A couple of years ago Mommy gave Kathy a dollar bill and sent her to the little store on our block to get some milk. Off she went, strutting tall down the sidewalk. A little while later she returned. Tears streamed down her cheeks, like the first drops down our windowpanes at the start of a storm.
“Where’s the milk, Katherine?” Mommy asked. “I couldn’t get it.”
“Why is that, Katherine?” “I lost the dollar.”
“What do you mean you lost the dollar?”
“I put it in my pocket, and when I got to the store it wasn’t there.”
“Oh, that’s just dandy. You were walking along and it just flew out of your pocket. You expect me to believe that whopper? That’s just great. It just flew out of your pocket. As if dollar bills can fly, all by themselves. I don’t see any bills flying around here, but put one in your hand and it gets wings. Ha! That’s what I get for trying to give a no account prima donna like you a little bit of responsibility.”
“I didn’t mean to lose it,” Kathy said. “I’m really sorry.” “That doesn’t bring the dollar back, does it. It just flew out of your pocket! Wait until your father hears about this.” That was a bad sign because when she says, “Wait until your father hears about this,” it usually means one of us is going to get belted that night. We get belted for the things that make Mommy and Daddy the angriest. First we get scolded, then we maybe get slapped in the face or socked in the arm. If it’s during the day and we’ve done something really bad, Mommy spanks us with one of those wooden paddles leftover from the toys with the rubber string and red ball on the end. She saves them all for paddling after the rubber strings break. One time the paddle broke when she was pounding on Mary Ruth. Mary Ruth laughed. That got Mommy so flustered that she stopped the paddling and muttered to herself all afternoon.
“What kind of monster child is she, laughing when she’s getting punished? Lord Almighty, see what I have to face? Jesus, Mary, Joseph, how can I deal with such children, no feelings, not an ounce of feeling there at all.”
Daddy belted Mary Ruth that night for laughing during her punishment. He says it was very disrespectful and that we are supposed to honor our father and mother. It’s one of the Ten Commandments, which have something to do with being Catholic. Getting belted by Daddy means, you pull down your pants, and undies, so they’re in a little puddle around your ankles. Then you lean over the side of your bed as he undoes his belt buckle and slowly pulls the belt out of the loops. He folds it in two, grasps it in one hand, and taps his empty palm with it. He breathes real hard in and out, in and out as he does this. And so do you. Then he cracks the belt in the air and says, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
The belt comes down hard on your behind, and you try not to cry too loud because then Daddy will think you don’t believe that it hurts him more than it hurts you, and he’ll have to hit you harder and harder until you stop making noise. If you’re lucky he’s done in six whacks. He leaves the room, and you’re left to pull up your pants, sniffling and alone.
I don’t remember if Kathy got belted for losing the dollar bill. But ever since that day Mommy hasn’t sent any of us to the little store. And she always brings the lost dollar bill up, especially when company’s over and we’re all at the dining room table. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard her tell that story, all the while Kathy, Mary Ruth and I are cringing, hoping, praying we can be excused before we have to hear any more.
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