Duane Sherrill

Since its Mother’s Day I thought it’d be appropriate to write something mother-y to stay on my mom’s good side.

However, I’ve learned through years of writing columns, most of which my mom has read with the exception of the ones I’ve hidden from her, that there are certain things that aren’t discussed. For instance, I get in trouble if I mention her age in public, therefore I simply say she was born in 1933 and let folks do the math. I find there are many readers too lazy to do the cyphering in their heads to get that answer.

Growing up a preacher’s grandson, I was, of course, subject to disciplinary measures that today would draw the disapproval of those against corporal punishment. My mom was determined I would walk the straight and narrow or walk with a limp. My choice. If I did not subscribe to the straight and narrow concept, there were penalties to be had, and I’m not talking about “time-out” and stuff of that nature. Back in my day (wow, I sound like an old guy) you got the business end of a switch or belt. For my mom, the favorite instrument of correction was the switch. Dad preferred the belt. I preferred neither.

Believe it or not, I was a mean little kid growing up, especially in church. When I was just three or so the folks at my church were convinced I was possessed. That’s right. Exorcist stuff. Although I couldn’t turn my head all the way around or levitate my body, I was quite adept at getting away from my mom during services and crawling underneath the church pews, disrupting the sermon.

It got so bad that one night that the preacher chased me down, pulled me from underneath a pew by my ankles, put me in some kind of wrestling hold and “prayed the devil out of me”, according to church members who still talk about it to this day.

I don’t remember much about that, although they say I behaved better after that incident. Now, it could be because a grown man put me in a sleeper hold in front of a church full of people or because my dad, who, back then, didn’t darken a church door except of Easter, called in to request prayer for the preacher because he was going to come down to the church and beat the devil out of him for manhandling his son.

While the pseudo-exorcism of ’68 settled me down a bit when it came to acting up in church, I think there was just a little devil left in me which my mother was determined to beat out.

At that time, my mom was the organist at the church where we still attend. That’s right. They didn’t expel me. I found as a mischievous kid of about seven years of age that while mom was up on stage, I could get a little out of line. However, like so many moms, it was as if she had a third eye in the back of her head. I’d be playing with my childhood friend Jeff – who is now pastor of our church seeing he was the good one and I was the bad one – and I’d be the one busted.

The booking would be a subtle pointing at me as mom prepared to play the chorus of the song. That’s all it took because I knew that point from the organ bench meant I was about to meet the Tree of Woe. For you entitled kids, let me tell you what a switch is, and it has nothing to do with what you turn the lights on and off with. Back in my day (there I go sounding old again), a switch was a piece of flexible wood that one would clip from a tree and use as a source of corporal punishment. The favorite was a hickory switch, a green one. A freshly cut hickory switch would sting like you wouldn’t believe. And, unfortunately for me, there was a hickory tree in the front of our church. While other people were praying for peace on Earth and delivery from their sins, I was praying for that hickory tree to be struck by lightning and cast into the lake of fire.

So, my mom would march me outside after the music, cut a hickory switch, administer my punishment and have me back inside before the sermon started. Everyone in the place knew what was going on. Duane was getting a whipping. And, if you poll those who are still at my church, each whipping was richly deserved.

Therefore, after a few licks with the hickory switch, which would leave a few welts under my double knit pants, I’d be paraded back inside the sanctuary where folks would greet me with knowing grins. I refused to give them the satisfaction of any tears. I wanted to at least get some street cred out of my pain.

Did all the whippings work? Well, I haven’t been to prison yet, I do unto others and I generally go by a lion’s share of the Commandments so I think it left its mark. If nothing else, it let me know that, even as a kid, I needed to be accountable for my actions.

As for that hickory tree, they cut that cursed thing down many years ago but none too soon. Prayers do get answered, even those by mean little kids. Happy Mother’s Day.

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