A Rainbow of Pain
For years I listened to my mother’s thunderous roars of wrath about how God gave her the three worst kids in the world. “And since you’re the oldest,” Leona would add threateningly, “you should know better.” If I tried to explain something, or raised a question, or made a comment, look out! Because that big strong hand of hers would slap so hard against your mouth that it would send your body hurtling across the room. Then, through my tears, I would hear her warning. “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Always tell the truth, we were told. Honesty is the best policy. Don’t even think of telling a fib, or a little white lie, because that little lie will require you to tell a bigger lie to cover the first, and on and on and on, until–Wham! You find yourself flying across the room again, and then the 3/4″ stick is pounding against your flesh, creating the most unbelievable swollen welts of black, blue, purple, yellow, and red. A walking rainbow of pain.
On one occasion, my mother had dad’s belt in her hand. The flying belt buckle put a “rainbow” all around my right eye. Finally, with band-aids in place, I was taken off to a cousin’s birthday party. I was eleven at the time, and half the kids in my grade school were there. Believe me, mom made sure that I told all the kids why I looked the way I did. I had to tell the “truth,” no matter how embarrassing, how humiliating it was.
And if my story didn’t satisfy her version of the truth, then when we got home, the willow switch might come out. That sucker stung worse than bees and left lots of tiny “rainbows” all over–on my face, neck, arms, back, and legs. Their precise location on my body depended on whether I resisted and tried to get away, or just stood in one spot and took it. Eventually, the beating would end.
One time (and one time only) my mother’s fanatical obsession with “telling the truth” was stepped up a notch. Because of some supposed lie, I got my mouth washed out with home-made lye soap. My God, the fire jumped out of the wood cook-stove and started roaring and burning and eating my lips and tongue and gums and throat. Then it stuck between my teeth and became still more fuel for the fire.
But even then I somehow believed that mom must be right. I had done something wrong. Therefore I was bad. Therefore I deserved what I got. After all, wasn’t I one of the three worst kids in the world?!
After this ordeal with the lye soap, I knew that God was once again writing down one of my wrongs in His big book in the sky. I had to start telling the truth. I had to stop telling these lies. If I didn’t, God would have all the proof He needed and I would burn in hell for eternity, or be assigned to shovel coal to keep the hell-fire furnace going.
Eternity was unfathomable. How many years was eternity? And how large was the furnace that I’d be stoking for that eternity? I knew how large the furnace in our cellar was. It took five to ten huge chunks of wood at each filling to keep that big old farm house warm. I couldn’t imagine how big the furnace of hell must be.