Ritz, Water or Saltine

Many of us who grew up in the "Spare the rod, spoil the child" generation have felt the sting of justified retribution. "Go pick out a switch" was in itself a punishment, long before rod found bottom. A progressive era latched onto a place in history with the Dr. Spock generation and tree limbs from here to there released a collective sigh of relief. In later years, Dr. Spock admitted that he made a mistake and that a little punishment could go a long ways in teaching that one's actions brought about consequences. One might ask themselves, when does punishment cross the line into cruelty? Allow me to explore this notion.

I was an adopted child. I met my parents when I was three and one-half. I used to love to embarrass my parents by announcing that they were married a month after I was born. I was cautious with this parlor trick and used it sparingly and only in front of long-time friends of the family.

Both of my parents, independently, moved to California a little before the start of the Second World War. My father's oldest brother was the chief of police in Oceanside, California. Dad naturally became interested in law enforcement and soon found a job as a cop. With WWII ramping up, he enlisted in the army, where he served as a military policeman. Without a high school diploma, Wayne became a lieutenant. Maybe that rarely happen except during wartime, but it proved he was smart enough to pass the tests.

Juanita, my Scots-Irish mother from Kansas City, Missouri, tried her hand at a few jobs. She taught dancing at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios while she took courses in short hand and learned other secretarial skills. Due to her acute asthma, dancing had a brief shelf life. Juanita became a stenographer in a defense complex.

My parents were hard working, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, kind of Americans. They had both survived the Great Depression and believed anything was possible, if you worked hard enough.

Allow me to preface the following with this; I am not a psychologist and never dreamed of being such a thing. A simple way of looking at my parent's situation was that natural childbirth was out of the question. Adoption was a viable course of action. There were two boys they were interested in at the agency. I was one of them. They brought toys for both of us. He got the plastic airplane and I got the more expensive cast tractor – my father was never far removed from his family's Minnesota farm – I wanted the plane. This should give you some insight as to the ongoing relationship I had with my father, which lasted until the day he died.

My mother doted on me. My father didn't seem to cotton to that idea. It is a good thing it was illegal for fathers to eat their young.

Before you get the wrong idea, my father loved me in his own way. In his-own-way are the key words. He was very strict and I never had any doubt as to "who's the boss." As a young child, I never thought of challenging his authority.

How was I disciplined?

My parents had tried their hand in showing dogs before they decided to pick me from the human kennel. The way they showed the dogs "who's the boss" was with what they appropriately called the Dog Whip. I never saw it used on either of our boxers but it did find its way to my bottom on several occasions.

About four feet long, it was two, one-inch wide strips of tan leather stitched together. The last time I saw it, about six inches from the tip had come unstitched and separated into two frayed pieces.

I am not about to suggest that I did not deserve punishment. I will never whine about being spanked. When I did cross the line, the punishment went something like this... I was taken to the garage. Wayne held me by my right wrist – he was left-handed. He would hold the whip high before whacking me on the ass. Of course it hurt. I would wiggle and try to get away. He held me fast. I would cry out. He told me that if I didn't quit crying he would give me something to cry about.

As I got older, the strokes were administered with greater force and with more frequency. I became proficient at the spank-dance. I'll leave it with... it hurt like hell. I vowed to never do anything like that to my children, and I have kept that promise.

At this time in my life, I count myself lucky. In hindsight, I realize it was light punishment. Transport yourself back to the days of plantation slavery. My father never tied me to a pole, tore the shirt off my back and struck me until I was left senseless, attended to by sympathetic fellow slaves who applied salt to my wounds.

Often the owner or overseer would instruct other slaves in administering the punishment. If they did a good job they received favors. Having felt the lash themselves, and to avoid any such future humiliation, they did a very thorough job of it.

I have a very vivid idea of what the whip recipient went through. By no means do I equate my corporal punishment to the inhuman whippings that some slaves had to endure. What I did develop was a keen appreciation of the huge suffering a body could go through when a long piece of leather is brutally administered to human flesh. Those that welded the whip earned a name. It is a name we hear in many contexts. These men were called Crackers. Named so from the sound the whip makes when terror is their game.

It is through my childhood experience of feeling the whip and hearing the crack that I cannot and will not accept the term cracker to mean anything but a word that defines hatred and prejudice. It is not a word that can change meaning over time. It is not a word to be used lightly. We are in an age that is sensitive to words that insult or in any way makes a group of people uncomfortable. It is my stance that cracker is included in this group of words to be used cautiously and only in reference to a different time.

Cracker is a hateful word. It is a belittling word. I hope you never have to feel the sting of the lash to understand as I do. There is no place in a civilized world for Crackers ... unless it is accompanied by words, such as – Ritz, Water or Saltine.
Captain Sunshine

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