If you grew up in the South you know that saying “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” is more important than eating your vegetables. It’s a non-negotiable way of life down here.
Growing up in the 70’s was no exception. Play until the streetlights come on. Keep spare change available for the ice cream truck. Share with your siblings. And always, ALWAYS answer a grown-up properly with ma’am or sir.
The rules didn’t change in the 80’s when I swapped streetlights for car lights. Which I dimmed, by the way, when I pulled into the driveway after curfew. Apparently, my brilliant 16-year old self didn’t realize my parents could HEAR too as the blasting radio heralded my late return as I turned off of Texas Avenue, the defiant strains of heavy metal cutting through the stillness of our quiet suburban street.
Those were challenging times and they led to some brutal stand-offs between my father and me.
My dad was a big fan of those big yellow legal pads. He used them for everything, particularly for listing my misdeeds. No ordinary paper could handle such a task, I suppose.
After reading off my charges, he flipped that top yellow page over and presented a contract. It listed the consequences for my crimes, things like having to babysit my sister (for fighting with her while Mom was on the phone) and missing a friend’s party (for sneaking out of the house the week before). You name the offense, it had a repercussion.
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t pay the time,” he’d say. “This is a result of choices. You made some bad ones.” “These are called consequences.” The euphemisms are still stuck in my head today. He only need say the word CONSEQUENCES and we can still hear the lecture in its entirety in our heads today.
At the bottom of each page were two lines. One for his signature and one for mine.
By signing, you acknowledged the charges and agreed with the terms of punishment.
Not signing wasn’t an option. I discovered that late one summer afternoon. I think it was the last time I saw the sun that year.
But the signature alone wasn’t enough. No Siree Bob, there was more. After the contract was signed, your verbal commitment was required as well.
“Do you understand this contract and agree to follow it?”
It was, in fact, a rhetorical question because he was not interested in my answer, only the proper response.
If you said no, there were plenty of pages left in that yellow pad for additional consequences.
If you shrugged, you had to sit back down and listen to a sermon on respect.
You couldn’t even just say yes, because that was completely unacceptable.
It was “Yes, sir.” That was the one and only ticket out of the conversation. It was an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, a commitment to improve, and a sign of respect all wrapped up in two syllables.
When you’re a headstrong teenager whose social life had just come to a grinding halt, respect for your warden is the last thing you feel.
So I tried to get around it.
Dad: “I said, do you understand?”
Dad: “Yes, what?”
Me: (knowing full well what the “what” was) “Yes, I understand.”
Dad: “Let’s try this again…”
One such stand-off lasted an entire 45 minutes. I’ll give the Warden this: he never budged.
Eventually, through clenched teeth, I’d say “Yes, sir” and often left with several additional yellow pages in hand.
I’d almost forgotten those days until I was washing dishes last week and talking with the Lord.
My husband had gone to a neighboring town to lead a Pastor’s Bible study and I went to run a few errands. He’d forgotten to leave some money so as the morning wore on, I dipped farther and farther into my mad money.
My mom taught me about mad money when I was a little girl. “A woman should always have a little money put back for a rainy day when she needs a little pick-me-up like a new lipstick or to get her hair done.” Over the years I’ve stashed anything from $10 bills to crisp $100s in secret compartments of my wallet.
But this day I’d emptied my reserves out on things like laundry detergent and stamps, hardly the pick-me-up of my dreams. I knew nail money wasn’t in the budget and I’d been looking forward to making a little mad withdrawal for a pedicure at the end of the week.
“All my hidden money is gone,” I whined to the Lord. While I was disappointed, I wasn’t truly upset and I was joking around.
His response sobered me up immediately.
“At this point in your life, you don’t need ANYTHING that’s hidden.”
Before I even realized it, the words were audibly flying out of my mouth.
If only I’d been so obedient as a teenager.