AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL
by Carley Eason Evans
2014 Copyright ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
28 – Simple Discipline
David — in one of my last interviews with him — told me that when his mother, Hazel Mock punished him — it was a simple and direct punishment. She made him stand with his face close to a tree trunk in the front yard no matter the weather, no matter how many neighbors or automobiles went by, no matter if other children made fun of him or even threw things at him. Hazel Mock insisted he stand for at least an hour with his face as near to the bark of the tree trunk as possible. “She didn’t want a mark on me,” explained David. “If I pressed my face up against the tree, she’d yell at me to step back a bit. She’d scream, ‘Don’t you do that, Rich. Don’t you dare.’ My mother had a strict but simple policy.”
“So you’d just stand there?”
David nodded, “Yep in the rain, in the snow, in wind — you name it, my mother had me standing in it.” And he laughed.
Michael verified this. “Yes,” he agreed, “our mother did make Richard stand with his face toward this big tree we had in our front yard — actually I think you’ve seen that tree. You know the one —.”
With Sandy Whitehead, I later looked through photographs of the Mock residence and indeed, the oak tree was rather large but was off to the side of the front yard so I’d not noticed it when I visited. Earlier, I had asked Sandy to take a few photographs of the house surreptitiously, which she’d done, of course.
In the interview, David told me, “Once a kid threw a rock at me. He hit me here —.” David pointed to his left temple. “I stood bleeding as the kid laughed at first then got scared and ran away. My mother was on our porch, knitting I think. She saw the kid throw the rock. She knew it hit me. She just sat there with her knitting needles — I think she was knitting — and when I turned toward her, believing she’d want to see how hurt I was, she screamed at me, ‘Rich, don’t you dare.’ And I had to stand there for another thirty minutes with blood streaming down my face onto my shirt. I don’t remember if I cried. I bet I didn’t. But I do remember I was angry.”
“At your mother —.”
“At the kid mostly,” said David. “But yes, at my mother, too.”
When I spoke with Michael, he denied that Hazel Mock disciplined him in the same manner. “Oh no,” he said, “my mother never made me stand outside in the rain and snow. That was Rich’s punishment, not mine.”
I asked him, “So how did Mrs. Mock punish you?”
“She didn’t,” he explained. “My mother left disciplining me to our father.”
“And how did Mr. Mock punish you?”
Michael looked at me blankly as he’d done other times. He shook his head and commented that I was getting awfully personal, as he’d done at least one other time.
“I think it’s pertinent how your father disciplined you,” I said.
“Well,” said Michael, “it wasn’t much of a punishment. My father didn’t particularly enjoy disciplining — and that included disciplining Richard. Our father was — well, still is — a gentle man. He doesn’t raise his voice; he doesn’t care to hit. He did on occasion wield a belt but always with a measured calmness, never in anger and certainly never in rage.”
“So why did he hit your mother?” I asked.
Michael blushed. He had a large bite of buffalo burger in his mouth and he just spat it out onto the plate. “My father never hit my mother,” he stated.
“She said he did,” I offered, cautious.
“My mother told you that my father hit her?”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Michael. “Richard told you that.”
“No, David — I mean, Richard — reacted like you just did. Well, he laughed actually.”
“My mother must be getting senile,” said Michael flatly.
I ventured, “Do you think perhaps it was your mother who hit your father?”
Michael knocked his cola over — the dark liquid moved across the table and over its edge. I scooted my chair back, stood up to avoid getting wet. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” I said. I took several napkins from the black holder in the center of the table and wiped up most of the cola. A waitress came with a dry cloth to clean the rest. I thanked her.
Michael sat perfectly still. He had stopped eating. He looked at me. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“I don’t understand why my mother would say that about my father.”
“So you don’t believe it?”
“I don’t,” he said.
That weekend I drove back to the skilled nursing facility to visit with George Mock on the Alzheimer’s unit. I wanted to know if Hazel Mock had ever hit him.
George was running a low-grade fever, but the nursing staff allowed me to visit him in his room. When I came in, the old man was in his bed with its head cranked up to around forty-five degrees. He was pale but his eyes were open. He grinned at me, said, “Oh there you are.”
“Hi, Mr. Mock.”
“Call me George,” he said. “And you are?”
“I’m Max, George. Do you remember me?”
“No, I’m afraid not.” He smiled, said, “For a moment there, I thought you were Michael — that’s my firstborn son.”
“Yes, I just saw Michael the other day,” I told him.
“You did? Where? At the school?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I saw him at a cafe in Hot Springs.”
“Hot Springs?” he asked, obviously bewildered. He said, “I didn’t know Michael had moved back to Arkansas.”
I shook my head, sat in a wooden chair which I’d pulled up to the side of the bed. “Mr. Mock,” I said, “did Hazel ever hit you?”
“Is she here?”
“No,” I said.
“Where is she?”
“I imagine she’s at your house,” I answered then asked my question again. “Mr. Mock, did your wife ever hit you?”
“What?” I asked, almost involuntarily.
“Nothing,” said the old man, then smiled again.
“Mr. Mock, did Hazel hit you?”
“Once,” he said.
“Yes, she hit me with her damn Impala one Sunday morning. She was backing it up too fast and clipped me — knocked me right down on my ass.” And the old man laughed. Tears welled up in his eyes. He said, “Oh how I miss her — my Hazel.”
“But,” I said, faltering, “she never hit you with her fist or an object?”
“Oh, good Lord, no.” He frowned. He sighed and repeated, “No, good Lord, no.” Then he grew still, added, “I hit her.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Every time I was angry at Richard, I took it out on my sweet Hazel.”
“That was often?”
He nodded, tears flowing freely now.
“Thank you, George.”
The old man looked at me, confused. He leaned forward so that his head came off the pillows, asked, “Who are you anyway?”