Yesterday I picked weeds in our backyard, a chore I detest. Later, my daughter-in-law asked if it was Willameana, one of my parts, who did the weeding. When I asked why, she said, “Oh you just seemed real no-nonsense about it, maybe even angry.” I told her I didn’t really know if it was Willameana or not, but that it was quite possible.
Later that day, reflecting on her question, my mind took a little journey back into my childhood, when picking weeds was one of my step-dad’s favorite forms of punishment.
There is no rhyme or reason to the punishments he doles out randomly. You might accidentally spill your milk, walk in front of the TV when he’s watching it or, let’s face it, do anything at all to remind him of your existence and, bam, you’re grounded for 2 weeks, or picking weeds with the full force of the sun frying your scalp, making freckles pop out on your skin. As if weed pulling isn’t bad enough, you are indignantly aware of the fact that you did nothing wrong to earn such a punishment.
“No half-assed job either,” he says, with that arrogant tilt of his bristly head, before returning to his post of hogging the living room couch. “Better watch your step, sister, if you know what’s good for you.”
You are often warned to watch your step, sister, and for the life of you, you can’t figure out just how to do that, so arbitrary are his punishments and pronouncements. You’d certainly avoid arousing his wrath if you could, but you are only the redheaded stepchild of a man whose main mood is that of an irritable toddler being awakened from a nap.
Head bent to your chore, you tune out someone’s transistor radio playing The Supremes, pretend you don’t see your across the street best friend in her front yard, enjoying the luxury of simply hanging out. You hope she won’t call out to you, for that would probably earn you another hour’s weed picking. You tune out everything but the stepdad’s warning about doing a half-assed job. You can’t seem to manage tuning that out—it stings every time you’re accused of it, because it just isn’t true.