The Swift Pinch of Justice

Sometimes I feel like I’m a member of the last well-mannered generation—that is, the last generation to know swift discipline. No one was swifter than my mom. I can remember when she used to snatch me up in front of the whole congregation for no good reason other than to inspect the shrubbery outside the church. Back then, I always thought it was unfair to have a momma with a green thumb, and by green thumb I mean she could snap a privet switch with a mere pinch. A few pews ahead of me, Johnny could do jumping jacks and taunt me with funny faces and his mom did nothing. However, I could barely contort my face in self-defense before I was yanked up and escorted to the hedgerow. 

My mom does not suffer fools. Never has, never will. Maybe this explains my fondness for writing foolishness, as it’s perhaps the one way I can smuggle foolishness past her. She was a high school English teacher, and she always seemed more concerned about the grammatical correctness of my sentences than their content. As long I put my commas and periods in the right place, then the subject of my sentence could slip on the object of the preposition, say a banana peel, and do five flips for all she cared. 

My mom also taught me the grammar of southern living, meaning manners. These rules were so indoctrinated in me that even now I convulse when breaking them. Back then, breaking the Ten Commandments might get you a stern talking to, but breaking the rules of southern etiquette got you a temporary tattoo on the posterior. The rules, as I remember them, were,

  1. You do not brag. Ever. 
  2. You say, “Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, mam. No, mam.” 
  3. You say “Please” and “Thank You.”
  4. You do not talk back to your parents or teachers. This was called sassing–if you got caught doing it, it was more or less the death sentence. 
  5. You never wear a hat at the table.
  6. You sit as still as a statue in church. 

Back then, these were the communal standards for children. Of course, maybe Johnny’s mom didn’t get the memo, but it seemed like most other kids in school had a similar set of dictates set down by adults in their life. And it’s not like I went to some fancy private school. I just went to your typical rural public school with trailers as overflow classrooms and paddles hanging on the wall of the principal’s office. 

By that point, the paddles were mostly a decorative scare tactic, a vestige of a barbaric age when principals were feared and respected. Corporal punishment was well on its way to becoming taboo, at least in schools. In private homes, not so much. Although I felt my mom was stricter than most, she was at least lenient in her preference for switch wielding. My neighbor’s mom used a blunt force wooden spoon, and I knew several kids whose dad’s used a leather belt. 

Eventually, all forms of corporal punishment were lumped together in a catch-all term called spanking. Then spanking was linked to some sort of Freudian sexual repression and shunned by society. However, I just linked it to pain, not a lot, but enough. Enough for me to realize if I didn’t want to get my legs switched, I’d better behave. 

This isn’t to say that we should bring back spanking—I wouldn’t touch that topic with a ten-foot wooden spoon. It’s just to say that Southerners of my parents’ era may have been sexually repressed, but their children had good manners. 

13 thoughts on “The Swift Pinch of Justice

  1. Oh, yeah. My mom was never into spanking but she could give us kids a good, long talking to. My dad didn’t spank us kids that often, but when he did spank me, my teeth would rattle. Your mom was an English teacher where mine was a spelling bee winner. I had to have perfect spelling PERIOD! I took as many English classes as I could in high school because I was taught (and believed) spelling and grammar was one of the most important things in life. I still believe that but so many news writers today seem as if they have no sense. I use Grammarly when I write but sometimes I even agree with it. Even though, I am always finding mistakes when I edit my posts and pages. Still, some slip by. I took an online business course once and the guy said not to write perfectly even though you can. Make a few mistakes to show you are human. GEEZ!

    Like you, I had to sit still in church. These days, parents take their kids to the nursery. One Sunday a while back, I was in church and this little boy several pews in front of me decided he was doing to slide around under the pews. He got to me and I gave him one of my moms “looks”. He slid back to his pew and looked at me and sat down. I am not so sure what “the look” meant to him but it worked.

    I always enjoy your posts! I hope you are doing well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I still cannot brook, nor understand men, cowboys, ballplayers, and wannabe cowboys and ballplayers who wear their hat at the table, or in the house at all for that matter. Was convinced for years “momma” taught all the cowboys better. Last trip to Texas showed me there’s a new generation of cowboy out there. The genteel philosophies practiced by cowboys big and small, from Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Wyoming, and wherever else apparently fallen idle, alas, to the whims of this new society. Good write. Your Momma for President 2024.

    1. Cowboys these days aren’t what they used to be. Most just ride atvs and don’t even ride horses. I can’t even imagine wearing a cowboy hat in a restaurant. Seems like you’d be bumping the brim into the person sitting beside you in the booth.

      My mom’s slogan: Walk softly and carry a swift switch.

  3. Sounds like your mom and my parents had a similar approach to child rearing. I know for a fact we didn’t get spanked all that often, but the threat of it kept us in line many times. As for common courtesy, I work in a grocery store with many young people, and I can tell you there are very respectful and courteous, at least until they know me well enough to relax a little. They are also quite polite and friendly to our customers. I’m not sure how the company manages, but they seem to find the good kids.

    I once got a book at a library conference called “Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation.” (

    When I read it, I was like, “I don’t see a problem with these tactics at all.”

    Our daughter was older by then, maybe in high school, so I gave it to her. Her response?
    “Mom, this is just how you and Dad raised me.”

    And I still don’t see any problem with using guilt as a motivator. If a person does something wrong, they should feel guilty.

    I know I do.

    And you know what? Sometimes it makes me do the right thing even when I don’t feel like it.

    1. Our local grocery store employees a lot of high schoolers, and I’d say most are very respectful and courteous as well so maybe my premise is off. Hmm, maybe it’s southern adults who don’t have any manners anymore. That might be closer to the truth.

      That book looks really funny so I’ll have to give it a try.

      1. I think it’s meant as satire or a parody or something, and it is funny, but some of it hits the nail on the head, like “Don’t be afraid to raise a nerd.” 🙂

  4. I felt like you were listing my life rules as I was dictating them to you! As a child I lived in the North, but my parents had the same rearing beliefs, something that seems to be disappearing quickly….and it shows.

  5. Most definitely children were more well mannered back then, and southern mothers were very strict. Mine could slap an elephant across a football field — at least that’s how it felt.

    We grew up in the era before kids would call child abuse if they wanted to get their parents in trouble. Now look what we have to show for it.

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