And, as much as I don’t want to say it, the words tumble out: “You’re welcome.”
I walk down the stairs and through the kitchen the next morning. It’s twenty minutes till nine, plenty of time to walk the mile to the country club for my tennis lesson.
Even though it’s 90 degrees and humid, I’m wearing sweat pants instead of a tennis skirt. There’s really no need, there are just a couple of tiny bruises remaining, nobody would know the difference.
Nobody but one, and her punishment isn’t quite done.
I pass by Mom. “Claire, why are…” Mom stops midsentence. She knows good and well why I’m wearing sweat pants on this muggy July morning.
I walk out the door without saying goodbye.
I’m halfway down the driveway when I hear Mom call after me:
“Have a good lesson!”
No answer. My walk turns into a jog. As I hurry along, I make a serving motion with my right arm.
Gotta get loose. Gonna ask the tennis instructor to help me work on my serve today. I’m one of the better girl tennis players of my age at the country club. I have a great top-spin forehand and a decent two-handed backhand.
But I haven’t really learned how to serve. When I hit the ball hard, it invariably goes into the net so I usually lob my serves in.
I’ve seen boy-in-command play tennis. He’s OK, but not great. We both need to pick up our game if we’re going to win the mixed-doubles category of the tennis tournament the country club puts on for kids our age at the end of the summer.
I’m going to ask boy-in-command to be my partner for the tournament after we’re done playing tennis tomorrow. Practicing together will maintain momentum of our budding summer romance. I want to spend as much time together with boy-in-command in the next two weeks because I have to go to summer camp in August and I know boys are fickle.
Maybe I can talk my parents out of sending me to camp. I’m really too old for kid stuff like that. I’m practically a teenager.
I enter the country club driveway and hurry to the tennis courts. Worries about boys, summer camp and a Mom who hates me enough to beat me with an ouchy stick leave as I anticipate the pleasure of smashing a tennis ball around the court.
What a great day!