Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Corporal Punishment

When my younger brother was in high school, he was suspended for mooning out of a school bus. When I look back on my teen years, I wish I could have been reckless. Exposing my bare bottom out a window wasn’t my idea of a good time, though. I wanted to be the girl in The Beach Boys song who had fun until her father took away the car keys. But because of my limited vision, I never learned to drive. The only time I was ever bad was when I was in the second grade, as you’ll see in the following essay.


In the fall of 1968 after my brother Andy was born, I started second grade at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson. My teacher, Miss Willis, an elderly woman, was also visually impaired. Every morning, after we said the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and sang “My Country Tis of Thee” or “God Bless America,” she said, “All right, boys and girls, it’s now time for us to take our vitamins.”

We lined up in front of her desk and each received a pill. Unlike the nurses at the infirmary, Miss Willis didn’t place the pills in our mouths and make sure we swallowed them. I concealed mine in my pocket or desk drawer.

One afternoon, I knocked over chairs and threw things, much to the amusement of other classmates and myself. I even tossed a figure of the Christ Child. Miss Willis sent me to the principal’s office, but since it was empty, I sat there for a while until Mother found me.

“Abbie, Miss Willis said you were bad today.” I shrugged.

My parents had recently given me a transistor radio for my birthday. When we got home, I hurried to my room with the intent of listening to it. But Mother followed me and took it away. “You’re not to listen to this for the rest of the day. If you’re good tomorrow, you can have it back.”

Although this saddened me, there were plenty of other things I could do to occupy myself. The next day, I was at it again. “She’s jealous of the new baby,” Miss Willis told Mother. “She’s not getting enough attention.”

This time in addition to the loss of radio privileges, I received a spanking. When it was over, I lay on my bed and sobbed. Why was this happening to me? I was only having fun.

I misbehaved at school several more times. WhenMother learned of my shenanigans, she took me home and spanked me. The last time it happened, it was Dad who found me in the principal’s office, took me home, and spanked me. For some reason, this left an impression on me, and I decided my fun in the classroom wasn’t worth the pain and humiliation of the punishment I received at home.

When Andy was in the third grade, he developed similar behavioral problems. Our parents and his teachers came up with a different plan. For every day at school when he was good, he received a point, and when he had a certain number of points, he got to do something he wanted such as go out to dinner or a movie.

This approach worked for a while, but in the sixth grade, he got into more trouble. In high school, he was suspended for mooning out of a school bus, and he was arrested for being in possession of alcohol. He also had one or two minor brushes with the law when he was in college. He became a physicist with a PH.D. and is married with children who have their own discipline problems.

As an adult, when I hear psychologists on television and radio say that corporal punishment isn’t a good form of discipline, I can’t help wondering how well these experts know their subject matter. Do they have children of their own? How successful have they been at raising them without spanking them?

It pains me to look back on the punishment I received during my second grade year, but I don’t know what else my parents could have done. Dad was working most of the time, and Mother had all she could do to take care of Andy. She couldn’t always be available like she was before he was born.

Miss Willis said I wasn’t getting enough attention. Maybe negative attention is better than no attention at all. In that case, I’m a testimonial to the effectiveness of a few hard swats on the bottom.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome



Tuesday, June 21, 2011


            When I was a little girl, Dad often took me to the barber shop. I sat in a nearby chair and watched with my limited vision, as the barber draped a sheet over Dad and clipped his hair with an electric razor that buzzed and often made snapping noises. It had to hurt, but Dad didn’t complain. I was grateful I didn’t have to endure this since I wasn’t a man.
            At the age of four, my luck changed. Mother decided it was time for me to go to the beauty shop. “We’re going to give you a pixie,” said the nice lady, as she sat me in the chair and draped a sheet over me, tying it behind my head. I inhaled the acrid scent of hair enhancing chemicals, and a knot of dread formed in my stomach, as she turned the chair to face the mirror. When she sprayed my hair with water, the quacking sound the bottle made and the cold water that assailed my scalp was my undoing. My stomach heaved, and in minutes, I was covered with vomit. I sat mortified, as Mother cleaned me up, and the beautician put a clean drape over me. The rest of the experience was uneventful.
            When I was in the first grade at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson, I was the only girl in a class of boys. One of them, whom I’ll call Isaac, sat behind me and delighted in pulling my hair. “Quit it,” I said, batting his hand away, but to no avail. My teacher, Mrs. Hamilton, either didn’t know or didn’t care.
            “He’s doing it because he likes you,” said Dad.
            “Just ignore him, and he’ll stop,” said Mother. But I couldn’t ignore the pain that ripped my scalp, as the little  monster’s fingers grasped wisps of my hair and tugged.
            One day, Mrs. Moore, one of the nurses at the infirmary, came to our classroom. “Abbie, you need to go with Mrs. Moore to the infirmary,” said Mrs. Hamilton. “Your hair is falling out.”
            It was then that I noticed the tendrils of hair that were cascading from my head and landing on my shirt. Fascinated, I rose and took the nurse’s hand, as we walked out of the classroom.
            “Mrs. Johnson, you’re not washing your daughter’s hair. It’s falling out,” Mrs. Moore told Mother on the phone. “You’ll have to come and take her to a doctor.”
            Aggrieved, Mother collected me and took me to a dermatologist the nurse recommended. Again, my stomach tightened, as my nostrils were assailed by the odor of alcohol and disinfectant, but I managed to keep my lunch down. After the doctor examined my head, he asked, “By any chance, is someone pulling your hair?”
            “Yes,” I said, hopeful that someone would finally do something about it. “Isaac pulls my hair all the time. He sits right behind me in school.”
            “That’s why her hair is falling out,” the doctor told  Mother.
            Later, Mother and I marched into the classroom. “I wasted a lot of time and money on a dermatologist to find out that the reason Abbie’s hair is falling out is because Isaac is pulling it,” said Mother. She pointed an accusing finger at the boy, who sat unmoving in his seat directly behind my desk.
            “Isaac, don’t pull Abbie’s hair,” said Mrs. Hamilton, and that was that.
            After the fiasco at the beauty shop, Mother cut my hair at home, but she was never satisfied with her work. I didn’t care. I was relieved when she was done, although after the incident with Isaac, I preferred Mother’s scissors to his sharp tugs. 
As I grew older, Mother let my hair grow longer and braided it into two pigtails at the back of my neck. In the summer heat of Arizona, I imagined myself cutting off the pigtails, but I knew better since an attempt at cutting my own hair brought similar results to that of Isaac’s hand barbering and a sharp rebuke from Mother. Occasionally, boys tugged at the braids, but not nearly as hard as Isaac did.
            When I was about twelve or thirteen, Mother and I finally worked up the courage to make another trip to the beauty shop. We’d moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, by this time, and we went to a place Grandma recommended. I remembered the scent of the chemicals from the previous experience, but this time, I knew what to expect. I just hoped I wouldn’t lose my lunch. To my embarrassment, Mother said to Barbara, the beautician, “My daughter’s visually handicapped so you’ll have to tell her what you’re going to do before you do it.”
But Barbara was nice. She sat me in the chair, covered me with a drape, and turned the chair to face the mirror. “I’m going to spray your hair with water now.”
This time, the sound of the spray bottle and cool water against my head didn’t bother me. While cutting my hair, she was gentle and careful. When she accidentally brushed a mole on the left side of my scalp, she said, “Ooh, does that hurt?”
“No,” I answered truthfully. 
The haircut was a pleasant experience, and I realized that going to a beauty shop wasn’t so bad after all. From that point on, I never let my hair grow long enough for pigtails. Mother was relieved not to have to braid it every morning.
Pigtails, permanents, and other hairstyles are great for people who can see well enough to make them look good. I prefer short, straight hair that I can manage easily. As I’ve heard said in shampoo commercials, “I want to wash my hair and go.”
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome  http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com  abbie@samobile.net

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

During the fifteen years I worked as a music therapist in a nursing home, I met some interesting people, and Reta was one of them. She preferred to remain in her room except for meals and politely refused when I encouraged her to participate in group activities. She loved to visit, though, and if I let her, she’d talk my head off. But over the years as her dementia grew steadily worse, she took to singing. She sat in her room or in the dining or other communal areas and sang and sang and sang, oblivious to her surroundings. She thus inspired the following poem which was published in Serendipity Poets Journal in December of 2002.


She sits in her wheelchair day in and day out,
singing the same song over and over and over again.
The tune is the same.
She makes up different words as she goes along.
Sometimes, her words make sense.
Often, they have no meaning.
Unaware of what goes on around her,
she just keeps singing that same song
over and over and over again.

There was a time when she didn’t sing,
not even when someone else was singing.
She’d talk your head off for hours.
She didn’t keep singing that same song
over and over and over again.

She has changed.
She no longer talks your head off.
She sings it off.
When spoken to, she responds mostly In song.
The words are different.
The tune is the same.
She just keeps singing that same song
over and over and over again.

Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I’ve never been to a nudist colony, but I enjoyed reading about one in David Sedaris’s book entitled Naked, in which he talks about his experiences growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and some aspects of his adult life in New York City. Topics include but aren’t limited to: how his parents dealt with his teachers’ concerns about his obsessive compulsive behavior, his family’s relationship to and the demise of his paternal grandmother, discovering his homosexuality at a summer camp in Greece, and his mother’s bout with cancer. In the title story, he describes his vacation at a nudist colony in great detail.

According to David Sedaris’s home page, he has become one of America’s most pre-eminent humor writers. He is the author of Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice and collections of essays including Naked and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. There are a total of seven million copies of his books in print, and they have been translated into twenty-five languages. He was the editor of Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules: An Anthology of Outstanding Stories. His work appears regularly in The New Yorker and has twice been included in The Best American Essays. His newest book, a collection of fables entitled Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary was published in September of 2010.

He and his sister Amy Sedaris have collaborated on a number of plays that were produced in a variety of New York City locations. His original radio pieces can be heard on “This American Life,” a program distributed by Public Radio International. He has been nominated for three Grammy awards for best spoken work and best comedy album. His most recent live album is “David Sedaris: Live for Your Listening Pleasure” released in November of 2009.

The recording of Naked that my younger brother Andy gave me for my birthday is produced by Time Warner Audio and narrated by the author with the help of his sister Amy. I especially loved the way Amy portrayed David’s teachers and other female characters including the matron who ran the nudist colony and David’s portrayal of his mother. The snippets of jazz played throughout the recording gave the narration a nice touch. This book kept me laughing and my husband wondering what was making me laugh.

As for a nudist colony, I don’t think that would be such a bad place to take a vacation. Although I’ve never been one to flaunt my nakedness, when I was a kid and heard the 1974 hit “The Streak,” I wanted to do that but didn’t want to be arrested. In 1980 when a group of students streaked across the stage with sacks over their heads during the local college’s graduation ceremony, I thought that was so cool and considered doing the same thing at my high school graduation that year, but again, I feared the consequences. Andy was more adventurous. As early as three years old, he was running around without any clothes. One summer when he was older, he took to dashing home from the local park’s swimming pool in the buff, provoking a scathing letter to my mother from one of our neighbors who said it wasn’t safe to raise little girls around him.

At a nudist colony, you can run anywhere you want without clothes, and nobody will care because everyone else will be doing the same thing. Also, if you’re not wearing clothes, you don’t have to do laundry. Now that’s the kind of vacation I would love to take. However, I doubt I’ll be visiting a nudist colony any time soon. For one thing, I don’t think my husband wants me running around naked in the presence of other men. For another, I always feel the need to carry a cell phone on me when traveling, and there’s no decent place on my naked body for that. Without my cell phone, I’m truly naked.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome