Ithaca Blog

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Good Clout

Neither of my parents were hitters, though they often were forced to threaten it.

My father, like many fathers of the time, I guess, had the role of punisher when he came home from work, and heard all the bad things we did that day.

If hitting was warranted, he would discuss it first, in a way that was so rote, and comical to me, the hardest thing was trying not to laugh.

"I'm gonna take off my belt," he would say, "and...I'll hit ya; and you'll cry..." and his voice would trail off in the sad inevitability of it all.

So I would say I was sorry, maybe crying a little for authenticity, thus avoiding any smacking, and then I would rush off and imitate the ritual for my siblings. It got us every time.

My mother also would allow us the chance of an out through words. Caught at something, or simply annoying her, she would turn and say, eerily deadpan, "Do you want a good clout?" - our introduction to the rhetorical question.

Once and only once she ever hit me. There was no question first. It was when President Kennedy died.

He was shot and killed on a Friday. I was in first grade. They didn't tell us at school. I remember getting off the school bus, and all the mothers were there. That was unusual, as they usually took turns meeting us.

They took our hands, which was also strange.

I remember coming home, and the news on TV - all day, and into the night.

When I woke on Saturday, my mother was up, standing in front of the TV.

I stood next to her. She wasn't speaking and might have been crying.

Personally, I was wondering what was happening with cartoons. I was a big fan of a new show, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales.

"Is this going to be on all day?," I asked.

"Of course," my mother said, and not kindly. "The president is shot dead."

It sank in. I shook my head - at the thought of the morning ruined; and said, as I gazed at the TV:

"Why did stupid President Kennedy have to get shot on a Friday?"

Wham, came the answer, a swing of my mother's arm, with the back of her hand to my face. She was crying now, and I sure knew why.

I found my footing, and looked up at her with tears in my eyes. She looked shocked, and sad, but she didn't say she was sorry.

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