Jan 15, 2010
Reading Jean’s account of her stubbornness in apologizing to her sisters and her dad’s relentless thrashing brought to mind the stories my dad told about growing up in the mountains and some of my experiences as a child. The leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree, so to speak.
In the book “Yesterday’s People”, the author states that in Appalachia, after children outgrew their cuteness, they were separated from the adults and sometimes left on their own, depending on older siblings or cousins for guidance. This was true in my dad’s life and mine, as I related about being left outside to play alone while visiting family. In the city, playing in the road would have been too dangerous and I would have been watched. Families may have been somewhat more protective of girls but I think generally, as long as you didn’t make waves, you were pretty much left alone. As long as you stayed away from the creek, the well, and other hazardous places, it was considered a safe place to be left alone.
That doesn’t mean that children weren’t around adults at all. It often meant that they were sharing adult responsibility, but they were not equal to adults. They were needed on the farm to help with the work and in the kitchen with food preparation and other household chores. Some folks consider this kind of thing abusive to children, but I disagree. I believe that sharing responsibility is one of the best things a family can do together, as long as too much isn’t expected of the children. But that’s just my opinion.
On with the story… Dad and his brother went to school but they also worked the farm along with Mark. Dad told us about one day when he and Clarence were planting corn in the field, they were hot and tired and wanted to go take a swim. Mark had told them to finish it but they decided it would be ok to go take a dip anyway. They hid the little bit of seed corn they had left in an old stump on the edge of the field and headed off to the creek for their cool retreat and soon forgot about the corn field. When they went home to dinner, Mark asked them if they had finished the planting and they told him yes, that they had run out of seed and then gone to the creek.
Needless to say, a short time later, guess what sprouted and started to grow in the old stump? Yep, you guessed it. It was now sporting a little crop of corn plants. Guess who found it first. Yep, Mark found it and he didn’t waste any time getting his strap and letting them have it.
I remember that strap. It always hung on the wall in their little bathroom in the house on Rt. 23, and I can tell you, I was afraid of that thing. It had to have been 3” or 4” wide and maybe 3’ long, or so it seemed to me as a kid. My parents never used a strap but I got enough lickins with Dad’s belt to keep me on the straight and narrow, at least until I left home at 18. That was a threatening tool that they would not hesitate to use. I don’t remember Granny ever whipping them in any of his stories. I guess because Mark was usually somewhere around, he handled most of that. But my mom sure could put the fear of God into you when she had a mind to.
Children are treated somewhat differently today and I can’t say that that is a bad thing. I doubt if my kids will ever spank their children, if and when they have some. But I think the way kids were left to grow up on their own, to a degree, is not much different today. Once they enter preschool, they have teachers and peers to help guide them, but they have to work through it with even less intervention from their parents than we and our parents did unless their parents work hard at staying connected to them. That isn’t easy to do.
Just this week, there was a story about a young mother, under 18, I presume because they would not tell her name, and her twin babies, just 4 months old. One of the twins was battered by her boyfriend and he passed away yesterday. The other little boy had broken bones and old wounds. I could not help but think, “Where on earth were her parents, or some other family members who might have prevented this child’s death if they had only been connected more closely with her?” My first reaction to the story was to think they should take that boyfriend and lock him in a room full of moms and let them have at him. But that’s my mountain momma genes talking. He was only 18, a child himself. He will pay a full adult penalty for what he did, I am sure. The surviving twin is now in foster care. Hopefully he will have a home before long.