"Mama's Mad & She's Beating The Hell Out Of Everybody!"
By David Decker
Daddy was born on August 21, 1920, at 2525 Forrest Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. The old home place was actually a family farm when daddy was a boy - located in the middle of a farming community in the edge of Atlanta. Little did daddy nor anyone in his family foresee what Atlanta would one day become. In his day, the future premier city of the south was to him nothing more than a piece of red earth that fed the eleven people in his immediate family.

The community of Riverside was just that – a settlement of farmers that originally located themselves on the old hillsides near to the Chattahoochee River. In those days, before pollution and overcrowding ruined this fine old tributary, the Chattahoochee provided plenty of clean water for irrigating crops, feeding livestock, fishing, and swimming. It was the latter of these that brought heavenly pleasure to a community of young boys after a hot day of working the fields - plowing, picking peaches, or splitting wood.

One hot, summer afternoon all the neighborhood boys had made it up to high-tail it down to the river when the mid-day work was done. During previous summers, someone had taken an old piece of grass rope and a worn-out T-Model Ford tire and made a swing that jutted out high over the deepest bend of the river (near what is now South Cobb Drive and Southern Company’s electric generating plant Jack McDonough). During daddy’s day, there were strong, storm-tested oaks and hickory trees lining the river bank, with an occasional washed out, natural ledge overlooking the water. A more perfect launching pad for a river swing there could not have been.
Fairly near the water’s edge at two locations ran two farm roads – today known as Spink Street and Main Street. These were little more than pig-trail roads just wide enough for a mule and wagon. Hardly any traffic ever passed along them, unless it was a farmer coming to the river to water his mules or to fish in the late evening.

On this fateful day, daddy and about thirteen or fourteen other neighborhood boys met at the river. They had come straight from the fields, still clad in their sweaty Liberty overhauls and long sleeved gabardine shirts. There was no time to go back to the house and change. Besides, going back to the house might have meant that mama would have found some labor-intensive chore that needed doing, and you were the perfect candidate to be drafted for her need.

Growing up in a southern, farm community almost guaranteed that you would be in the regular company of devout church going folks who understood and practiced decency, modesty, and other Bible-based mores. As such, these boys had been taught that swimming in the river was always properly done in one’s cut-off overhauls, boxer shorts, or in some other form of “bloomer” designed to cover one’s lower extremities. Nekkid swimming was for “heatherns” and hobos, and was strictly forbidden even during the darkness of night.

When fourteen or so sweaty farm boys showed up at the banks of the Chattahoochee that day - out of breath and in the hurry of their lives to dive into that cold, refreshing river water – the decency that had been taught around the supper table and in Bible class was the farthest thing from their minds. Each boy stripped off nekkid, threw all their clothes in a great big pile by the river bank, and into the water they went. Daddy often said that the cool, sweet taste and feel of the water of that old river on that hot, muggy afternoon was as near as dying and going to heaven as anything one could imagine.

For the next few hours those boys - who would later go off to war - swam, dove, leaped off that old tire swing, played games in the water, and became so lost in the cool, refreshing water of that old river that they forgot about the hardships of life on a farm. There were no computers, I-Pods, cell phones, or amusement parks in their world. There was just nature – a playground provided by the good Lord. How much better off our world would be today if more kids grew up like this.

At some point during this heavenly respite from following a hot, stinking, old mule down a corn row, someone drove their own team of mules up one of those old nearby farm roads. This development brought with it a great temptation. Though it was often denied in later years, daddy claimed that it was his older brother Hubert (ironically, himself nicknamed “mule” for his strength and stubborn nature) who did the dastardly deed. In full view of the road, “mule” Decker jumped out of the Chattahoochee river, ran to a spot on the bank that was easily seen from the road, started making a boisterously loud and rowdy, “woooo-woooo,” noise, and shook his budding maleness wildly at the passing wagon. This, of course, drove his accomplices into a frenzy of howling laughter and giggling that echoed off the water and up through the path to the road.

When the wagon had passed, the perpetrator jumped back into the water with his mates and they resumed their care-free frolic under the hot, Georgia sun. Little did any of them suspect or anticipate the process that Uncle Hubert’s foolish, boy-driven, antics had set into motion.

Unbeknownst to them, the party in the wagon was old man Leke Donehoo’s wife. The Donehoo’s lived just down the road from daddy’s family and farmed the adjacent acreage. Leke’s wife was on her way that day to take an afternoon helping of food and cold water to her husband as he worked the back part of their property. Mrs. Donehoo got a full bird’s-eye view of Uncle Hubert’s mindless behavior on the river bank. She recognized him straight away, but said nothing as she went on her way to deliver the food and water. Once her errand was complete, Mrs. Donehoo drove her team of mules directly to the front door of my grandparent’s old farm house. It was there that she revealed to my Grandmaw Georgia what she had witnessed on the river bank. My grandmother thanked her, and assured her that she would handle it.

Those fourteen boys never saw it coming. They were still so preoccupied kicking, thrashing, diving, and playing in the river that they never detected my grandmother. She carefully and quietly positioned herself between them and their mountain of clothing piled on the river bank. Then, as loudly as the archangel’s voice at the Second Coming, Grandmaw’s voice cut through the air, “All right! Every one of you boys!! Come out of that river one at a time!! Every one of you has got to come out by me to get to your clothes! I know that none of you will want to go home nekkid! And, Hubert, you wait in the water until everybody else has come out! I want you to see what you are going to get!!!!”

Daddy said that his petite mother, though barely standing five feet tall and weighing little more than one hundred pounds, had a tree limb in her hand the size of Buford Pusser’s infamous “stick” from the Walking Tall movies of the 1970’s. Daddy swore that the tree limb grandmaw had secured on her way to the river that day featured numerous jagged edges where smaller limbs had been stripped off at their base. The effect would be nearly the same as being flogged by a strand of barbed wire.

As those boys obeyed her in coming out of that water, my grandmother would make each one lie down on the bank while she administered at least three vigorous licks to their back sides. Daddy said that he remembered two things while witnessing this process. First, the blood-curdling screams of these robust farm-hand type boys; and second, the look of absolute terror in uncle Hubert’s eyes as he witnessed the carnage that would soon come its climax on his own set of exposed butt-cheeks.

Being the baby of the family, daddy said that his own licks from Grandmaw were somewhat merciful, though extremely painful and humiliating nonetheless. However, daddy often recalled that it seemed that grandmaw saved the greatest reserve of her wrath for uncle Hubert. Both men swore later in their adult years that grandmaw beat uncle Hubert with that tree limb for what seemed to be a half an hour – all the while asking him questions. “You ever gonna’ get in this river nekkid again?” “You ever gonna’ shake your ‘dibbie’ at anyone again?” “You ever gonna’ embarrass your daddy and me like this again?” To each question, Uncle Hubert squawled a tear-filled, “no ma’am!”

When the beatings were finally done and the boys scattered back to their respective farms, my grandmother marched behind Uncle Hubert and my daddy all the way back to their farm house, talking to both of them every step of the way. “I didn’t raise you two boys to run around nekkid in public!” “Neither one of you were taught to act like ‘heatherns’ when you’re away from your daddy and me!” “Hubert, what you do you think you were doing shaking yourself at Mrs. Donehoo like that?” “You both better keep your peckers in your britches before I take your daddy’s razor and cut them off!”

This protracted lecturing during the journey back to the house evidently made uncle Hubert angry. It was one thing to be beaten in front of your contemporaries. It was quite another to be lectured by this little, frail woman after she had embarrassed you with such a display of discipline. When Uncle Hubert could stand it no longer, he mouthed off something under his breath back at my grandmother thinking that she could not hear him. How wrong he was a second time. She swatted him twice more with the tree limb on his bare back, and promised additional licks once they had reached the house.

With this, Uncle Hubert took off running to try and get to the house in time to hide or barricade himself in one of the bedrooms. When “mule” ran in through the front door, one of the older sisters who had stayed behind to start supper for the family asked uncle Hubert why he was running, crying, and acting like he was being chased by a bear.

His answer still rings through this writer’s ears and brings profound laughter each time it is remembered – now over eighty years since that fateful day. Uncle Hubert told my aunt, “Sis, run away as fast as you can, mama’s mad and she’s beating the hell out of everybody!”

Never again did daddy nor any of his running buddies ever strip off nekkid in the old Chattahoochee. Never again did Uncle Hubert expose himself to Mrs. Donehoo or anyone else. And, never again for any reason did Grandmaw Georgia have to administer a whipping to the boys of that grand old community known as Riverside. Her point was made.

(During the times of year when we honor fathers and mothers, let us remember how blessed we were and are to have been brought up by godly parents. May we always entertain the greatest love and respect for these remarkable men and women who not only loved us enough to hold us to Divine standards of behavior and decency, but also through that same love applied the, “rod of correction,” when we needed reminding of these and so many other things.)
© David Decker