Some of you know I'm a moderator of an online writers' community called the Absolute Write Water Cooler. There are over 17,000 members and hundreds of ongoing discussion threads - some of which deal with current events and other non-writing-related topics. As you might imagine when dealing with so many opinionated, reasonably-intelligent egos, discussions can sometimes become heated. The moderators have a private room on the site within which we discuss various issues affecting the board, often revolving around plans for dealing with the latest bruhaha. Sometimes we just kick back and shoot the breeze (in a virtual, internet kind of a way).
A recent bull session involved parenting strategies and it triggered a memory of my father's most brilliant psychological ploy.
I was about 10 years old. Theresa would be around eight, Karl six, Mark five, Marina three and Lisa a toddler. (I don't have a calculator handy but that should add up to six kids.)
This would be around 1961. Home computers and video games were decades away. Kids amused themselves by playing outside in almost all kinds of weather.
We'd be out there on blazing hot days and during snowstorms but if it was cold and rainy, we had to play indoors.
Apparently, there were times when we might have been a tad rowdy. Hard to believe, I know. But I suppose six kids in one small house, usually in one room of that house, might get somewhat rambunctious.
I can recall us being locked in the basement rec room. It had Dutch doors, so my mother would keep the bottom one locked but the top one open so she could hear if someone needed to go to the hospital. Or the toilet. This would free her up somewhat to do whatever it was that Moms did when they weren't actively Momming.
Of course at 10, I was undeterred by the locked bottom door. I could clamber out through the top. But years earlier I was stymied. So when I was about four, I liberated a grapefruit spoon (with that nifty serrated edge) and set about drilling a hole through that bottom door, near the lock. The theory was, I would slip my hand through the hole, reach out, unlock the door and surprise Mom when I appeared upstairs.
It would have worked too, if the spoon had been bigger. Over the course of a few days, I managed to drill a hole all right but I couldn't fit my hand through it.
But I digress.
So, picture six kids bouncing around in a confined space. There might have been some violence here and there. A little jumping and falling and running and tripping. Concurrent with those activities of course, would be the sound effects. Booms. Thuds. Crashes. Screams. Crying. Laughter. The usual.
One day, probably after consecutive days of wet weather, my mother, usually a rather placid woman, snapped.
When Mom was riled she'd holler some. Hollering had a fairly short-term effect on our behaviour. Occasionally she would pinch an upper arm or an ear. That would sting and have a more lasting effect - up to several minutes.
But when Mom had had enough - when she really couldn't stand it anymore - she'd cry.
Moms aren't supposed to cry. Her tears would have an instantly sobering effect on us. Partly because it was such a rare event, perhaps once a year, and partly because we knew Dad was going to get involved when he got home from work.
In situations like this, Dad majored in Being Disappointed. He would talk and talk and talk about expectations and respect and caring and how he sure hated Being Disappointed in us. I swear, sometimes we had to poke each other in order to stay awake.
One day though, after Mom cried, Dad didn't lecture us. After supper he told us to follow him downstairs. He carried an old leather belt in his hands.
We were nervous. And respectfully quiet. In the unfinished part of the basement, near the dirty old coal-burning furnace, was a small area he used as a workshop. In a corner stood an old broom.
Dad took the broom and sawed off about a foot of the handle. Positioning us to either side of him, making sure we could all see, he then used a pair of shears to cut the leather belt into three pieces. When done, he nailed the pieces of leather to the end of the broom handle.
It made for a vicious-looking whip.
He tested it with a few whacks against the bench and nodded, satisfied, then bade us follow him back upstairs to the kitchen.
I'm pretty sure everybody has a drawer somewhere in their kitchen wherein they keep stuff that doesn't really belong anywhere else - things like tape and string and elastics and candles. Well, back then, in that kitchen, that particular drawer squeaked. Not a delicate, mousey-type squeak either. Nope, that drawer screeched when opened. Imagine Barry Manilow plopping down on a thumbtack.
Dad opened the squeaky drawer and placed his newly-made whip inside. Then he closed it and went to read his newspaper.
For years afterward, when we were bouncing from bed to bed instead of sleeping, or playing Throw Lisa Against The Wall a little too enthusiastically, all my parents needed to do to achieve silence was open the squeaky drawer.
Wisely, they never closed it too quickly afterwards. The one, piercing screech left a mental image in our heads of that strap/whip sitting there - ready to be used.
And it never was. Not once. The squeak was enough.
Dad was a pretty smart guy.
Addendum: Going away for a few days on Thursday, Oct. 18th, so please forgive my delayed response to any further comments.
Just in case you don't know, you can see what Dutch doors look like if you click here.
If you're interested in visiting the AW Water Cooler, you can click here.