My dad took his belt to me two times when I was young. The first time, I was arguing with my mom about something. I can't remember exactly what but I'm sure I was right. Anyway, during the course of this, ahem, discussion, I told my mom to shut up. I don't think it was the fact that I told her to shut up as much as it was the tone I used. Well sir, my dad stood out of his recliner, calmly walked up behind me, firmly grabbed my neck and took me into my room and gave me a couple of licks. He didn't hit hard. It wasn't a beating. It was discipline. Hell, by that time I'd been hit harder by the nun's at St. Mary's.
The second time he took his belt to me he hit me a little harder and a couple more times. Lesson learned. Again, I really don't remember why my mom had sent me to my room on this particular evening, but that was the direction I was heading when I took my shirt off. The problem wasn't that I had taken my shirt off. I'd been sent to bed so it was the next step in the process. No, the problem was I, ahem, forgot to unbutton it. I had know idea my dad had that kind of hearing. It was like he had some kind of super power.
I'm halfway to my room, rip my shirt open and my dad hears the buttons pop? Are you kidding me? He walked into my room, picked up my shirt, made sure his hearing hadn't failed him, took off his belt and gave me a couple of licks. I've kept pretty good care of my clothes ever since.
But this story isn't about my dad. No. This is about my mom, Alvina. The true disciplinarian of Casa de Gibbs. Alvina, or Al as we call her now, had given up on spankings a long time before. My sister Leslie was going to get spanked. She ran to her room before mom got there, put on about ten pairs of underwear and then laughed when Al was spanking her. My mom couldn't hit very hard, a quality she passed onto my brother Bill.
St. Mary's Catholic School is the scene for today's story. Like most of my stories, I had to tell the first part so that this part makes a little more sense.
I believe it was the fourth grade. A fine autumn day in the Capitol of the Hi-Line. St. Mary's was a great place to go to school in your formative years. The pent up sexual frustration of a bunch of nuns from North Dakota really is the way to make men out of boys. There were 11 kids in my fourth grade class, one of which was not Warren Abrahamson. He started with us but finished with my brother. Before I go any further let me say that Warren is helluva good guy. Has his own business and is involved in the community. Back when I was in fourth grade, he was a little shit and none of us liked him.
We disliked him so much that we let the air out of his tires one day at morning recess. Harmless prank. When I say we I mean Darrell Gene Kovach, Ralph and me. It was, like many of my adventures, the perfect crime.
At lunch time, Warren noticed that his bike tires were flat. He immediately went crying to Sister Dorothy. I can't even begin to describe Sister Dorothy. If I ever write a book I'll have to devote at least one chapter to her and unlike my mother, she hit pretty hard and usually with something in her hand. RIP Sister Dot, you were something else. I'm assuming she's dead. This story is over 30 years old. Hell, maybe she's still teaching somewhere, taking an entire week to teach one math assignment. Like I said, at least one chapter.
So old Warren is crying to Sister Dorothy about his tires being flat and Dot asks the class if we know anything about it. We sat silent. Unbeknownst to us, there was a witness, somehow we'd been sloppy in our surveillance. I blame Ralph. We thought we were in clear but the hammer was about to be thrown down. Marlene Newton was about to sing, and our hands were about to sting.
"Sister Dorothy" she said, "I know who did it."
The blood began to run out of our collective faces.
"It was Darrell, Ralph and Chip."
Marlene ratted us out as sure as I'm sitting here. She would later be my first date. Sixth grade summer, took her to The World's Greatest Athlete with Jan Michael Vincent. Held her hand in the dark theater and gave her a polished rock from my collection. In Arkansas we'd probably still be married.
The shit was about to hit the fan. Hands were extended, slapped and slapped with authority. Sister Dorothy didn't use a ruler. She had a piece of wood that came from the back of an old wooden folding chair and it hurt.
Next we were marched to Sister Barbara Ann's office. The Principal of St. Mary's. She was the most feared nun in four states. Athletic, in shape and big enough to hold her own. When you were sent to her office, you just as well ask for your last meal.
Sister BA didn't punish us. No. Much worse. She made us call our parents. First, Ralph dialed the phone. The old rotary seemed to return to dial position much faster than normal. 654-1854 (I think that's right). No one was home. Lucky bastard. Next was Darrell Gene. Sneaky that Darrell. He knew full well his mom was home but when Sister BA was momentarily distracted, he put his finger on the receiver.
"No one home at my house either Sister."
"Chip, call your mother."
I dialed 654-1047. Mom answered on about the second ring. Great. Fucking great. These other two asses are going to get off scott free and I'm going to feel Al's wrath. A perfect fall day ruined. DO YOU HEAR ME NEWTON?
"Mom, I let the air out of Warren Abrahamson's tires."
She was at the school before I had hung up the phone.
Angry she was. Madder than an old man trying to send back soup at a deli. As Alvina was the only parent to show up, I was the only one to get punished by a parent. First, I had to apologize to Warren. That sucked. Then Al made me push his bike to Mick's Conoco. The three blocks seemed like three miles. After I aired up the tires, she made me push it all the way back to St. Mary's. Then she made me push my own bike home. The Coastking Saturn was greased lighting. It was meant for riding like the wind, not pushing. It was the last time I would touch my bike for three weeks.
Grounded from your bike in Malta at ten years old is like throwing a crackhead in a jail cell and telling him he can't use for three weeks. It totally spits in the face of 8th Amendment. Grounding was Alvina's favorite action of discipline. Grounding you from your bike was like being put on the rack in mid-evil times and she was the dungeon keeper. I was grounded from my bike so much that after 5 years, the tires still looked brand new.
Alvina would mark on the calendar when you came off being grounded. It was a First State Bank calendar with pockets for putting your bills in. Three weeks is 21 days, in case any of you are wondering and it always started the next day. I mean, if I got in trouble on the first, I didn't come off being grounded on the 22nd. No. I started being grounded on the second and came off being grounded on the 23rd. Her idea of new math I guess.
Three weeks away from the Saturn. Brutal. Not only that, but she told my brother Bill that I couldn't ride on the back of his bike. I had to walk both ways. She would stand in the yard and watch until she couldn't see anymore to make sure that Bill didn't give me a ride.
Bill was, and still is, a total suck up to Alvina. He was born on Mother's Day and has played that to his advantage for over forty years. Bill and I were both grounded at the same time on more than one occasion. Bill almost always had his sentence commuted.
"How come Bill isn't grounded anymore?"
"Well, he's been taking out the garbage AND he said he was sorry."
"I'll take out the garbage."
"You have to say your sorry too."
"I'll take the three weeks."
I wasn't wrong back then either.
Well sir, we started taking a different way to school. One where we disappeared from view much earlier than the previous route. You see, Bill was afraid of mom, but he was more afraid of me. I rode to school every day. Ha ha Alvina. I showed you.
The three weeks ended, I was united once again with the Saturn. Winter was coming and soon the Saturn would have its winter slumber in our garage. The garage where Bill and I would have a secret club, where I would fall through the floor of said club (which is the ceiling of the garage), where I would also fall off the roof and Bill would laugh so uncontrollolably that I'm lucky to be here, but those are stories for another day.