Old Punishment Revisited

I watched “Good Morning Joe” recently, and one short segment discussed a bill in Kansas that allows spanking. It says the teachers and parents may spank a child and leave marks. Prior to this bill, spanking was allowed only if it didn’t leave any marks or redness. The entire conversation struck me as funny, and I’m sure plenty of others in my generation might well chuckle at it.
Things certainly were different “back then.” My twin brother Jim and I were rambunctious boys who seemed to find ourselves in trouble, even when we didn’t mean any harm. Mother was at home in our early years, so she was the chief enforcer. Edna Rector did not “suffer fools,” and she administered punishment swiftly and efficiently. Most of the times, she’d cut a switch from a nearby shrub and turn loose on us. Those thin branches seemed to attach to the backs of our legs and then wrap around to the front. After a dozen or so “lashes,” the spanking was complete.
At other times, Mother administered correction with a bolo
paddle. It hung on a nail on the kitchen door frame, and she could draw it with the same swiftness of a Texas gunslinger. The spanking began with her grabbing an arm around the bicep. Then she bent a bit to the side and, in rapid fire, slapped it against our backsides. She always warned, “Don’t put your hands back!” If we’d done so, fingers might have been whacked. Mother always set a pivot foot and spun as we moved in a circle to escape the paddle.
Jim and I started school, and Mother began her teaching career. However, that didn’t mean we escaped spankings. If our transgressions were too grievous, she opened her desk drawer and withdrew her paddle. On one occasion, I failed to heed her warning not to tromp in the mud with my new shoes. Upon entering her classroom filled with bus riders, Mother called me up front and “tanned my hide.” The students looked on and thanked God it wasn’t they who was being spanked.
Most teens escaped spankings, but not us. Mother still believed that sometimes a swat to the bottom produced excellent results. As a freshman, Jim received punishment for scaring her to death by not coming home until several hours after he was supposed to be there. When he walked into the house, she told him to choose a belt. She told him to lie across the bed and then delivered the swats. He got up to back talk mother twice, and that resulted in further spankings. He finally shut his mouth long enough for her to stop.
I spanked my children when they were young. Lacey would cry as soon as I walked into her room, and that always lessened the severity of the punishment. Still, I swatted her bottom when she deserved it. Dallas refused to show any emotion and waited until I walked out of the room before crying. After a while, Amy convinced me to stop the spanking and confine them to their rooms or other areas without the benefit of television, music, or any kind of stimulation. That punishment proved more effective sometimes than spanking; however, in some situations, a quick swat was the best way to handle things.
Today, everyone swears that spanking is child abuse. Well, if that is true, entire generations have been abused over the years, but amazingly, folks have turned out all right. We who received those kind of punishments learned that respect for adults and adhering to rules for expected behavior were things that helped us in the future. Most parents never meant to “scar” a child when they spanked them. The punishments they inflicted were given as loving parents who wanted the best for their little ones.
I’m not sure if the Kansas bill will pass. I do know that few of us older folks ever got a spanking that didn’t leave some redness or a bruise. However, they were temporary things that served to remind us about our boundaries in life. Few of us ever suffered any kind of permanent psychological damage. A spanking with no marks…yep, that’s pretty funny.


Dal Gene …that’s what everyone called him from birth until sometime after he went away to college. Then he became Dallas or Dal, and the “Gene” disappeared. Even at the young age of seventeen, he was older and much wiser than his years.
According to our parents, this first-born child was almost perfect. He rarely cried; he played by himself happily; he was polite to all. His life was almost perfect…at least until his twin brothers arrived. Then havoc poured into the household. Quiet was replaced with racket and raucous play by two boys who were so rowdy that their parents fenced them in the front yard as one would do dogs. Through it all, Dal Gene remained the perfect child.
Little did our parents know that nothing gave the eldest child more pleasure than tormenting Jim and me. He’d grab our teddy bears and pummel them while we wailed. When we refused to make him sandwiches or complete his chores, he’d wait until our parents left home for a while and then threaten to leave home for good. He walked to the woods at the edge of the yard and stood until cries and capitulation from us floated to him. Then he’d come back and be served like a king.
One of his demands was that Jim and I take the blame for things that occurred around the house. On one occasion, he pushed me onto a bed, and the frame collapsed. He begged until I agreed to take the blame for the accident.
Our dad died August 31, 1965, at the age of 53. The family moved numbly through the visitation, funeral, and burial and then went back at to life. Suddenly, the man whom we loved, respected, and feared wasn’t there. The emptiness gnawed at all of our hearts. It was worse for Mother. She now took sole responsibility to rearing three boys on a teacher’s salary.
That’s when Dal Gene stepped up. He was then a senior in high school. In helping Mother, our big brother began persuading, then cajoling, and finally shaming us into doing the things that were right. Jim and I rebelled at times, but when he left for college, the emptiness returned.
 Jim and I began our freshman year in high school, and with it came all sorts of changes. Most of them involved the normal temptations associated with adolescence. We began smoking to fit in with older guys, and we downed our first alcohol. Dal chastised and reminded us about the trouble we’d be in if Mother discovered our participation in these activities.
“Daddy Dal” mailed scathing letters to us younger brothers when Mother talked about the difficulties she encountered with us. He especially chewed our butts for being disrespectful to her and for failing to help around the house. Again, we straightened up for a time because we didn’t want to let him down.
Dal’s fathering didn’t end after our high school years. We all attended Tennessee Tech University, and there he rode herd on us concerning our grades and behavior. Sometimes the blues would envelope me, and I always knew I could go to Dal for advice and for answers, even if they weren’t necessarily the ones I wanted to hear. He and his wife Brenda took us under their wings and helped us through the gate from youth to adulthood.
Even after Jim and I married and began our families, we looked to Dal for advice. He’d walk us through problems until we could see the paths to follow. At other times, we’d call just to talk about music or to share jokes. Over the years, we’d become good friends and close brothers.
Dal died in 2003; he lived only a few weeks past his 54 birthday. By then, our kids had grown up, and we were on the edge of 50 ourselves. The loss was devastating. Not only did we lose a brother but we also lost a surrogate father. Dal had become a different kind of father by then as he and Brenda had taken in four nephews and nieces and had become their parents. Their pain over his death might have been deeper for them, but I’m not sure how.

What I know is that my brother died too early. He’d had been a father for 38 years of his life and missed out on just being young. I’d like to have the chance to say thanks to him for all he did. 


Super Bowl Weekend turned into a nightmare for fans of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. As difficult as it is to say, the Seahawks man-handled Denver and made Peyton look mortal.

Even so, those who now laud Tom Brady as a better quarterback don’t much know what they are saying. Sure, the man has won more Super Bowl rings than Peyton, but much of his success is due to the fact that Brady’s teams have always featured solid defense, as well as offense.
Even with all the buzz about the Super Bowl, Peyton, and commercials (most of which were inane wastes of fortunes), the story that stole the spotlight over the weekend was the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like most folks, I was stunned and saddened by the man’s death. He proved himself to be an incredible actor who brilliantly took on roles and made himself into those characters so much that we believed them to be his true identities. My favorite movie of his was “Empire Falls.” Of course, I also liked him in “Twister.”
At the same time, Hoffman proved to be an incredibly selfish person. His addiction seems to have ruled his life. He admitted several years ago that he quit drug use at the age of 22 because he panicked that it might lead to his death. In another 24 years, his words proved true.
Hoffman died because he loved drugs more than life. He abandoned family, friends, and fans. In the end, nothing matter as much to him as his desire for heroine. Oh, I know it must be a cruel addiction, but “lesser” folks have broken free of its clutches and survived to bring joy to others who loved them.
I googled the 10 most famous drug deaths and came up with an all-star cast. The list included Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston, Chris Farley, Marilyn Monroe, and John Belushi. All of them had troubles in life, but then again, don’t we all? I’d like to have asked them what was so bad about this life.
They all had great wealth at some point, and I suspect that too much money might have been a contributing factor in their addictions. It seems that being able to buy anything in this world steals much of the excitement in life and appreciation for the little things. Perhaps these individuals turned to drugs to find the “rush” that comes from getting a special present at Christmas or swapping an old clunker vehicle for a later model one.
We have become a species that is never quite content. We keep searching and pushing for things that will spice up our lives. I am as guilty as anyone; I keep wanting when I should be bowing my head and being thankful for what has been given to me.
I’m tired of all these drug deaths. I’m also saddened by them, not just the rich and famous ones but all that come as a result of people giving up and giving in. Despair is a miserable condition, and maybe all of us must reach out and lift others who are in the depths of it.
What I don’t think we should do is sing praises of a person who had the world in his hands but chose, instead, to end his existence with a drug. Heroic status is due to those people who persevere in the faces of deadly diseases, debilitating war injuries, or vicious abuse. They have the courage to go on in spite of having the odds stacked against them. These individuals refused to blame someone or some past occurrence to define who they would become.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, rest in peace. You will be missed as much for what you failed to fulfill as for what you achieved. 


Something about family warms our hearts, even though all of us have plenty of ghosts in our closets. Those relatives bring more happiness than sadness, more good memories than bad dreams. I’ve been thinking of three uncles, my mother’s brothers, and saying a silent “thank you” for their presence in my life.
Uncle Charles was the “baby of the family.” He was a tall, “aw shucks” kind of man. Most of the time, a smile stayed on his face. The man had as many child-like qualities as we did. Charles Balch enjoyed life, and he loved his kids. Oh, like most of us dads, he had some glaring shortcomings that caused some hard feelings, but nobody could stop loving him.
Uncle Charles eventually went to work at Oak Ridge after World War II. The work there was secret, as it’s always been. However, from what I’ve gleaned from others with whom he worked, the man was a pure genius. As the story goes, at time Charles was awing the entire staff, including scientists and managers, at the plant. He was blessed with a raw intelligence that kept him on par with others who’d spent years in formal education. That same genius is present today in his son Charlie, who is now 61.
Uncle Ed was our favorite uncle during our childhood. He’d completed his military career with service in WW II, Korea, and as an ROTC instructor at Xavier in Cincinnati. He earned a degree in accounting and worked with the IRS in Covington, Ky. As a sideline, Uncle Ed became an excellent photographer who shot weddings almost every weekend.
Uncle Ed and Aunt Rosie visited at least once each summer. They’d load up their convertible and head south. For the next week, the couple took a carload of nieces and nephews on trips to the mountains, restaurants, or other fun places. Because they had no children, complete attention turned toward us and on showing us a good time. I suppose our parents enjoyed their visits as much as the kids since the adults got breaks from their charges for at least a couple of days.
The third brother was Wayne. He was the quiet one. When he walked by, women swooned at his good looks, chiseled shoulders and wry smile. Wayne Balch also served in WW II, and then he came home, married Nellie, and became the father of three children who also have proven to be intellectually gifted. He built a house next to our grandparents and made sure they were okay. Wayne worked at the same paper mill as my dad, and he worked shifts that so often kept him confused as to what day or time it was. On one occasion, he missed a ride with others to work, and his life was spared when that car crashed with a train not far from his house.
Wayne had a dry sense of humor. He’d say something and then let that smile creep across his face. His smile was infectious and drew others toward him. He loved his kids and protected them during some tense times in their lives. Never did he speak ill of another person, regardless of how vicious that person might have acted toward him. Just the other day a man mentioned Wayne and ended the conversation with this: Wayne Balch was the best man I ever met.” He was one of two or three persons I knew who was purely good. 
These three brothers fought in Europe during WW II, and as fate would have it, they met up at one point. It was a happy time for them and for the folks back home who read the news account of their meeting and knew, at least for that day, they were all safe and alive.

Wayne passed first when congestive heart failure sapped his energies and then his life. Uncle Ed passed next, and within a year, Uncle Charles and my mother also left us. I suppose they’re back together again as a family and are enjoying an eternity together. They showed us the blueprints for being better individuals. Let’s hope we live up to their standards.


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