As we think of Mother’s Day, perhaps the most celebrated mom in America is the Baltimore mother of six who recognized her only son participating in a riot, pulled the 16-year-old out, slapped him up-side the head several times, snatched off the hood that covered his face and gave him a serious tongue-lashing.
It’s a scene captured by news cameras and now viewed by millions, with the mother receiving overwhelming praise, as well as some criticism for using violence while trying to teach a lesson against it.
There’s no way I can fault Toya Graham, who, I am convinced, had her child’s best interest at heart, and whose actions maybe saved him from harm or kept him from going to jail.
I grew up in an era when corporal punishment was not only acceptable but expected for a misbehaving child.
And it didn’t matter where the offense occurred — in the home, school, church or some other public place. If a kid acted up or acted out, out came the belt, the switch or the mom’s hard-sole slipper.
At school it was “the board of education,” which literally was a long board (about two feet) with a handle carried by the vice principal or the boys’ coaches, who were the campus disciplinarians.
In our house, while our father was the most feared, my mother was really the enforcer.
“Just wait ’til your daddy gets home,” was an awesome threat. Just the anticipation of the anger he would express on hearing about a bad deed was enough to correct the behavior, even though he didn’t mete out the discipline.
I came along late, the last of 11 kids, forever known as “the baby in the family,” and my older siblings have always accused me of having had it easy — never did chores as much as they, never was scolded as they were and certainly never got whippings like they did.
My mother did spank me once. I’ll never forget it, not because it hurt but because I was embarrassed that it happened in our front yard, where some of my friends and others witnessed it.
It was the first day of school my third-grade year. School dismissed at noon that day, and as we went to our usual spot to wait for the big yellow bus, one of the sixth-grade boys told us that because school ended early, the bus wasn’t coming until 3:40 p.m., the usual time classes ended.
A.C. Johnson and a couple of other sixth-graders had the idea that we could get home much faster by taking the city transit.
Against my better judgment, I, along with a few other younger students, followed them off the campus, walked a few blocks and got on the “city bus,” which went downtown where we transferred for the trip back to our neighborhood.
When we got off the bus several blocks from my house, we could see in the distance several people standing in the street, pacing. As we got closer, I could plainly hear my mother’s voice say, “Yes, that’s them.”
Getting nearer, I saw the belt in my mother’s hand, as she explained that she was “worried to death” when the school bus arrived — on time — and I wasn’t on it. I’m guessing I got about six licks, because it seemed there was a strike with every word: “Don’t … you … ever … do … that … again!”
Just as all my brothers and sisters realized, I knew even then that I was being punished because my mother loved me.
No doubt Toya Graham’s son understands the same thing.
Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775