“You’ll lose that kid!” Grandma admonished. She was mortified that mom was dating again. Divorced women in our Catholic culture couldn’t remarry without an annulment, and any hint of a social life on her part would set the neighbors to gossiping. Our little community already thought Mom was a crazy drunk, and my grandparents couldn’t tolerate the perception that their daughter would also be regarded as a loose woman.
I thought Grandma’s threat was poppycock. Who would want to take custody of me? Certainly not my dad, an Army major by this time, who was on his way to some strange place called Vietnam to run a combat hospital. He didn’t give a damn. I was lucky if he passed through town for a short visit every year or so. The subject of discipline never came up during the two or three hours that Dad and I would be together.
But Mom did stop dating. After fighting her demons day and night, she had no energy left to fight her mother and father.
* * *
I found myself spending more and more time in the Laningham back yard, mostly with friends, but sometimes by myself, kicking a ball around with nobody to catch it. I tried to say away from the shotgun-house side of the neighborhood as much as possible. Wanda's chain-link fenced yard was becoming my sanctuary
During one day of such solitary play, Wanda stepped outside, unprovoked by anything that went wrong. She just wanted to chat. She wanted to know how I was doing in school, what my favorite foods were, and if I had seen any movies lately. At the end of the small talk, she looked at me with a mischievous smile, pointed her index finger and asked:
“David, do you think you’re ready for one of my spankings yet? You know, I give good spankings!
This time, for reasons I still don’t understand, I just couldn’t give her the perfunctory, “No ma’am.” Instead, the words unexpectedly jumped out of my mouth.
“Uh, I don’t know, ma’am. Have you ever spanked a neighbor kid?”
Damn! Why did I ask that? Am I going nuts?
“Well, I most certainly have!” barefooted Wanda assured me with a wry smile. “Back when we lived in Georgia, all the moms in the neighborhood had an agreement. If somebody else’s kids misbehaved on our property, they went over our knee. I’ve had lots of little boys over my knee. I wore their little bottoms out.”
“Did they ever cry, ma’am?” I queried impulsively.
I couldn’t believe I was continuing the conversation. My legs wanted to propel my body out of there at high speed, but my feet seemed stuck to the grass. Somehow, I had to satisfy my curiosity about this mysterious woman I no longer feared, but instead for whom I felt some strange attraction.
Maybe I should have my head examined, I thought. Then I remembered we couldn’t afford the shrink’s bill. Even as the son of a doctor, we’d have a hard time getting professional courtesy, as Mom is divorced.
“Oh they all cry, David, just like you would if I reddened your little bottom. But the time one of my spankings is over, all the bad has been beaten out and nothing but the good remains. My spankings cause a lot of tears, but they all end with smiles and lots of hugs.”
I was speechless. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but I couldn’t make myself walk away. All of a sudden I found myself mesmerized by the thought of being draped over this strong, beautiful woman’s lap, that cool air conditioning blowing across my naked bottom. Would my heart be racing in fearful anticipation of the spanking, or would I be in peace just before the first searing lick fell? I’ll admit, I had laid awake at night thinking about it. Now I had a chance at least to ask some more questions—to obtain the information necessary to allow my fantasies to blossom.
“David, would you like to come into the house and talk about this some more?” she asked. I baked some cookies. And it’s awfully hot out here.
I reached up and took Wanda’s large hand. She had lots of freckles on the back of that hand, and her nails were immaculately manicured as usual. But her palm was so soft and smooth, unlike the calloused hands of the working- class women in the shotgun houses. As we walked a few short steps to her back door, I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.
I felt like a little boy again, and it felt so good.