When I was around three years old, my brother and cousins loved to run around teasing my great-great-aunt. By this time, my Tia Julia was mostly sedentary, living under the care of my grandmother (Mimo). She would sit in a wicker chair by the front door with a rolled-up newspaper in her hand ready to swat any kid that got too close to her. The thing is, she’d fall asleep in that chair and the big kids thought it was awesome fun to taunt her while she slept. She couldn’t swat us in her sleep.
I was terrified of that lady. One day, my brother, feeling extra brave during one of Tia Julia's naps, jumped around in front of her, stuck his tongue out at her, and made the “na-na-na-na-boo-boo” sign with his hands. And, I’ll be damned if that heifer’s eyes didn’t pop right open! My brother and cousins took off, but I was stunned with fear! My brain screamed RUN, but my legs didn't register. She grabbed my arm with one hand and spanked the crap out of me with the other. I can vividly remember the sound of the newspaper cracking, whop-whop-whop, on the back of my legs. She hollered, “¡pos que fregados! …¡pinches niños, agradecidos!” (Roughly translated: "What the fuck! You fucking ungrateful little kids!") The other kids laughed and laughed, pointing at me in gleeful hysterics from a safe distance.
I was traumatized for life.
I’m not gonna lie, ya’ll… I had nightmares about Tia Julia throughout my childhood. I had this one recurring nightmare where we’re back at Mimo’s old house and I have a very strong urge to pee… I can smell her even before I open the door to the restroom; a perfume of dust, mold, and ivory soap. Without even touching it, the door creaks open. I find that Tia Julia’s severed head is sitting on the counter… her eyes fling open and her lips tighten into a smirk! Then, she says, “Andale , entra mijitia…no te voy a hacer daño,” (Roughly translated: "Come on in, darling, I won't hurt you.") as black drool seeps from cracked lips in Stephen King-style glory. But, hell no, I don’t go in! Instead, I pee myself.
After that incident, I learned to take joy in witnessing other kids getting ass-whoopings! I spent the majority of my childhood trying my best to fly under the radar to avoid spankings. My brothers, however, were idiots. Which pleased me greatly, I must admit.
After belts no longer seemed to impress my brothers during their regular disciplines, my dad crafted a long, wooden paddle, designed for maximum pain. He painted it black, drilled holes into it and wrapped the handle meticulously in black electrical tape and leather. It sat on a hook just inside our parents' bedroom door; a constant reminder that poor behavior had dire consequences. Everything about that damn paddle was menacing. But, the boys didn’t give a shit. Even after Mom's threats of brutal beatings, they’d continue being their little assholey selves all the live-long day. “Quit that shit now or I will tell your father when he gets home!” she'd warn. But they wouldn’t quit. Testing her boundaries was their god-given right and daily mission.
They knew that sometimes she didn't follow through with her threats. I think part of her felt sorry for them. But by the end of many days, Mom would be so fed up with those boys that Dad could spot it on her face. “Who’s first?!” he’d ask them without even checking with her to see if they had behaved themselves. When neither one of them offered to go first, he’d flip a coin and get to swatting. Only three swings of the paddle if they were lucky. My sister and I would peek around the corner and snicker at them. Deep down, I felt it was payback for the Tia Julia incident.
But my dad and Tia Julia weren't the only ones who took pleasure in inflicting pain on children as punishment for their wrong-doings. If there were Academy Awards for spankings, Grandpa Lonnie, I think, would have been the reigning champion in Louisiana from 1975-1992. I wouldn't wish the wrath of Grandpa Lonnie on my worst enemy.
Our parents shipped us off to Grandpa Lonnie’s ranch in Louisiana for a few weeks each summer until I was 9 years old (that's when an "incident" occurred that resulted in us never seeing Grandpa Lonnie again; I'll save that for another post.) Jonathan was the last of Grandpa Lonnie's kids still living at home; he was the same age as my brothers. I think I've blocked out a lot of my experiences at that ranch. I remember we went to church a lot. I remember Big Mama produced very elaborate country-cooking spreads for every meal. I remember there were cows... and chickens... and lots of boat rides through the swamp for catfishing. There was also a lot of screaming.
One of the daily chores at the ranch was to close the gate at the end of the long driveway each day before supper. Most days the boys would ride their bikes down there to do it. But, sometimes Grandpa Lonnie would treat them to a tailgate ride if he had trash to dump or whatnot. On these rare occasions, Grandpa Lonnie warned those fools not to let their feet drag on the ground while he was driving. And, of course, they never listened. All three of them dragged their damn feet every time. One time in particular, though, Jonathan's shoe caught on a rock and he tumbled right out of the truck. His legs and arms got tore up pretty bad on that fall.
But, what did Grandpa Lonnie do when this happened? Did he hurry and tend to his dumbass son and offer medical assistance or at the very least, fatherly love? No, he did not! He pulled the truck over, yanked Jonathan up onto his feet and beat the living shit out of him with his fists. “I told you not to drag your feet, boy! You think that fall hurts? This spanking is gonna hurt worse!”
To be fair, it was more than a spanking. It was a beating. By the end of it, his face was bloody, too. And, he couldn't walk. Grandpa Lonnie tossed him like a rag doll into the back of the truck and headed back up the driveway as if nothing happened. I don't know what ever became of Jonathan. Grandpa Lonnie is dead now.
Unlike the boys, I learned quickly how to behave myself to avoid spankings. There was nothing my brothers could entice me to do that I’d risk a beating for. Nothing.