When I began this little ‘project’, this life story, this telling of tales, I thought to myself – this cannot last long, how many stories could I possibly tell, 10, 25, 50? And here I am now at story 199! I’m finally beginning to get to a point to where I might be able to soon see the end of the tunnel. When I run out of memories, I’ll stop. For now though, there’s still more to share so stop your applause. You’re being rude.
Some memory stories still make me chuckle to this day. A few, (I admit), are probably boring but were important enough for me to recall. If for nothing else, maybe my kids will all take the time someday to go through every story to learn more about their dear old dad. And then, there are a lot of stories in here that seem to serve a purpose of cleansing. I guess that’s what this story here is about. It’s one of those things that happened when I was very young and very ignorant. One of the names in here is being changed. I wouldn’t want to rekindle any bad memories that had been successfully buried, (as they should be).
When I was a kid, just about every school or every class had a Forrest Gump type of kid; someone just a little bit slower than all the other kids. Kids like these make such easy targets for mean teasing. Our kid was Dale, Dale the Whale we all called him. Dale was a tad on the chubby side.
We were in the second grade. My second grade was outside the main Fillmore school brick building, in a secondary building everyone called “The Tin Building”. I don’t know if it was really made of tin or if it was made of steel, but Tin Building was its name. Our teacher’s name was Mrs Vaughn, a very nice lady who’d take the time to bring my homework to me later on in the year when I got hit by a school bus (link).
During each day, there was always a period called “recess”. We kids were told these recesses were for us, the kids, so that we could get a short play break away from all the hard work our teachers threw at us. The truth, (well guarded by all the teachers and parents), was that recess was for the teachers. The teachers needed and deserved these breaks. We adults know this today, but we also know that this secret must be kept at all cost. Recess is the only part of the day that keeps the teachers sane; no teachers mean we non-teachers would have to step in…and we definitely don’t want to do that, do we.
But anyway, I’ve mentioned in my stories how I can be a very good teaser. I learned this skill from my dad, the master of teasing (link). I’m a kind teaser today, only teasing when I like someone. As a child though, like most other kids I could be mean. I was never a leader of meanness but likewise, I rarely stuck up for the little guy. I was weak, I was a follower like most kids.
On one such teacher’s break, there were three of us teasing Dale just outside the Tin Building. My friend Timmy was one of the teasers. Dale was easy to tease – if you are a kid who lets teasing get to you, it acts like a magnet for the teasers. ‘Dale the Whale, pig in a pail, Dale the Whale, pig in a pail’. Dale’s defense was acting like Kato of The Green Hornet tv show. That only made things worse for Dale because then we all went into a High Karate mode, (HA! CHOP! HI!)
I don’t know how long this went on before finally, we were stopped by one of the teachers. I don’t recollect which teacher it was, but she took us to the Principal’s office! The Principal’s Office – getting sent to the Principal’s Office was every kids nightmare. Rumors flew amongst us kids, rumors about what went on behind that closed door with the simple sign that said “PRINCIPAL”. In my own wildest thoughts, I imagined Barnabus Collins, complete with a rack, thumbscrew and probably a coffin for burying the kids afterwards. No kid in his right mind wanted to visit the Principal – just the threat of getting sent there would bring a kid to cold sweats and tears.
At this point though, let me tell you younger readers something, the difference between today and fifty years ago. As scared as we were of the Principal, fifty years ago, we kids were way more afraid of our dads than anything the Principal could do to us. Even if it was Barnabus, a Principal might sink his fangs into our necks. Our dads, however, could kill us, could make our butts raw. Don’t believe me, read this (link). Every self respecting kid in the early sixties was scared to death of what would happen to them once their dad found out his kid got sent to the Principal’s office; it was the ultimate sin according to dads everywhere.
So there we four were, sitting on a wooden bench outside Mr. Thomas’ office, sweating it out, waiting to be called in to receive our beatings. The school’s policy, (or maybe Barnabus’ policy), was to punish everyone involved in “fighting”. This was unfortunate for Dale since he was the person being taunted. This was a stupid ruling in this situation, the Principal should have let him go and dished out more punishment to us, the taunters. Dale was a tad slow so perhaps he wasn’t defending himself well. For certain, the rest of us weaklings would have been scared to death, likely unable to utter a sound. We would be no help to Dale, a goldfish flopping around on the counter).
The punishment was announced; we were all to receive a paddling. Unlike today, corporal punishment was not only allowed in the early 60’s, it was encouraged by our parents. Many parents would even sneak notes into our lunch boxes. “Robbie, please give this to your teacher”. The note would typically say something like, ‘our son will likely do something he shouldn’t be doing at school today so please dole out some good old fashioned corporal punishment, even if you don’t catch him‘. We kids hated a paddling and we hated notes to the teachers.
Mr Thomas – “Who wants to go first?”
Me – “I will”.
I know what you’re thinking out there. Are you nuts? Why would you volunteer to go first? Well I’ll tell you – my dad had us trained you see; in our house when more than one kid was going to get a whipping, my dad’s rule was the first to the belt always got the lightest whipping. This way, he didn’t have to waste any energy chasing us down. He’d announce – come and get your whipping, and we’d all fly as fast as we could. You never saw kids so in love with the prospect of getting a beating.
I was hoping Mr Thomas played by the same rules as my dad….he didn’t. We had to pull down our pants to display our underwear. I’m not making this up, why do you think we dreaded a paddle? He used a common Bolo toy paddle, the kind with the rubber ball on a long piece of rubber, but against a raw butt, protected by a thin pair of tighty-whities, believe me – it smarted. I received three swats. My cohorts each received three swats too. Dale was up last. Perhaps the paddle had weakened. I like to think that is the reason why it broke on Dale’s butt after the second swat.
This was too much. We didn’t dare laugh in the Principal’s office, but you can bet we all laughed afterwards! Kids can be mean. Also, kids can learn. I felt guilty that Dale had to get a swat. He didn’t deserve one. I didn’t think of this before this story, but maybe that was Mr Thomas’ point? Maybe he was trying to make us feel guilty, trying to teach us a lesson? (Maybe….or maybe he just liked to see little boys in their tighty whities). It was one of the first times in my life though that I felt guilty. I felt sorry for Dale. I never teased him again after this, never.
I was afraid of my dad, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. When my dad lost his temper on us kids, it meant the belt or, (God forbid), the switch. So when I went home that night, I didn’t say anything to my parents. Unbeknownst to us kids, it was also a policy to phone the parents of any kid who received swats.
My mom got the call, but it was Dad who asked, “did you get swats at school today?”
Me – yes.
Dad – What did you do?
I knew full well what I did, but I was hoping I could play dumb and maybe, just maybe, Dad wouldn’t call the school, he’d just let it drop. So I used the most common phrase in the English kid language – “I don’t know”.
Dad – You don’t know, how can you not know? Did you do something wrong?
Me – no…..I don’t know why I got swatted Dad.
Well, that was about the most stupid thing I could have said or done. I was in uncharted territory though, feeling my way through a new area. This was the first time I ever got in trouble at school. We kids were clueless; we didn’t know the teachers were in cahoots with the parents.
My dad did worse than call the school. Since we lived close by, he drove down to the school. Shit! I didn’t cuss then but if I wasn’t thinking ‘shit’, I should have because it was about to hit the fan! When my dad got home, he immediately confronted me about my lying to him. Mr Thomas had told him what had happened. My dad was naturally embarrassed because I had lied to him and he had gone down to the school to ‘defend’ me. The whipping I got from my dad that day was nothing compared to the Bolo paddle swat!
This day ended up being one of the more monumental days in the effort to grow up. For one, I avoided Death by Dad. Just kidding, (but not really), firstly, it is one of my earliest memories of feeling guilty and sorry for someone. This might have been one of my early lessons in empathy. Secondly, never, I repeat, never lie to my dad! The whipping I got for lying was one I deserved, I guess, but man did it smart.
And lastly, not everyone follows that rule about the easy swats, so how about in the future, not volunteering to be first in line for the swats – let that swinging arm get tired, little man.