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One of the Most Fearful Weapons Known to Mankind

November 12, 2016


On the way to school the other morning I started laughing out loud when I realized how deeply strange my childhood was, and I mean that in a fun way.  Virtually every day the Zockoll family had some sort of incident that got the whole household shaking.  I am not sure how my mother survived it, but I must say that she did rule with an iron skillet.  There were times when we really pushed her to the limit and we came close to being walloped out of earthly existence.

Did you ever see steam pour out of the ears of a completely livid parent?  I remember that happening quite a few times.  A few times a week, I mean.

To give you an example:
I believe it was when I was in third grade, and in fact the entire Zockoll clan members were all in elementary and middle school at the time.  Mom had just finished the laundry – a huge chore since there were six of us kids at the time – and was going to hop in the VW bus for a quick shopping trip into downtown Hershey, leaving us kids alone in the two-story country home.

It was not a quick trip.  She was late. We had time.

Time to start something.

Having neatly folded our socks in that excellent rolled-up fashion, Mom had laid them out on the steps leading up to our bedrooms. In order of age from youngest to oldest, Brock’s socks were on the first step, Brian’s on the next step, mine were on the third, Brent’s on fourth, Gwen’s on fifth, and Bruce’s were on the sixth step.  Each of us had a week’s supply of neat little rolled-up socks ready to be taken to the bedroom.

Neat little rolled-up socks.  Yes.

Bruce realized that they had the comfortable feel of a hand grenade.

BOOMP.  He launched one down the flight of stairs when Gwen came through the doorway.  With a cry of surprise, anger and adventure, she scooped up her armload and whistled a sock-bomb at Bruce, which only winged him.  Whooping loudly, he threw a rapid two-missile attack which brought Brent to Gwen’s aid.  I dove between them and scooped up my load and was throwing at anyone I could find.  Brian hit Brock and Brock hit Brian and soon everyone was slinging sock-bombs.  I took a few whaps across the face but bravely gave as good as I got.  Missiles everywhere.

Then Mom opened up the back door.

Socks were all over the stairway.  All unraveled.  Hanging on the bannister.  Piled in the lower corner.  Hanging on us.  We were all staticky, to boot.  Our hair was sticking out.

Mom exploded.

We re-folded and tucked away the socks in our clothes drawers in world record time, racing against the rage of a forty-something Russian woman armed with a Fli-Back paddle that no longer had the ball or the stretchy string.

Yes, that Fli-Back paddle. The bane of every kid in the sixties.

Did you ever face the terror of a Fli-Back paddle spanking?  Man, I’d finger-paint an entire house for free rather than get smacked with one of those.  One crack from that torture device could keep you from sitting down for oh, a week or maybe a year.

As an eight-year old I once faced the Fli-Back paddle wrath when I got the great idea of taking Bruce’s tuba mouthpiece, fitting it on the end of a three-foot length of hose and filling said hose with water in order to blow and see if the water would really come shooting out.  I talked six year old Brian into holding the end so I could get a good trumpet blast.

And like a complete idiot I tried this in the kitchen.

Oh, it worked all right.  It worked beautifully.  The jet of water shot right across the room and hit a light bulb, blowing it out and soaking the whole counter top as well.  Brian was six and too cute to smack.  Me, I was an ungainly third grader ripe for a blistering.  Yep, the Fli-Back.  My rear end still tenses at the memory.

Then there was the Great Rock-on-the-Slide Scandal that is still mentioned in hushed whispers at each reunion.  It ended up with the entire clan getting the Fli-Back treatment.  The legend went as follows:

First-grader Brian talked the naïve neighbor kid Mikey McLaughlin into placing his (Mikey’s) eye at the bottom of the slide in order to watch Brian release a softball-size rock to come cascading toward him, in a strange first-person view.  How Brian got this kid to place his cheek against the bottom of the slide and fix his eye on a sliding rock meant for destruction, I’ll never know.  The oversized rock bounced off Mikey’s eye, and the resultant howling and screaming brought our tiny neighborhood into Code Red mode.

We had six houses in our mini-neighborhood.  The whole street heard about the Rock Injury To Poor Mikey.   And the word got around that It Was One of the Zockoll Kids Starting Trouble Again.

Brian was the perpetrator, and even his cuteness couldn’t save him this time.  Ah, but Gwen was supposed to be watching him, so she was also added to the Fli-Back Death March.  Brock was supposed to be Brian’s playmate but wandered off, so Mom sentenced him as well.  Bruce was supposed to be watching Gwen, so he was going down.  I was not near the action, but I saw blood in Mom’s eyes.  Our good family name was once again under question within the neighborhood community, and Mom had enough.  People were going to pay.  In a terrifying Robespierre-like atmosphere, the Fli-Back Web was ensnaring all around, I noticed, and I had to move fast.

So I lied.

In a brilliant move of survival, I went turncoat.  “Mom,” I fibbed brazenly, “I was walking by the back yard and saw Brian throwing stones, and I knew he shouldn’t have done it.” It was a shameful perjury but desperate times called for desperate measures.

“Oh,” said Mom, “And you didn’t do anything to stop him?”

I gritted my teeth and felt my mouth go dry.  My tactic backfired and I was now part of the Firing Squad.

Oh, Mom wasn’t through.  She was so livid that Brent, who was innocently on the other side of the house in the attic reading Batman comics, was cruelly indicted and sentenced in the Mom Kangaroo Court.

We faced our Fli-Back lashings with the usual tears and trauma.

I recently looked up that the Fli-Back Paddle  – with its sadistic cowboy logo and ball-that-broke-from-the-string-on-the-first-day – was made in High Point, North Carolina until 1983.  They went out of business, and I should be sorry for some fine people who may have lost jobs.

But for those of us who faced the Mom wrath of that wooden little torture board, I can’t help but laugh in delight.

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