I can’t speak for what went on Down Below, but on the Upper End of Six Nay during the Eighties it was quite traditional for kids to team up at someone’s house with a gang of other 8-13 year olds and walk around in a pack until it started to get dark. More often than not that involved us kids on Sour Springs Road getting in a lot of trouble. Smashing something, burning something, stealing something, and taking full advantage of the absence of adults and the new hormones coursing through our veins.
Judgement becomes clouded by said hormones. One summer my brother Dan and my ‘cousint’ JD started a grass fire that got out of control and burnt down the whole bush by accident. That was epic. I can still remember my aunty and my mom both running “back the bush” with garbage bags full of water trying to wet the grass to keep our house from getting burnt down. The fire department showed up and had to hose down the whole bush so that all of our concession didn’t turn to ash and keep the flames from reaching the neighbours houses.
Oh the long and quiet walk into the unknown just before you’re gonna get a butt whoopin’! You don’t know what to expect. It’s the uncertain anticipation that you’re about a) to get the lickin’ of a lifetime or b) receive mercy from above and get off the hook just in the nick of time.
I was reminded of this long walk earlier this week when I found myself confronted with having to correct my 12 year old daughter for one of those “pack mentality” mistakes that everyone inevitably makes. My mind raced back to my own misbehaviour at her age and how the adults who cared for me; my ‘cousints’ corrected us.
My mom favoured the good old spanking. It was a quick and effective mode of correction but after I was too big to turn over the knee it began to lose potency. Dad was very good at scolding us. Quite poetically, his name in the language translates into “He scolds them”. I can still see his big finger pointing at me and the look in his eyes that meant business. More often than not, that was enough to get me to listen.
However in the odd instance that hormone infused insanity took temporary hold of my then 12 year old mind, something stronger was in order. According to Haudenosaune tradition, water was used for correction. I will never forget the time that Gramma Rovina dunked my brother Daniel’s head in the rain barrel for doing something stupid. I literally laughed out loud and made fun of him for all of about twenty seconds. Just long enough for Gramma to walk over to me, grab me by the back of the head and “correct” me for laughing at his misfortune by dunking me too. Suffice it to say, I never again found enjoyment in seeing someone else punished.
My Uncle Victor was in the US Marines and employed what he called “PT” for correction on my male ‘cousints’. Quite literally it was physical training. I’ll never forget the trip to Fort Erie when the Hill-General boys JD, Dan, Joey and Phil deployed smoke bombs at the girl ‘cousints’ and had to do push-ups and chin-ups till sundown!
The most rare moments of correction in my life, but the most sobering ones, included ohǫ:daˀ. This medicine bush grows in the field and anyone from any Haudenosaune community who lived past the age of 12 probably knows what I am talking about. If you have been corrected by ohǫ:daˀ just the sight of this red bush will give you shivers and smarten you up into a clear mind. I distinctly remember my ‘cousints’, siblings and I being sent back the bush by our family to go pick our own ohǫ:daˀ.
“Why do we have to do this anyways it’s so stupid,” I would typically mouth off.
“Shut up then they’ll hear you and then we’ll get in trouble again,” my ‘cousints’ would shout back at me. I was never known for keeping my mouth shut.
“Just pick a skinny one, they’ll probly don’t hurt as much”, my youngest ‘cousint’ Whitters would say. At some point in every Haudenosaune kids reservation education they think it’s a good idea to pick the smallest and skinniest piece of ohǫ:daˀ – but they only ever make this mistake once.
My brother, in all his brave and righteous boldness would say something like, “I deserve it guys, It was all my fault. I’ll pick the biggest one and I’ll ask them to just punish me.” That usually surmounted into a beautiful act of valour in which Daniel would bravely cast himself down on one knee before the adults willing to take the punishment for all. That usually impressed all the grown ups and distracted from our correction if even only for a few minutes.
Truthfully, I can say that after being corrected by ohǫ:daˀ once, just the sight of that red twig resting on the back of the stove at my Gramma’s was enough to make me smarten up for the rest of my days.