She was a woman of her word

This morning I was casually listening to a radio talk show during which the DJs were reminiscing about the child punishment practices in the past.

As the men fondly reminisced about the threats our parents used (which they said never really came to fruition), I realized my mother was always true to her word.

I clearly remember a hot summer day riding in the big van with my six siblings and my tired mother at the steering wheel. We were on our way back from town after a quick run for tractor parts and groceries.

She had agreed to let us open packages of Hostess Twinkies and another of Hostess Ho-Hos. The snacks, I’m assuming, were supposed to keep us quiet and content.

But it worked the opposite. Instead, we had a bitter battle over who got what – there wasn’t enough of one brand for us all to have the same thing. And therein was the problem.

As some of us screamed and some cried over the injustice of the mismatched sweets, we received our first warning.

“Everyone share,” she said calmly from the front. “Be quiet or I’m going to take all of them away and you’ll get nothing.”

But the fighting continued and escalated to some slapping. When the hair-pulling ensued, we heard that Mom was going to “stop this van and everyone was going to get a spankin.’”

But we were embroiled in our scuffle and didn’t pay heed.

It was when the crème filling was smeared on the vinyl seats and one of us ended up with chocolate in the hair that the loudest threat arrived.

“If you kids don’t stop this right now, I’m going to pull over, kick you out and you’re going to walk the rest of the way home!” she yelled.

No one believed she was really going to make us walk home – heck, we were still several miles away on a desolate country road!

So we continued to brawl. We must have looked like a mix of monkeys and cage fighters as we bounced on top of each other in all out war.

Until . . .

The van suddenly came to a screeching halt, with some of us actually flying forward into the seat in front of us. The dust whipped around the old brown vehicle as we sat stunned, holding our smashed Twinkies and Ho-Hos in our hands with frosting on our faces.

What we saw before us was nothing less than horrifying. Our mother had officially lost her mind. She cracked, went over the edge, lost her marbles.

What was she about to do?

Everything she promised.

The van was already stopped, so we knew there was a checklist of other activities likely to follow.

“Hand over all the Ho-Hos,” she said, hands outstretched, neck veins popping.

“Just the Ho-Hos or the Twinkies, too?” asked my brother, Steve, as he held one of the blond snack cakes.

That was the last straw.

“All of it, both of them, all of you!” she screeched as we scrambled to fill her fingers with the mangled sweets.

She promptly opened her door and threw all of it into the road.

Well, she said she was going to take it all away . . .

Then she jumped out and opened the big sliding door. Mom commanded that the four oldest children (myself, the two brothers and sister, Nancy) get out.

“Why don’t the little girls have to get out?” one of us complained.

“Because you guys started all of this, you know better and they’re too little to walk home,” she screamed with her 1970s permed hair nearly standing on end.

That’s when we realized she just might make us walk as she’d promised. We also recalled the threat of spankings.

As we reluctantly neared the exit of the van, she grasped each of our arms with one hand to escort us outside and promptly swatted each and every butt with her other hand.

Having lost our Twinkies, Ho-Hos and dignity, we knew there was only one thing left.

“Start walking!” she yelled as she slammed the van door shut and walked around to the driver’s seat.

It was with stunned silence we four perpetrators stood on the quiet road and watched our mother literally drive away.

“I can’t believe she just left us here,” I said to the others, completely shocked.

It was with great sadness and guilt that our sweaty little bodies trudged down the road. Cattle stopped to look at us from their fence lines. The birds chirping were the only other sounds we heard besides our shoes shuffling through the gravel.

I know I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes, although the others tried to hide it. It wasn’t because it was hotter than Hades, or that the flies were eating us alive trying to consume the Twinkie filling off our faces, or because we were scared.

The tears were because we’d let our mother down and we’d made her so mad she was willing to drive away.

Or speed off, as was this particular case.

We stared to the south – hoping to see that two-tone van fly back to us in a cloud of dust.

But it didn’t come.

She wasn’t coming back. Maybe she didn’t want to see us again, I silently worried. Then what?

After about a half-mile, we neared a shelterbelt which my brother suggested might be a good source of shade before continuing on with the remaining three miles. I agreed and we decided we’d stop for a little break when we got to the line of cottonwoods.

Feeling alone and shamed, I squinted down the road but saw nothing. Mom was truly gone and no longer cared what might become of us. We were on our own because we didn’t listen to her warnings.

And then, like a ray of light shining from thunder clouds, I thought I saw some movement in the trees.

“There’s Mom!” Nancy exclaimed.

Sure enough, there was Mom, leaning against the front of the van which she’d pulled into a nearby field entrance. She was propped against the grill, with arms folded and teary eyes she fought to hide.

“Get in the van,” she said, attempting to be stern but I could see softness hiding behind the facade.

With our eyes looking at the ground, because we were too mortified and embarrassed to look directly at her, we quietly sat in our assigned seats.

She handed us paper towels and without another word, we cleaned up the sweet goo while she steered us home.

That night, we didn’t argue about chores. We ate everything on our plates and didn’t complain about vegetables. We tried to stay as quiet as possible.

As we finished up eating, I quietly whispered to her, “I’m really sorry we were naughty today.”

And with that, she flashed us her wonderful smile.

“Remember, when I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.”

We all nodded our heads as now we were well aware of our consequences and who we were dealing with.

She said she’d stop the vehicle.

The brakes were nearly on fire when we halted.

She said she would take the food away.

The Hostess snacks ended up as bird fodder by Dorothy’s Creek.

She said spanking.

Our little butts stung.

She said we were going to walk.

We certainly walked.

“I also said you were going to get Twinkies and Ho-Hos today.”

What? We just stared at her as we scraped plates.

And true to her word, she presented the remaining Twinkies and Ho-Hos which had been cut up so the portions went around evenly.

“Just remember that if you are being naughty and I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it,” Mom said. “And if I tell you I love you – I love you. Fair enough?”

Fair enough.

My mother was a woman of her word because she always did both.


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