On this particular day, however, it was just my brother and I running around the yard in a way that is unique to young boys with a lot of energy. We lived on about two acres of property in Port Gibson, Mississippi a rural town an hour outside of Jacksonville.
“Billy, Christopher, come inside, right now!” My mother’s voice ran out through the yard from the back door. I looked ominously in the direction of her voice knowing all to well what that particular tone meant. My brother and I didn’t waste anytime making our way to the house, over the stone paved patio, through the back door and into the kitchen in order to avoid anything that might darken her mood further. When I entered the kitchen, my father was sitting at the table leaning back against his chair with his large arms folded across his chest. My mom was leaning against the counter shaking her head sadly.
“Have a seat, boys,” my dad instructed. I made my way across the cool linoleum floor and sat down in the brown wooden chair that was farthest from my father. The kitchen table was much like any other kitchen table that you might find in a country style home. The light brown veneer rubbed bare from the heavy use of nightly family meals, homework, and a life in a house with three boys. His chair groaned in protest as he shifted his position to get a better look at me. A thin layer of sweat was forming on his bare head surrounded by a close cut ring of greying hair reminiscent of George Jefferson. My father alternated his intense stare between my brother and I while I studied the table waiting for him to speak. I would have much preferred a simple whippin’ that would have come and gone quickly rather than the talking to I was about to get. “Who wrote the profanity on the counter?”
“I didn’t do it! I don’t even know what you are talking about,” Chris immediately shouted in his defense.
“I didn’t write anything,” I countered.
My father shook his head and waved his hand to dismiss our pleas of innocence. “I already know who did it.” His words were slow and calculated. He paused for what seemed like an eternity. “Billy did it.” My eyes bulged out of my head and my mouth gaped, preparing to defend myself before I could, he said “You want to know how I know?”
“How?” I asked incredulous not realizing that by asking the question I had inadvertently implicated myself.
“You spelled it wrong,” he said. At this Chris tried to stifle a snicker behind his hand before my father shot him an angry glance.
To this day, I will deny ever writing anything, but at the time my father was convinced that it was me who had written the profane word. There is nothing that would have possessed me to do such a thing, knowing perfectly well the fate that awaited me. Regardless of my innocence, I accepted what was coming as best a nine year old could.
“Go look at that counter,” My father said pointing to a spot next to my mother. I leaned in my chair to look over. I couldn’t see anything from where I was sitting, so I got up for a better view trying to avoid looking at the disappointment painted across my mothers face. Somehow, that look on my mothers face spoke louder than any yelling she could have done. On the counter, in scribbled black letters was the words ‘fack yuo’, which was a word that was brand new to my vocabulary at the time. I made my way back to my place across from my father. “Did you know that was something you are not supposed to say?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said quietly.
“Why would you write a word like that?” When my father was angry, his questions were not rhetorical. He expected a well thought out answer to every single one. At nine years old, all I wanted to do was shrug and say I don’t know, but my father never would have accepted such an answer. No kid ever wants to fess up and explain their behavior, especially if it is something stupid that has no explanation to begin with. His questions had the ability to cut through my defenses and forced me to reflect on my behavior. If my father had simply screamed and shouted about had bad I was, I could have easily placed the blame on my father for being hot headed and continued on without ever taking the time to accept responsibility. His tactic was both clever and uncomfortable, but they worked.