Children in the rural South of my era grew up with a number of ideological certainties imbedded in their mental databanks. Some were helpful. Some were confusing. Some were downright charming. For example
“You would worry the horns off a billy goat.” Now this is an odd one. It certainly indicates a sustained dosage of high-strength bothering. And why a billy goat would be chosen for such apparently cruel and unusual punishment is still one of life’s mysteries. Hard as I tried, I never seemed to reduce either length or breadth of a single horn, a lack of “worry-talent” I suppose.
“You don’t know what hard work is.” This one is probably true. I can’t imagine chopping cotton from sunup to sunset, or canning vegetables in July over a wood-burning stove under a tin roof. It’s a wonder anyone survived.
“Your face is going to freeze in that position.” This one would probably have had more effect had it been accompanied by fearsome photographs of misdirected youths who had actually paid this price. Perhaps that would have been too gruesome to bear.
“When I was your age, I walked three miles to school each way, every day—rain, snow, or sleet. Now, for some reason, it was always three miles, never two, two and a half, or four. Was there some rural zoning code that mandated the location of farmhouses along a three-mile radius from the nearest school? One wonders.
“Jesus is watching you.” This one gave rise, personally, to all sorts of theological questions. Why me? Why now? Why not my sister? Why not Benjy Shannon who bears watching more than I? Why not give a little attention to our soldiers over in Korea? Will I ever get break?
“You’re going to make me go out and cut a switch.” This one was offered as if a young child of five could make his grown mother do anything and, even if that were possible, his choice would be the acquiring of an instrument suitable only for his own torture. That had some form of adult logic totally inaccessible to a young brain.
And finally, the pièce de résistance: “You’re going to take ten years off my life.” This one was particularly devastating as it was never coupled with a promise that good deeds might restore a portion of the deficit. It haunted me until middle-age whereupon I noted that childless couples seemed to have about the same life expectancy as those burdened with life-robbing children.
Is there the possibility that Southern children were duped?