Peach tree limb stirs memories from childhood

By: Lynda Hollenbeck

Thoughts on discipline have changed drastically since I was a child.
I managed to get all the way through childhood and my teenage years with no form of punishment meted out by my father.
This isn't to say I didn't deserve it. I probably earned it more times than I ever dreamed possible, but Honey was such a kind, gentle soul that he simply couldn't bear to inflict pain, physical or any other kind, on me.
This isn't to say that I escaped the early years unscathed. In the picture also was my mother, who did not shy away from discipline.
In fact, she was quite proficient at it.
Her tool of trade was a switch. A thin, spindly switch that stung the legs when wielded in her expert fashion.
I hadn't thought about switches in a long time, but Shirley Coppock recently sent an email that triggered some "stinging" memories.
It started with an arrangement Shirley was creating for the altar at Saline Missionary Baptist Church in Tull.
Shirley noted that her brother Jimmie has a peach tree from which she got the "beautiful, fragrant blossoms" she used in the arrangement.
Seeing those peach tree blossoms stirred recollections of more than church for Shirley. The memories were the result of Shirley's childhood mischief.
She decided to share her thoughts with the younger generation of her congregation.
"When we children were growing up and disobeyed or misbehaved, Mom would threaten us with 'peach tree tea,'" Shirley told the youngsters.
This involved some specific action, she noted.
"To do this, we would have to go into the backyard and cut a peach tree limb," she said.
"It didn't need to be a big one โ€” just a small size about 2 feet in length," she said.
There was a specific method involved in serving "the tea," she noted.
There was no beverage involved, of course.
"She would use this to switch our behind or legs," Shirley said.
Only one serving was necessary for most lessons in obedience, Shirley noted.
"Mom did not like to punish us, often shedding more tears than we did," she added.
"Just sharing a page from the past while growing up in Shaw Township," Shirley noted about her trip down memory lane.
My mother didn't make it a rule that I had to pick my own switch as Shirley did, although that was occasionally part of the deal.
In most instances, all she had to was make the threat. If I heard "I'm going out to get a switch ... ," I would straighten up my act in short order.
When I was slow to respond, the switch and I became closely entwined.
As I said, Honey never disciplined me, but came perilously close once when Mamma was sick enough to go to bed. I don't remember this happening but one time in all my years at home.
Anyway, I guess she had something like the flu. I remember Honey putting her lunch on a tray and I begged to carry it to her.
I was probably around 6 or so โ€” too young and unskilled to do it โ€” but Honey gave in to my pleas.
He told me, in advance, that if I spilled it, he would spank me. Of course I promised I wouldn't and proceeded to hoist the tray above my head the way I had seen waiters do in fancy restaurants.
I don't remember what the tray held except for a bowl of peaches. (The peaches are important to the story.)
I made it fine all the way through the kitchen, through the dining room, through the living room and into the front bedroom where Mamma was waiting. But just as I got to the edge of her bed, I tripped.
Peaches with lots and lots of peach juice and everything else on the tray landed squarely in her lap.
I couldn't have planned it better if I had tried for a calamity. It was a mess.
That was one of the few times I ever saw Honey furious with me. I don't know if he would have carried out this threat to spank me (probably not), but Mamma quickly interceded.
"She didn't mean to do it, Paul," she said. "She was just trying to help."
Guess you could say I was saved by a peach.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor The Saline Courier.