Today is my dad’s 85th birthday.
Whatever you might say about your dad, I bet my brothers and I are the only ones who can say this: Our dad invented the spanking story.
Mack is a born story-teller. He and his identical twin Bob arrived 10 weeks early, during the Depression, in rural South Carolina. There were no ICU’s and IV’s. They slept in a dresser drawer, and they were nourished off goat milk. But they both made it, and I like to think they started telling stories in that dresser.
Their first language was one they created themselves – when twins do this, it’s called cryptophasia – and they spent their childhood making up stories together and acting them out. When they were adults, Uncle Jack asked Uncle Bob why neither he nor my dad pursued a career in acting. “Jack,” Bob said, “It just wouldn’t have been any challenge.”
Dad told my brothers and me stories all the time, animated with the voices, gestures, and facial expressions of the various players. We absolutely loved it. Lots were about his childhood – the other kids they went to school with, the games they played, the grownups they observed. I guarantee you, any one of us could mimic AJ Kinard’s mother calling across the field to her son: “Junior, don’t you eat those blackberries. They’ll burst your appendix!” Or Rita Dorn reciting “O Cardinal Bird”: “O cardinal bird” – slurp — “With frost-powdered wings” – slurp — “Composing new lyrics” – slurp — “To whistle in spring” – slurp. Or Fats DeLoach, when Miss Lester called on him to pray before lunch, just after Fats had already snuck a bite of his peanut butter sandwich: “Mmmm, ah cane.” “And why not, Edward?” “Mm’ mowf fuwwa pnnna buhh.” And if we told you about poor little Poochie Chapman’s glasses – taped and smeared and filthy – you would cry.
But lots of people are great story tellers. Our dad’s special invention was the spanking story. He believed every boy needed two things each day: a good story and a good spanking. So every night, my brothers and I would brush our teeth and climb into bed. And every night Dad would make up a new story – let me say that again, every night he would make up a new story – that ended with a playful spanking. I only remember one of these – about a bear named Marvin, who was on a journey with many adventures, and as he neared what was the obvious climax of the story, he tripped on a root, flew through the air, and bounced down a hill on his beary-derriere. And as Marvin bounced down the hill, Dad bounced around the room, lovingly administering our nightly spankings (or as he might have called it, patting us on the poo-poo’s).
Brian Doyle once said, “Stories are holy and nutritious and crucial. Stories change lives. Stories save lives. They crack open hearts. They open minds. We could change the world if we told the right story.”
I woke this morning thinking about my dad. Feeling grateful to be the child of a story-teller. And to live in a world of infinite stories. Some of which end with a spanking.
Happy Birthday Dad!