Wednesday, December 15, 2010

...I Hope Your Legs Aren't Smooth...


One of my co-workers illustrated by Gary Larson
I have this really nice, faint line going down one of my upper thighs. It used to be a welt and over the years it’s gone down and faded so much, you barely notice it but I can still see it.

I got it from my dad when I was four years old. My mom and sister were gone and my dad was upstairs asleep. For some reason, I was under the impression that I had to get ready for something, so I changed my clothes, washed my face and since I was wearing shorts, attempted to put baby oil on my legs.

I don’t remember if I spilled it, dropped it, or was just otherwise careless but more than half that bottle was gone when I was done. I remember adding water to the bottle, and then some poorly orchestrated effort to use toilet tissue to clean up the oil spill. (Ha, ha. What kind of idiot doesn’t know how to clean up an oil spill? Ha ha ha. Oh, wait…)

Next thing I know Dad’s standing in the bathroom doorway with Mr. Charlie. Mr. Charlie was what we called this handcrafted leather belt that was used exclusively for whoopins. Yeah I said “whoopins” because these were most definitely not spankings.

The floor is covered in oil, my legs look like I’m greasy enough to fry some chicken, and there’s a bottle of baby oil on the back of the toilet with a very defined line in it where the water is floating on top.

“What are you doing?” he said very calmly, and I just started to cry. On that day, not only did I learn water and oil don’t mix, but I learned that you definitely don’t want to be covered in oil when you’re getting your legs torn up by leather strap.

My legs are hurting just remembering that one.

Years later, I told him “I don’t know that I got the lesson in that one,” and he said it was because I was too young to be so vain (not a good reason), because I knew I did something wrong since I tried to cover it up by adding the water to the bottle (good reason), and because I was not being smart about the clean up and wasting tissue on top of that. “Common sense” should have told me to grab something more absorbent like a towel. Or stand on a towel while applying the oil. Or use lotion.

His answer was endless and even though I still think in that case, the response was a bit harsh, I can’t say I didn’t learn a lot that day about being careful and being smart. (And some natural enthusiasts might include “avoiding the dangers of mineral oil” to that list of lessons)

On my other leg at the knee is a scar that I got from falling on the sidewalk running away from my mother who was chasing me back to our house.

I had spent the morning at St. Bart’s Catholic church (and school) volunteering as a Girl Scout for a carnival. Later that afternoon on the porch, some friends wanted me to get them into the fair for free. So off we went, two and a half whole blocks and one street over to the church. My friend Jarlo walked back with me. “Hey, look, it’s your mom” she said. I looked up in time to see one of the older neighborhood boys walking next to my mother and pointing me out “There she is right there” I heard him say. It was at that time that I noticed old friend, Mr. Charlie in my mom’s hands. Jarlo and I made a break for it.

My mom was across the street and to nearly the opposite end of the block; if I could beat her home I could lie and say that it wasn’t me she saw. I looked back once and she was at the corner. I looked back a second later and her hand was centimeters away from my shirt collar. The shock threw me off balance and down I went, skinning my knee. She was so angry that she got a few licks in right there on the street. She got me again when we got home. And then Dad came home from work, heard what happened and thought I could use a friendly reminder about the importance of not just walking off somewhere by myself without saying a word. To this day, if I ever take off to go anywhere, I make sure someone knows where I’m going and when I’ll be back.

Now one more nick that I have lower down on my shin would be barely noticeable, except the skin never grew back the same, and it’s a white patch on an otherwise brown leg. I got this after someone got the bright idea to hide Mr. Charlie.

My dad came home and found Mr. Charlie missing from the hook, and lined my sister, two cousins and me all in a row for interrogation. Before we went downstairs, the older girls suggested that we all scatter in different directions on signal: He couldn’t possibly catch all of us. (Dang, we were dumb.)

“Who was in this room?” he said. No reply.

He pointed to the empty hook. “Where’s the belt?” No reply.

Now I don’t know if I saw this at that time, or if I only remember it now, but the other belt that hung next to Mr. Charlie was missing. This belt was longer, wider, and thicker so technically it should have hurt less. But it had two prongs instead of one. And the holes for the prongs were metal and went all the way around the length of the belt.

Mr. Charlie was usually folded in half, but since parents are psychic, Dad suspected he would need a longer strap to work with. He rolled one end part way around his hand. The other end- the end with the buckle- was loose. When Dad stood up, I heard the signal but since kids are stupid, we all just ran into each other and formed a massive body of arms, legs, and screams. We probably did more damage to each other than our Dad did to us.

I think since I was the youngest and smallest, I was able to drop low and crawl to safety the fastest. But I still had a some pretty respectable nicks and bruising, including a that tiny white speckle on the front of my leg from getting hit with a belt prong. The lesson here is, you can’t escape punishment by altering the punishment method, but have a well prepared escape route just in case.

Sometimes I tell people these stories and they react like I said my name was Dave Pelzer or something. 

I can admit to some of it being a little extreme (I still don’t agree with the baby oil incident. And I'm not even going to tell you about the time I got caught writing porn), but there was never a time when our parents just flipped out and let us have it for no reason. They wanted to raise “thinkers” and responsible adults.

We were probably threatened with punishment more than we received it. And we were actually pretty good kids, so we got into more trouble for poorly developed thoughts than we did for not so smart actions.

What I mean is, if we did something wrong, but we could demonstrate that it wasn’t for lack of forethought and planning, we wouldn’t get into (as much) trouble. Sounds silly but I think it was effective.

I’m reminded of all this because at my job, I send a lot of communication by email. Mostly because they don’t pay me to go around to each of our 300+ employees and sit with them face to face and explain the same thing over and over again, but also because it’s kind of a given that if you have the job, you're at least halfway literate.

It takes a lot of time to put these messages together because I’m careful to consider what the message is, who is the recipient, what needs to be said or done to make sure the communication is thorough and complete. Still, I always end up with a battery of questions from the same small group of dingbats.

The sad part is that these are people that pride themselves on being so highly educated. These same people that are responsible for the lives of so many others, are asking me the dumbest, “are-you-high-right-now?” questions I have ever encountered.

And I don’t really think that they’re (all) stupid, but I can see that they’re lazy. I can always tell EXACTLY where they stopped reading my message based on their question. I made a rule to not reply to any email where the answer to the question is in the original email. You’d be amazed at how many people just send follow up emails or call me. Too bad they don’t use that same diligence with reading the message and looking for the answer in the first place.

To calm myself, I’ve made an effort during the summer months to check the legs of the most annoying of the repeat offenders.

It’s always just as I suspected: Not a mark on them.

On heavy rotation in my head: Steppenwolf ~ "Magic Carpet Ride"

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