The Wages of Sin
In doing it My Way
I said before that I don’t remember the event of being born. It would seem to me that one should remember the most important event in his or hers life. Without that important event there can be no other important events. I guess that is a deficiency on my part. Nor do I remember sucking my mother’s breast, but again, I’m told I had a voracious appetite.
One other thing that I think should be made quite clear is that I also do not remember being consulted as to whether or not I wanted to be born. It seems to me that is something a person should at least be informed about if not consulted. After all, I’m going to be spend more time with me than with anyone else and I should be allowed to decide if I want to be me, and spend my entire life with someone like me.
However, finding myself to be alive, and here on earth, I decided that I would just have to make the best of it. By that I mean that as much as possible I should have things “My Way.” Frank Sinatra, some of you may remember him, used to sing a song that said this:
And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full.
I’ve traveled each and every highway;
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I chewed it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried.
I’ve had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.
To think I did all that;
And may I say – not in a shy way,
“No, oh no not me, I did it my way”.
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!
In my childhood days, doing it “My Way,” meant that I spent a considerable amount of time taking the blows. In the earlier years “I took the blows” by getting acquainted with both my parent’s laps. There are two general used for laps, the first and most enjoyable is for sitting on. That use of the lap was the only one I was familiar with up until about age 4 or 5.
Wonderful things, laps! You have to have knees in order to make a lap. Not only must you have knees, they have to fold the right way. Have you ever noticed that doves, ducks, storks, and birds of all kinds, and horses, dogs, zebras, and cats all have knees that bend backwards? Only those with knees that bend forward, like you and me, and Panda bears and all their relatives, and those of the monkey persuasion, have the kind of knees that are absolutely necessary for making a lap. I feel sorry for those creatures that can’t make a lap or never get the chance to sit in one.
A second use of a lap is to be bent over it in order to have some sort of unpleasant, physical pressure applied to it. This form of corporal discomfort was usually the result of having done something “My Way” when I was specifically told not to do it. I understand that this use of a lap is no longer in vogue. In fact, I am told that in some places it is actually outlawed, which may, or may not, be a good thing. Whatever your opinion is of the second use of a lap, it must be remembered that you cannot have a lap without knees.
One sad thing about knees and the laps they create is that at about age 10 to 13, and definitely by the age 15, the use of the lap diminishes. I don’t know if it is because the child that used to love to sit in a parent’s lap is now too old for that sort of childish thing, or whether the parents’ knees and laps are now too weak to hold the over-fed child. Maybe a little of both. Nevertheless, in honor of knees and laps everywhere I have composed a poem entitled simply Knees.
I think that I shall never see,
A poem lovely as a knee.
A knee that only bends one way,
Be it any time of night or day.
Designed to make the perfect lap,
Where infants tired take a nap.
A knee where toddlers upward stare,
Hoping the lap will be their chair.
A knee well-known to bring relief,
From things that bring a small-one grief.
Poems are writ by fools like me,
But only God can make a knee.
Now there are those readers who may say that in that poem I was imitating the poem Trees, written by Joyce Kilmer. That’s OK because I’ve heard it said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Or you might consider that although Joyce Kilmer wrote his poem almost 100 years before I wrote mine, he was imitating me, but I have now digressed into making excuses…
As everyone knows, it takes two bent knees to make a proper lap although it is not uncommon for a small child to be very comfortable on half-a-lap. However, as I grew older, and bigger, I needed a whole lap to sit comfortably with my parent’s arm around me while dozing off with my head resting comfortably on my parent’s shoulder. I think it was about that time, when I needed a whole lap to be comfortable, that I came to realize that there could be another use for a lap that was not comfortable at all.
After all those young years of deriving nothing but comfort from a lap it was rather traumatic to discover that the same lap from which I had enjoyed so much comfort could also be used to administer corrective discomfort. From then on I was aware that a lap was made up of two segments, the correction knee and the compassion knee.
My parents were both right kneed. By that I mean it was the right knee over which I was bent so that the administration of correction could be applied with the stronger, more assured, and most competent right hand. The left knee, or rather the part of the lap that was formed by the left knee, was where the tears fell and where a runny nose was often wiped. You would think that right there would discourage the corrective use of laps, but parents can sometime be slow learners.
I don’t know whether I would have had a better balanced childhood had one of them been left-handed, but there is something significant about the right hand, though I don’t know what it is. We salute with the right hand. We shake hands with the right hand. A politicians starts with the right hand and then grabs the person’s hand with both of his to show how sincere and trustworthy he is. Unless, of course, which is usually the case, he’s reaching into your pocket with his left hand while shaking hands with his right hand.
There is no question that my father was the more adept at administering correction than my mother. When my crime was really bad it was referred to my father, I suppose like calling in a pinch hitter when one batter is not as good at the craft as someone else is. At those times my father had the audacity to ask, “What do you think your punishment should be?”
I was, and am to this day, convinced that he already knew what he was going to do with me. I knew it would not do any good to suggest, “Raise my allowance?” or “Send me to visit Grandma and Grandpa for a week?” Of course, Grandma and Grandpa were five thousand miles away, so I would just raise my eyebrows, tilt my head a little and shrug my shoulders. Then just before he bent me over his right knee he would say, “You know, Son, this hurts me more than it hurts you.” I didn’t know any such thing!
One time, when my two brothers and I had all been involved in the same offense, a corporate crime if you will, my father asked the standard question, “What do you think your punishment should be?” To which my youngest brother, he was five or six at the time said, “What are our options?” I’ve always wished I was the one that had thought of asking that, but then he was the one that they referred to as “precocious” when he wasn’t around to hear it. He is also the one that later became a college president.
To say that my father was more adept is not in any way to detract from my mother’s consummate ability, but their methods were very different. My father, being of Dutch parentage, tended to be very methodical, almost Germanic, in what he did including administering justice.
First we would sit on the porch and discuss the matter. By discuss I mean he would explain just why what I had done was wrong. I, in my part of the discussion, would from time to time nod my head. It was when he was through with that, that I was asked what I thought my punishment should be. Eventually, albeit very reluctantly, I would nod my head agreeing that I deserved something that would contribute to my remembering what we had discussed. It was then he would take my hand and we would walk together to the bathroom.
He didn’t drag me. I willingly put my hand in his. There was something comforting in having the great, strong hand gently wrapped around mine even though I was headed for the execution block. In the bathroom he would take the razor strop from its hook, fold it in half, sit down on the stool that was there, and point to his knee extending to me the right knee of correction. With his left hand resting on my shoulders, he would administer one to five swats, depending on the severity of the crime. The sting of each swat seemed trapped inside the pants stretched tightly across my butt. The only time I remember getting five swats, was one time when I sassed my mother. To my father, sassing my mother was a capital crime, but fortunately he didn’t believe in the death sentence.
My mother, being Irish, tended to be less methodical, even impulsive, you might say, with giving us children spankings. At times she had the unique ability to bend us over her knee without ever sitting down. Somehow, there we were, bent over a knee that wasn’t there while she administered the correction with her bare hand. She was not a discusser, but believed, as in training a dog, for correction as soon as the offense was committed so you would know why you were being corrected.
Unlike my father, my mother never went to where the instrument of punishment was, but instead had us bring the implement to her. If she was near the kitchen it was, “Get me the spatula.” The spatula was a wooden slab about three inches across, some eight inches long including the handle and a quarter of an inch thick. She told me one time that it was a butter-spatula though I had never known it to be used for anything other than making an impression on our behinds. But it was a kitchen tool and so it was kept in the pantry.
If she was near her bedroom the instruction was, “get me the hairbrush.” She had two. The first was a sturdy wooden-backed item kept in the bathroom. The other was a tortoiseshell brush with a matching comb and tortoiseshell backed mirror that was on top of the dresser in the bedroom. We knew she preferred to use the wooden-backed brush on us, but would use whatever we brought her. I could never discern any significant difference in the effectiveness of one over the other, but on her hair and on us she seemed to prefer to use the wooden-backed one.
I sensed the demise of the tortoiseshell hairbrush the moment it happened. I was bent over my mother’s right knee and had already received two thwacks when the third landed, feeling and sounding totally different from the ones before, and then there was the clatter of the bristle end of the brush as it landed on the brick floor. Her left hand was removed from my shoulder blades that had always been the signal that I could stand up, and when I looked at her she was holding the handle of her brush in her hand with a perplexed look on her face.
“Now look what you’re done,” she said. “You made me break my favorite brush.”
I guess the thinking there has something to do with the idea of original sin. Since I was the one that had done something that required the use of the brush, and since I had brought her that particular brush, then the brush had obviously been broken by me.
As always, even though I had just broken her favorite brush, she sat me on her lap. Both my parents did that. My father would drop the strop next to the stool reach for me after I stood up, and even though I would at times pretend to resist, I liked settling into his lap, his strong arm around me. He would hold me tightly, until the pain had subsided from my indignation and my butt and he would say something like, “I’m sorry I had to do that, Son.”
My mother, who was ample in love, humor, and size would pull me on to her lap, hugging me against the softness of her bosom, lean her head on top of mine, and rock back and forth. Eventually she would let me go, sensing my eagerness to get back to my games, pat me on the butt as I slid off her lap and say, “O.K. run along and play.”
I wish now I had not been so quick to “run along and play.” I wish I had stayed there and said, “Tell me a story, Mommy,” as I often did at other times when I climbed into her lap. At those times she would tell me stories. I’m too old now to sit in anyone’s lap, nor does anyone crawl into my lap asking for a story, and so I tell my stories to you. Later on as I write this book, when the time is right, I’ll tell you the stories my mother told me about her father who was a tugboat captain in New York Harbor, at least the ones I remember.
Copyright © 2014 by Paul J. Stam
All rights reserved
Body On the Church Steps coming soon from Second Wind Publishing.