• The Box 69: GOLDENROD

    Color: Goldenrod
    February 8, 2011
    Song: "Why" Annie Lennox

    "This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you."

    The three dollars in quarters and the day I became a woman...that woman.
    Three dollars in quarters, a quick belt, a long talk and a broken heart...
    And I became a woman...that woman.

    "This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you."
    Yeah...ok...whatever man...
    My mama knew how to whoop butt!
    Oh yeah!
    We came from that switch swattin' belt beatin' house.
    We got whoopin's!!
    'Spare the rod, spoil the child' up in that piece!!
    And my mother WAS the Goldenrod!!

    See, these youngin's today, don't know the power of the belt.
    They don't know about that long walk to the hedges to get your own switch!
    And you better not come back with no small, whimpy twig!
    Mama will make you go back and get a second switch and double your trouble!!

    I grew up in a house with my mom, my grandma, and my aunt.
    Three distinctly different discipline styles:

    My grandmother was the sarcasm queen.
    She could give a beatin' but her butt beatin' days were behind her.
    She could cut you with some words leave your spirit lookin' for a comeback you'd better not say. Once my brother Chris asked my grandma for some money, but he hadn't cut the grass like she'd ask. When he asked for the money, she calmly said, "You might as well be talkin' to my hindpot(hindparts) because my ears ain't listenin'." What do you say after that? Nothing. You cut the damn grass...that's what you do.

    My aunt was an athlete coming up, so you'd think she was the one to fear come whoopin' time...but no. Aunt Nellie, was a softy. We could manage to work our way out of a beatin' with her, but she caught on quick. She finally figured out the phrase that was a type of psychological punishment, "Wait until your mama gets home." Oh my goodness! When you heard those words, you nearly died anyway. It also made Nellie the biggest tattle tale in the world, but she used that to her advantage. What was important: now...you gotta wait! You gotta wait until mama gets home...dang.

    My mom was the one though.
    You cross the line...
    You do the crime...
    You do the time...
    For a long time...
    With her...
    And her belt!
    My mom...
    Could hold you by one hand and tan them legs with the other. You couldn't get away! The grip that could open a jar of brand new pickles without hittin' the bottom to make the top pop had you by your wrist and you were done! Oh my goodness...and please don't run. For your life, to save your life, go on and take the beatin' like a champ because if you run, you gonna get it longer and with pauses for rest!

    I remember the LAST whoopin'. 1981. I was nine. We had move from the country in Covesville, Virginia, to nearby small city, Charlottesville. We moved into an apartment complex that neighbored a laundromat. This is 1981 and Ms. Pac-Man was the shit...they had Ms. Pac-Man at the laundromat too...shoot...I wanted to play!

    My grandma would come and stay with us during the week and some weekends as she worked in town. It was easier to get her to work from our house. This one weekend, in '81, grandma was staying with us and she had a basket with a couple loads of laundry to knock out. She kept her quarters in a little green coin purse. Ten dollars in quarters to be exact. And I knew where she kept it:
    She had the change purse inside her black pocketbook...
    Her pocketbook sitting next to her basket of clothes...
    Her basket of clothes in my mom's room.
    Making sure no one was paying me any mind, I crept into my mom's room, made my way pass the basket, and into my grandma's purse. I grabbed a handful of quarters, not really counting them but eyeballing the coin purse to make sure I didn't take them all or so many where anyone would notice they were gone...and then I was gone!

    I grabbed my brother Chris, who would actually play the game since I sucked, and off we went to the laundromat. Chris was seven and as long as I had a good reason for him to follow me, he would. In this case, I flash a quarter in his face and said Ms. Pac-Man. Done.

    We get to the laundromat and head straight for the back where the soda machines, snack machine, and the video games all resided. Chris was good at Ms. Pac-Man. Even at seven, he was pretty amazing to watch. When his game was over, he was ready to go. Little did he know, I had more quarters in my jacket pocket. I pulled out another quarter. He didn't ask. He just played again.

    This cycle when on for a while. Soon, with every quarter I pulled out, I had to convince Chris that I "found" another quarter. It was like I had a magic jacket!! His eyes would light up when "Poof! Look what I found! Another quarter!" After about a hour and a half and three dollars worth of "POOF!", we were done. Satisfied, we walk led back to the house. Nope, didn't think it through.

    We get to the house to find my grandma and my mom, looking frantically for something. My heart immediately began to race. I knew what they were looking for but do you think I asked so I could at least help them look? HECK NO! And funny enough, that was one of the first hints that tipped my mom off. I was my grandmother's oldest grandchild. I always had an incredibly close relationship with my grandma, so much so I choose to move back out to the country to live with her rather than in town as not to leave her alone in Covesville to live by herself. When I didn't immediately volunteer to help my grandmother, my mom knew something was up. I just kept my mouth shut and sat in the living room where I could hear the developments of the search.

    Suddenly I hear, "What ch'all lookin' for?" If I could set people on fire with my eyes, Chris would have burnt up that day! He had no idea of what I had done, so out of concern for our grandmother, he wanted to know how he could help.
    "I lost some quarters. I know I had $10 in my little purse. I must have put them down somewhere. I just don't know where."
    Ok, now we have a situation. All this looking around for something she KNEW she had, is making her feel a little crazy. What was even worse was I LET her look. I LET my grandmother believe she had lost her quarters and that she put them someplace and didn't know where she put them.

    My mom, now really turning on detective mode, helping my grandma by backtracking the events of the day. She asked us, "Where have you two been for the last hour?" I hear Chris speak from his ashes, thinking this was going to clear us of any wrong doing,
    "We were up at the laundromat."
    "Why? What were y'all doing at the laundromat?"
    "Playing Ms. Pac-Man."
    "Playing Ms. Pac-Man? Where y'all get quarters for Ms. Pac-Man?"
    I KEEP settin' Chris on fire with my eyes, but Chucky kept coming back and steady talkin'.
    "Terésa had 'em."
    "Teresa had what?"
    "Some quarters."
    He ain't totally burnt up yet?!
    "Teresa!" my mother called out for me.
    "Huh?" I replied from the couch that would be Canada during slavery times.
    Mom came into the living room and towered over me like the Statue of Liberty.
    "Where did you get the quarters?"
    The dumbest thing you can say,
    "I don't know."
    And I capped that dumb ass statement with an equally dumb shrug of the shoulders.

    So now, not only have I stolen three dollars in quarters from my grandma, I've lied to mother. (In my will and testament, I'd like to leave to La'Shawn my Merlin game...to my Aunt Nellie, the Atari...to Chris, continued dirty looks from Heaven...oh wait, my parting crimes included theft and lying...I'm shaky, at best, on Heaven.) "Teresa, I'm gonna ask you one more time."
    "I took it."

    Teresa Annette Dowell May 29, 1972 - Whatever Day 1981. A short but sweet life.

    My mom took me in her bedroom. She closed the door. My heart exploded. She grabbed her belt. She told me to take my pants off. I did. It was quiet...at first. Of course, that didn't last long...the quiet. No sooner than I had exposed leg, she brought the fire! And I had one of those mothers who landed a word with every whip, so if you did something that needed explainin', that was gonna be a long ass whoopin'! Not this one. As my mother was whipping my leg, she was talking on each blow, but something was different. I heard her voice crack. I heard the tears come. I heard her heart break. She stopped. She stopped, looked at me with tears trailing her face and whispered,
    "You stole from my mother."
    I looked at my mother and saw something I had never seen in my mother's face before: the look of a woman looking into the face of another woman who stole from her mother. In that momen, my mother was not my mother. I was some woman who stole from her mother...and I broke her heart. I broke it jagged. That hurt worse than the whoopin'...but I know it hurt her more. It was the ONLY time in my life where I understood the phrase "This is gonna hurt me more than it hurt you." to be true. Because that day, it did.

    My mother put down her belt and said,
    "I'm gonna need to talk to you."
    And we did. I pulled my pants up over my welted legs. I sat in a chair across from her as she sat on the edge of the bed.

    She told me about trust and how once a person can no longer trust you, they can no longer love you because they will always worry about the next time you will hurt them. She told me about honor and to always walk this earth honorably. My name does not belong solely to me. If I damage my name, my reputation, my credibility, the name Dowell (and eventually when I added my mom's maidan name, Vest) would be ruined at my hands. She told me that I will have no reason, ever, to steal in my life...that if I ask for it and she can give it to me, she will...but also understand that if I hear "no" that it is with good reason and that doesn't mean to just take it. It means it's not meant for me to have right now. The "right now" may come after I have earned it, or after have worked for it, or simply in due time, but don't ever take something that doesn't belong to me.

    After the talk, I had to go and apologize to my grandmother. THAT was my goldenrod. To this day, I would allow my mom to beat me this side of my life than to see the hurt my grandmother carried on her face. I vowed I would never give cause for that look again.

    I'll turn 39 this coming May, and at no time in the last 30 years have I forgotten that day. I've made it my life's promise to never disappoint my mother and my grandmother MORE than I did that day. I'll phrase it like that because we're human, and we'll continues to frustrate and infuriate our parents...but my mother taught me how to be the best woman I could be that day. She taught me that if I live my life with the care of others first and walk with integrity, the daughter will make the mother proud. What a day...in 1981.

    Thank you mom.


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