Martial Law

by Usmcson

Father believed in discipline. He was a second generation U. S. Marine, as his father (my grandfather) rose to the rank of Colonel. At home and at school, corporal punishment was standard protocol in cases of mischief and misbehavior. Of course, when Father earned a punishment from the headmaster at school, a phone call home was assurance that further punishment waited at home. While the headmaster used a wooden paddle, Grandfathers favored means of punishing his boys was the 1½ x 30 leather strop he used daily to hone his straight razor. Hed fold the strop in half, wrap it around his hand once for a tight grip, and go at it.

I was born in 1974. Father had been in the Corps only a few years. But, as I grew older, Father rose in the ranks. (Though he had enlisted in the USMC, as a Private, straight out of high school, he was accepted into Officer training school after his return from Viet Nam.) When I turned six, he made First Lieutenant. When I turned ten, he made Captain. When I turned 17, due to a large number of Officers retiring, he made Colonel - just like Grandfather. It was the only day I saw Father and Grandfather shed tears. (Neither shed a tear when Grandma passed on, as they were hardened to death.)

When I was 17, I was like other male teens . . . a bit too mouthy for my own good. I was nearing the end of high school, held a part-time job, and had managed to buy my first car – a 1984 Trans-Am that was Glacier Blue. I thought I was cool, though the car was held together by nothing more than rust and paint. I guess feeling cool made me behave more boldly at home. But also, I was over-compensating the machismo to avoid the familiar parental interrogations: Why dont you have a girlfriend? and When are you going to start dating?

Anyway, this one evening during dinner, Mama was asking me about classes. Father was focused on eating, but was always listening. I had discovered many a time, when I thought a risqué comment had slipped past him as he read the paper during dinner . . . but ended up getting a strapping. So, I was describing this science project that had just been assigned. We had to research, report about, and demonstrate a scientific principle that could be applied to environmental conservation. Not being a junior Galileo or Einstein, I was clueless. Though Father didnt believe in helping kids with their homework – I did it on my own and you will, too, boy! – Mama always tried to steer me right.

Darlin, Mama said in her musical Southern style, why dont you do something about acid rain? Thats all them Greenpeace yahoos keep talkin bout.

Oh, Mama, I dont know anything about acid rain. Besides, Im not one of those Greenpeace yahoos!

Well, how bout something about radiation cause of them nuclear weapons?

Mama, Im not doing anything about war. Just a bunch of savage people figuring out how to kill one another.

Dang! Howd that come out of me? And in front of Father . . .

Immediately, I sank in my seat and lowered my gaze to my plate. I hoped the comment had slipped by as he browsed the Post & Courier (newspaper in Charleston, SC).

But his head whipped up. His gaze struck me like a thunderbolt, and I shuddered when he asked, What did you say?

Well, Sir, I dont think Im wrong to say that war is savage. I think . . . Dang! Im just digging myself deeper in the bull patties.

You think? YOU think? What do YOU know about war, boy? What do YOU know about savage? I smirked to myself . . . Yes, I recall some of the punishments youve meted out while not quite sober and in control.

He continued his barrage of rhetorical questions . . . Do YOU think somethings funny, boy? Is this funny? You gonna insult your old man, gonna condemn the food YOU eat, the roof YOU sleep under, the life YOU live, boy? Without me, a savage war-monger, YOU wouldnt be here.

Yes, Sir. Father and I have fallen into our usual pattern, established over years of practice . . . The Four Stages of a Punishment:

Stage #1: Identification of Misbehavior or Wrongdoing Stage #2: Verbal Cue to Prepare for a Strapping Stage #3: Waiting, waiting, waiting Stage #4: The Main Event

Somehow, without realizing it, we had reached the end of stage #2! No escape . . . and I was resigned to it.

I cant wait until I turn 18. Ill never have to put up with this. (Father had every intention of my moving out – just as he did when he turned 18, deciding to join the USMC. Once out on my own, self-discipline would be in demand. But for now, I was a victim of Fathers strict discipline.)

His face turned beet red. Get your ass to your room – now! Ill be there in a few.

Great, I thought to myself. Hell drink a couple of beers, beat my ass to a pulp, and then itll all be over. I proceeded to my room . . . did not pass Go, did not collect $200, but straight to jail.

Surprisingly, a few minutes later, Father pushed open my bedroom door. I could tell Father hadnt downed more beer, but his brow was furrowed and he held the strop. It was the same strop Grandfather had used on him . . . passed down to Father when I, his son, was born. (Grandfather had, reportedly, told Father, Im sure your boy will cause you as much grief as you caused me. Youll need this. Use it often.)

Youre getting older boy, he spoke, sounding like a Judge in the U. S. Supreme Court. Soon, youll be on your own, so I have to make sure your last few lessons are firm to prepare you for life on the outside. As your Mama doesnt like to hear what goes on, Ive asked her to go over to Aunt Nellas for the hour.

Silence. It was palpable.

Lets get it over, boy. Drop your pants. I did, first removing my shoes. I had long ago learned there was no point protesting. Your briefs. They joined my pants in a crumpled heap at the foot of the bed. Get over the bed. I lay face down on my bed, with my feet firmly planted on the floor, my arms and hands out of the way, and my heinie in the right position to receive the strop with skin stretched taut to ensure pain was greatest. I felt like a little boy. I could picture, in my minds eye, the first big boy strapping at age eight. (But thats another story.)

(These had been cold commands, lacking emotion, intended to make of me an object or target, and no longer his son, just during the punishment.) Father took his position, to my left, as he is right-handed. The strop had been folded in half, wrapped once around his hand, and was plenty flexible to strike every contour of my buns.

I could sense the backward swing, the wind-up, before the first . . . WHACK! Pain, blistering pain, spread throughout. I was jolted, my entire body jerked forward, my back arched, my legs twitched to such a degree that I dug my fingers into the comforter on my bed for stability . . . to pull myself down to the required position, flat on my stomach.


Three more, in quick succession. Upon each blow, I had gulped in a mouthful of air . . . and nearly made myself pass out unintentionally.


Father was a machine, as I screamed. I didnt move an inch, kept myself firmly planted, or else Father would extend my punishment.


Tears had developed after the third or fourth blow, but they gushed freely and my nose was running and my saliva had dribbled into a puddle, soaking into my comforter.


I lost count . . . 20 . . . 30 . . . more?

Silence again. Stillness.

Father panted, trying to catch his breath. I wept, for myself and for Father, understanding that the pain I experienced mirrored the pain of the ghosts that haunt him since his childhood, since the time he was on the receiving end of the strop.

I didnt want to move. I never wanted to move after a strapping ended. I was in pain, physically, emotionally. But this time, perhaps as Father sensed this was the right time, sat next to me on the bed and spoke.

Son, youre getting too old for me to correct you when you misbehave, when you misspeak. When you turn 18, youll be on your own. I know you will make it, and will accomplish what I havent – youll become an independent man. Im doing the best I can with what my Daddy taught me, but I hope I taught you to learn more than I can teach you.

Through my gentle sobbing, my backside on fire and my soul aching from sorrow for my Father, I could only whisper, Yes, Sir.

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