This week marks the triumphant return of Ben Hogg‘s “Fire on the Mountain.” In his third installment, Ben continues his series of recollections of growing up in Georgia and North Carolina, touching on corporal punishment and child abuse. You can find his first two columns here. Please enjoy:
Fire in the Mountain III
First off, I should drop an apology on my man JJ for the delay and my disregard of his friendly email reminders. Regardless, we have gathered here today in an effort to trudge through the minutia that made me the man I am and how it relates to my upbringing in North Georgia and Western North Carolina.
When I left off last, we had covered my childhood hometown as having been without anyone of any color darker than eggshell white and my family’s attempt at rabbit farming. If you didn’t read that article, than you are behind and I recommend you do so, as to have foundation in this portion of the program.
As I try to recall my inglorious past and the bits I think might be of interest to you folks from the Northern territories (Kentucky and up) and beyond, it occurs to me one thing that stands out from my youth that seems to raise eyebrows is the rampant use of corporal punishment in the schools. Sure, we all got hammered by our mothers, grandparents, any and all relatives, and anyone who was allowed to watch after us on a given afternoon, but this was applied during our all-too-formative schooling hours. On the one hand, I just count it as having been part of the timeframe I grew up in, but as I have traveled, I’ve learned how uncommon it was outside of our mountain range at anytime since the 1950s, except in those nun schools they put in the Hollywood movies.
Any teacher would and could whip your ass, at any time they deemed fit. It wasn’t a “beating,” per se — nothing to the face or torso — and there even seemed to be guidelines that made it seem rooted in study and research. 99 percent of the time it was three licks, and always under the watchful gaze of the “witness” of a fellow teacher. Occasionally, if you really got under an educator’s skin, he could go off and give you half a dozen cracks. That was probably frowned on but nothing ever was said.
Whenever you heard a knock on your classroom door and it was an outside teacher, your teacher was being summoned as a witness (if it was a female student at least one of the teachers had to be a woman. See, we weren’t cave people!), and they would simply excuse themselves and go into the hallway, where an unfortunate hell-raiser, cheater, note-passer or derelict was waiting to grab his knees or put his hands against the wall for the punishment due. A minute or so later your teacher would come back into the class and proceed with the lesson as if nothing had happened, because nothing HAD happened as far as we all were concerned.
Frequently, teachers displayed the paddles on the wall as a warning to all those that entered. Some were shaped like miniature boating oars and some like short-handled tennis racquets with holes in them so you could hear them whistle as they swung, some even came with cute sayings on them like, “Board of Education,” or perhaps there would be informative signage above them stating, “Never hit a child in the face, the lord provides a better place.” We all knew which faculty member could bring the thunder (Mr. Queen, the shop teacher, was notoriously heavy-handed) and which people were not as skilled in the fire-ass arts (Ms. Worley was a sweet lady and seemed to find it distasteful, therefore her ass whippings suffered). The principal had his hands full with the most rowdy bastards, because after several class-administered beatings, he would step in and render his own brand of frontier justice.
Every morning there seemed to be a line of kids from the school buses who had been fighting or screwing around and the better part of the bossman’s first period was spent pounding ass. We all have our crosses to bear, I suppose. Another odd piece to the puzzle was the fact that this sort of punishment never ended. Most people assume after elementary — or middle school at the latest — that it sort of tapered off. It did not. I remember my Asst. Principal Bill Gaither warming me up in 12th Grade for one thing or another. You’d see older students capable of beating a teacher’s ass begrudgingly grabbing his knees in preparation for the coming sting.
These sessions didn’t cripple anyone or have any lasting, physical, effects as far as I ever saw. Some kids would cry, some would shrug it off, and some responded properly and got their shit together. Also, since I graduated in 1990, many of you probably figure that the rod was put away shortly thereafter. I would have assumed the same. The climate against that sort of thing has gotten much stronger over the last couple of decades. So when I went back to my 20-year reunion in 2010 I asked a former classmate who had gone into the profession of shaping our youths about the status of the paddle and she did say that the practice was finally laid to rest in 2007. That is a pretty goddamn good run, I figure.
My daughter had gone to school in Murphy, NC, during the early 2000s and received a few of these (well earned, I’ll assume) sortings out. Later she had gone on to attend Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia, where obviously none of this was allowed to occur. One day after, yet another, lunchroom riot I asked her if she thought that the fear of an intense and immediate punitive action would settle some of bullshit down, she agreed fully. Fuck Saturday school, fuck writing sentences a thousand times, and certainly fuck in-school suspension — nothing is more relatable to little peckerhead kids and teens than the swift and tangible punishment of getting their asses warmed up properly by a heavy-handed woodshop teacher.
It may seem archaic and there is certainly no putting the horse back into the barn at this point, but if it were ever on a ballot to bring back corporal punishment at any or all levels of education, I’d encourage my brothers and sisters to step up and vote “yes” at the polls. I’d do it myself, but them bastards done took my right to vote away. Just think, the mountains could yield a few more mes and a few less of y’all. Who wouldn’t want that?
Shit, that was a lot of typing on one topic, but I’ll squeeze in one or two more thoughts before I abandon you for another month:
Mountain people have the asinine habit of waving on the roads as we pass by each other. Perhaps it’s due to all roads being predominantly only two lanes where you’re whipping by your fellow motorist at 60 mph and it’s an acknowledgement that, “Whew, we are both gonna survive this!” or it may just be that saccharine sweet Southern thing that always made me queasy. There has got to be limits! Every car? Every time? Not just your bros or family friends or anything that would be required as a criteria? Nope, just any and every random 91 Cutlass or 84 Prelude who happen to be careening through the curvy countryside roads appear to be required to notice one other. It’s generally just a raising of an index finger towards the sky or the loosening upholstery that’s scraping your John Deere brand trucker cap, but it’s such an engrained practice of nonsense that it took me months after moving towards civilization to break myself of the retarded ritual.
It’s like we’re saying “I’m in a car, too!” and passing that ridiculous good will from one motorist to the next. If any of you that read this are from where I’m from, break the cycle. It has to end somewhere. Undeserved pleasantries are reserved for children and dogs, not any asshole who can read enough English to muddle through a driver’s exam. I would recommend using the middle finger, although that would probably result in getting your ass shot by a meth freak and not being found for a half-hour or more if the road is country enough.
The South and especially Appalachia are associated with incest and/or general child abuse and rape. I don’t know how that became part of the reputation, but judging by the women I have known from there, it seems to have been come by honestly. I was fortunate in that regard, I figure — or perhaps I was undesirable from an early age. Either way, I’ll take my good fortune and run with it.
We had bought our first family home from a neighbor named Mr. Bouchnau (or something like that), who lived down the hill (and back up another hill) for the entire time I resided in Hiawassee, GA. I remember one weekend him and some other churchy types knocked on our door to “witness” (aka: talk about God) to us. We told him we were good and he asked if we went to church and we assured him we did and that we were Episcopalian (which we were) to which he responded, “Is that Christian?” He and his snake-handling freak show went on down the road.
As time passed, he would rent this dilapidated eyesore of a trailer to a series of hard-luck families — as an act of Christian charity, I always assumed. All of them would have kids and he seemed to be way involved in their upbringing. I remember seeing the 13-year-old neighbor girl driving his Jeep regularly into town with only her little brother riding shotgun. While I’m sure it aided in her driver’s education class two years down the line, I shudder to think how she attained the privilege.
Another family had two brothers and their 600-pound mother in the trailer. They were wild dudes. One was a year older and the other was a couple of years older than me. I remember being with them on the muddy riverbank of their house (we shared it with them) and having an extreme, expletive-filled, high-volume tirade toward one another erupt over a carp (a mostly inedible fish) that they had caught. I had never heard 11 and 12 year olds say “fuck” so many times. It was jarring, yet impressive, although I knew we were well within earshot of my folks who were not as permissive as perhaps the lady who was housebound who had probably never eaten a fish in her life, outside of Long John Silver’s: Their mother.
One day that family was gone without notice from the trailer but the younger boy was left behind to live with Mr. Bouchnau and he was sent to a Christian school, presumably to get his shit together. As years passed, information came to light that good ol’ Mr. Bouchnau was fucking my dude on the regular and I gotta assume he was just one in a string of nightmarish victims caught between poverty and parental indifference. It all made a lot more sense now. Mr. B. is dead now. Good riddance. I don’t care how much church you went to, they ain’t washing that smell off of ya with holy water, ya kid-touching pervert. I only hope Hell is hot enough.
My folks even had the unenviable task of asking me, since I had spent time kicking it with homedude, if anything had ever happened to me. It had not. I think I had too much stability for that filthy deviant’s liking.
Anyway, there are three little anecdotes from the glorious South and my coming up experiences therein. Until next time, you don’t need ice milk and cookies enough to go to Mr. Bauchnau‘s house.
Y’all come back now, ya hear?
Tags: Ben Hogg