I was 3 or 4 years old. Mom was fixing a supper of fried potatoes and sausage at the wood stove. Supper was almost ready. Dad came inside asking, "who left the gate open?" He had some business to take care of before anyone would eat that day. No one answered him. He asked again, "who left the gate open? The bull could have got out." He asked several more times. My brothers were quiet and then each said, "I don't know." Dad said we should all go and have a talk in the living room. As he led the way and mom and my brothers followed, it was like a dark cloud hovered over top of my dad. I remember having a weird feeling seeing that gray cloud.
Once everyone was in the living room, dad repeated the question over and over and over. The response was "I don't know." We really didn't know how the gate was left open because at some point that day each of us had been out there. Every time the room became more quiet. Eventually he said, "you know God doesn't like it if you lie." When that didn't work he said, "if no one tells me who left the gate open you are all going to get a strapping."
Then one of my brothers suggested, "maybe Carol left the gate open." Dad said, "no, she's a girl. She couldn't have left the gate open." I thought to myself - I was swinging on the gate in the afternoon but I don't know if I left the gate open. My brothers were there too. The gate was open when I went outside. One of my brothers had come out to tell me mom wanted me inside so I got off the gate and went inside. I thought strap. Strap is not a good thing. I thought about all this and decided inside myself that it wasn't a good time to talk.
As the questioning continued my dad became more insistent that someone had left the gate open. I didn't dare say what I was thinking, that maybe he left the gate open. He continued to threaten with a strapping if we didn't tell him as he pulled the belt out of his pants. I suddenly had this image of his pants falling down and told myself not to laugh, so I looked away. He didn't sound angry but was trying to be very authoritative and his tone said don't mess with me. The good parent.
All at once he'd had enough. He told everyone to line up and brought out a chair. My mom took my hand and led me out of the living room to the kitchen. The door didn't quite close, jamming against the floor, so there was a small crack that I could still see through. As I watched, my dad had my brothers lay over the chair one by one, strapping them over and over and over. On their legs, back, arms, whatever he made contact with as they writhed and screamed trying to avoid the strap. If they fell off the chair he made them get back on for more lashings. When he was finished with one they stayed and watched as he whipped the next one. They must have had bruises for days. He did this to each of my four brothers, the oldest being six or seven, the youngest being the same age as I, my twin. I thought if I couldn't leave the gate open, then how could he leave the gate open. We're the same age. Oh right, because I'm a girl.
Mom gave me my gray riding circus elephant and took me away from the door, saying not to look. I pushed my little elephant around the room as fast as I could go. As I passed the wood stove I could see an orange glow around the iron plates where the fire was. Round and round I went, and the flames became higher and higher trying to reach me because God doesn't like it when you lie. More screaming from the living room. Did I lie? I don't know if I left the gate open. She's a girl, she couldn't leave the gate open. Then it was over. Silence. Whimpering.
They all went to wash their hands for supper which didn't take more than a few minutes. Mom took my riding elephant and put it back on the wood pile behind the stove and set me in my chair. Stifling their sobs, wiping faces with the backs of their hands they came to eat. I remember thinking, when I cry like that my tummy hurts and I don't feel like eating. Maybe they won't feel like eating. But they do eat. He says, "No crying. If you’re going to cry I will give you something to cry about." Silence. Us kids all look at each other, then down at our plates.
I feel bad but I don't understand. My little self doesn't understand this. Mom is silent. Not a word. I think I maybe should have said something, but what if it would have been a lie because I wasn't sure if I had left the gate open. God still wouldn't like it. My dad god. The fire. The lie. The strapping. It was better not to say anything.
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