My favorite cousin shared his steely marbles with me whenever I was extra special nice to him, so I was nice to him all the time. We had a lot in common. Sonny and I were four years old, and we both had baby brothers. Mama and Aunt Bernice got together once a week to sit around the kitchen table to gossip, drink coffee, and giggle while Sonny and I played and the babies drooled all over each other in the playpen. It was during a visit to my aunt’s house that Sonny and I decided to play in the cellar.
Their cellar was different from the basement under Grandmother Peal’s house, which had concrete walls and floors. My aunt’s cellar had a floor and walls of dirt. It smelled like the deep hole that Dad dug when he had to bury a puppy that died. Even though it had been a sad experience, I’d loved the smell of the damp hole in the earth.
Under our bare feet were lots of little stones. We tossed them to see if we could hit a nearby pail when my cousin said, “If you dare me to, I can pee right on top of that big rock over there.”
“Uh uh–you can’t hit that.”
“Can too,” he replied, and he proved it to me. I didn’t think it was such a big deal, but Sonny, all puffed up with pride, said, “Pick something else for me to hit.”
“That thing,” I said, pointing to a board farther away. He took careful aim and again hit his mark squarely on top. That time I was amazed. “Who taught you to do that?” I asked.
“No one. I learned it by myself.”
“That’s a pretty good trick.”
“Come over here and I’ll show you how I did it,” he offered.
“Okay,” and I got up close to get a better look. My cousin’s “pappy” looked pretty much the same as my little brother’s. After Sonny performed his next trick, he said, “Can you do that?”
“Sure I can. Just watch me hit that baby rock right there.” I pointed to a nearby pebble, pulled down my flour-sack panties, and squatted over the target. I couldn’t see where to aim, so he knelt down to guide me.
“Not that way. Move this way, over here. Yep, that’s good. Now go!”
I let it go and everything but my target got wet. We thought it was so funny that we fell down on the dirt laughing and then took turns seeing what it looked like when pee came out of each other’s pappies. That’s what we were doing when my aunt opened the cellar door and yelled down the stairs, “What are you kids doin’ down there?”
Sonny yelled back, “I’m watching Betty pee on some rocks.”
“You’re doing WHAT?”
I wanted to get in on the credit. “Aunt Bernice, I’m showing Sonny how I pee.”
My aunt flew down the cellar steps so fast I thought she would fall. She grabbed my cousin’s arm and smacked his bottom all the way up to the kitchen where she continued whaling the daylights out of him. He howled so loud it scared me silly. I stood frozen with fear and confusion, thinking, “Why is she spanking him? Is she coming after me next?”
I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there with my pants around my ankles, hoping Mama would rescue me. Then I heard my aunt and my mother yelling at each other. They sounded mad, so Sonny and I must’ve done something wrong like messing up the dirt.
Finally, Mama came down the steps real fast and said in a quiet voice, “Pull up your panties, Betty. We’re going home now.” She got her purse, lifted Bobby from the playpen, told me to get my coloring book and crayons, and we left without saying goodbye.
Once we were in the car and headed for home, I asked, “Why did Sonny get spanked?” She didn’t answer, so I patted her arm and tried again. “Mama, why was Aunt Bernice mad?”
My mother took a deep breath and said, “She was mad at me because I wouldn’t give you a spanking, too.”
“Why did she want us to get a spanking?”
She didn’t answer right away but finally, said, “Well, because Aunt Bernice thought you and Sonny were playing dirty.”
“But he couldn’t help getting dirty because it’s dirty in Aunt Bernice’s cellar.” I wanted to show her that I had been more careful than my cousin. “See…I’m still clean.”
Mama smiled at me and said, “You sure are.”
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illustration by Betty Auchard