Growing up, my parents beat me whenever I was naughty. Not to generalise but I think most children from my and preceding generations got beatings. For this, African-Americans have lent us such a lovely phrase – ass whooping. Whooping, in short.
For most transgressions I got an ass whooping to deter me from repeating the same thing. The whoopings varied in instruments used, geographical location of the said ass whooping and degrees of intensity. Looking back, I realise that some of the things my folks did during the process of whooping my ass were hilarious. I do not know if any of you can relate, but here’s eight of those hilarious things I remember:
The beatings were always in tune. When my grandma would whoop me, the beatings were always rhythmic, accompanied by a message. Mostly, the message would be one that reminded me that she had told me several times not to do whatever it is I did. The strokes were periodical – like every two seconds a whooping would land if the situation was dire; if not, perhaps every five seconds. For every stroke that landed, words would be uttered. I-Told-You-Seve-ral-Times-To-Be-At-Home-By-Sun-set would be thirteen corresponding strokes. Now if Black Coffee and I had grown up together, that would be some priceless material for a funky house track!
I had to get my own switch, or belt, that would be used to whoop my ass. There were two or three particular belts that were specially used for whooping. Mom or grandma or whoever the ass whooper was – because there were many with the license to whoop – would hold both ends together, making a loop on one end which would be the part that landed on my behind. The ceremonious switch was always from some fruit tree like a peach tree or a guava tree – we had fruit trees everywhere in my childhood home. The whooping would last for as long as the switch was useable. So I had to be strategic when I got my switch. If I got a small switch, she would go out and get a bigger one and that in itself would increase the intensity of the whooping. But I also didn’t want to get a big switch because the whooping would last too long. It had to be just right – I had to be fair to my own ass, and my whooper’s intention. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.
If I cried while getting my ass whooped, I would be told to keep quiet, with then threat of more whooping if I continued crying. It didn’t matter how much it hurt. And if my whooper was really mad, I would be told to stop whimpering too. Which was really hard to do after a good whooping.
The pre-whooping phase – when I knew a whooping was imminent – was a very uncertain place. My whooper would ask a question, my grandpa liked to engage in order to gain understanding, or so he said. When I replied, he’d be like, “You’re talking back to me? You think you are my peer? You think you’re my size?” When I did not, he’d be like, “Respond this instant!” Both scenarios would dramatically increase the intensity of the whooping. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The location and instrument of the ass whooping mattered and varied according to transgressions. When it was really serious – like shoplifting or making lewd jokes about adults – it was monumental and happened in the privacy of the bedroom. Here the tried and trusted belt, or a ceremonious switch was the instrument. When it was less serious like being caught drinking from the juice or milk cartoon or being generally clumsy, it was either a quick sharp slap or whatever else was around: an egg lifter, a shoe, a book, a bag, a tinier switch – anything. After failing not to be naughty – lawd did I try – I always made sure there were no objects around me that could be used for any imminent whooping!
Every adult at home could whoop my ass! Uncles, aunts, grandpa, the maid, family friends – everyone! If any one of them caught me doing something unbecoming or behaving badly, they had the license to whoop.
The neighbours too, were in on a code that licensed them to whoop me. A typical after-school day for me was lunch under the supervision of the maid or some relative or other at home, then I would go outside and play all day after washing my socks and doing my homework. If, while playing I got into some mischief and a neighbour saw me, I was in for a whooping! The neighbour would whoop my ass, and when my folks came home, tell them that I was whooped – and that report would in itself warrant a further whooping from my parents. Talk about driving the message home!
The license to whoop was extended to teachers. During Parent Teacher Conferences – we called them Parent’s Day – my folks would strongly encourage my teachers to whoop my ass till I got onto the right path. And that, all my primary school teachers did. Mrs. Luphahla, my third grade teacher had a leather belt called Junior, and boy was Junior active. If ever I got home and somehow it leaked that any teacher had whooped my ass for being naughty, additional whoopings were in order from my folks. There was no safe place!
There’s probably more hilarious things that, looking back, are hilarious. But at that time, it was far from funny. Shit was real and I sure didn’t want to open a can whoop ass!