I was the guilty party, but I did not want to suffer the consequences of my actions, so I stayed quiet as my young male cousin, Leon, was punished for my transgressions. My sister, JoAnn, and I had moved in with our great-aunt who had raised our mother. We called her Aunt Brownie, and she was from the old school, meaning that her whippings were truly cruel and unusual punishment. This was the 1950s and, as far as I knew, there was no such thing as child abuse, only strong discipline.
I was the good child, always silent and obedient, very seldom, if ever, in trouble. Most of the whippings I received were because I had a tendency to lose things, such as my coats and eyeglasses, or I would let other girls at school comb my hair, a big no-no in Aunt Brownie’s house. It was Joann who seemed the most likely to get into trouble, mainly because she, no matter how many beatings she endured, never understood that children should be seen and not heard.
If she was told to shut up, that was an open invitation to her to keep talking. Also, JoAnn had devised a way to not cry when whipped; even if switches or belts were used, she just stood her ground and stayed silent. She told me that she just thought of other things while being hit. Her silence drove Aunt Brownie to the brink of insanity. She would eventually stop hitting her, I think, because she was afraid that she would kill her.
JoAnn tried to convince me not to cry, but it did not work, for I cried before the first hit, meaning that the whippings lasted a shorter time, at least to me they did. I did all that I could to never evoke the wrath of Aunt Brownie, so that there was no suffering on my part. The doctors today tell me that I have a high tolerance for pain. I assure you that this particular anomaly must have developed as I grew older, for I had no endurance for the pain from Aunt Brownie’s beatings, which is why I kept silent and let Leon get punished for my wrongdoings. Let me tell you the story, and you can judge.
I love milk and juice, and back then, a man delivered milk, grape juice, and orange juice in bottles placed on the front door steps. Because JoAnn and I were temporary guests while we waited for our mother to send for us to join her in New York, we did not seem to warrant any of the milk and fruit juices. Our mother had not sent money to pay for our room and board, so we only got the basics, and no extras.
As I watched Leon and his sisters and his mother and Aunt Brownie drink those cool beverages, I craved them. So, I started being at the front of the house when they were first delivered, while everyone else was asleep. I would drink one or two whole bottles in seemingly one gulp. Oh, they were so, so, so, cold and good! Being poor, I had not known that God made such amazingly wonderful things for the body to enjoy!
Afterwards, I would place the empty bottles back in the milkman’s case. Then, I scurried quickly back to bed. I was never caught, and I certainly never confessed! You can understand why from reading about Aunt Brownie’s somewhat sadistic tendencies in disciplining us, right?
Well, inevitably the empty bottles were found and as Leon was the only boy in the house, it was just assumed that he was the culprit, so he was soundly whipped. It took seeing him beat the first time to keep me quiet. Aunt Brownie obviously loved the milk and juices as much as I did, and she would put on a show worthy of an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony award over the loss of those ambrosial liquids.
And even though poor Leon tried to tell her that he was innocent, she just never doubted that he was guilty as charged. My heart went out to him, and I hated that he was being beaten so badly, but I was nine years old, and I had not developed a conscience. Yet, to be truthful, even after I was baptized during this time, I was so afraid of Aunt Brownie that I kept silent, believing that Jesus understood my reluctance to suddenly start confessing my sins.
I confessed them to Him, but then the punishment was about ninety years away and not nearly as painful. At some point after being saved, I stopped stealing Aunt Brownie’s drinks, and when we left her house after JoAnn at age 12 whipped Leon’s mother to prevent her beating me, the secret of the identity of the Early Morning Liquids Bandit left with us.
Fast forward 30 years or so, Leon and I are in Chattanooga for a family funeral, and as we sit and talk of old times when we lived with him and Aunt Brownie and his mother and sisters, we reminisced about how bad he was as a child, hitting us and trying to boss us, as the only male in the house. We started talking about how JoAnn, who had died at age 23, never cried when punished, and we marveled at her strength. As I sat there, my conscience was convicted to give him a long overdue apology.
Fearing his wrath but knowing that I needed to confess my sin to him, I told him that I was the one who had drunk the milk and juices. I told him how much it hurt to see them drink the beloved liquids and not get any, so I stole them. I kept silent because I did not want to get beaten.
He listened, and then, much to my surprise, he started laughing so hard. It was a contagious laugh, and I joined in the laughter, although I did not know why we were laughing. When he stopped laughing, he said that I was the last person he suspected. He thought it was JoAnn or one of his younger sisters, but not old Goody-Two-Shoes, with my righteous self reading the Bible and sleeping with it in my bed.
I apologized profusely for letting him take the whippings, and he said that it had been so long ago that he had forgot about it. He understood why I stayed silent, agreeing that Aunt Brownie did know how to inflict serious pain. He forgave me, still laughing at the irony of the most religious child in the house turning out to be a bandit.
All those years as a Christian, I fretted about letting Leon take the blame for my actions. Even after I confessed the sin to God and asked for His forgiveness, I was convinced that I was the worst person in the world to let someone else suffer for my crimes. Somehow I came to believe that I was not going to go to heaven until I confessed to Leon, enduring his wrath. I just knew that Leon had carried hate all those years for the person who got him in trouble, only to discover that Leon had never even thought about it. In fact, he said that he probably deserved some of the whippings, because he got away with a lot of stuff, including harassing JoAnn and me.
It is funny how guilt eats away at us long after the offenses, even after the persons we have sinned against have moved on in their lives. Guilt and shame are two ways that the devil uses to defeat God’s people, convincing individuals that they are too horrible to be acceptable to God and to Jesus Christ our Lord. But God in His mercy and grace, is a forgiving God, who hears our confessions, and then removes our sins from us, promising, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
So, let go of the guilt and shame of the past. If there is someone that you need to apologize to for some past indiscretion, then do so, if it will bring you peace. But know that God does not hold our sins against us forever, for in Him is life evermore. Psalm 103: 9-12 reminds us, “He [God] will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”
So, what are your thoughts on my behavior. You understand, right?