From the Mouths of Babes

Larry was seven years old when his mother came into his room and found him enjoying himself. He stopped, because there was something in her manner that said she didn’t approve. After an uncomfortable silence, she spoke.

“God doesn’t want you to play with that,” she said in a controlled voice.

“Then why did he give it to me?”

“It’s meant to make babies.”

“How does it make babies? It only makes we-wee. How could a baby come out of there? Wouldn’t it get all over wee-wee?” He paused in deep thought, while his mother twitched uncomfortably. “Is that why babies smell so bad?”

“It isn’t nice to talk like that.”

“Why not? Aren’t babies nice?”

“Oh, Larry!” His mother groped for words. “It isn’t nice to talk about your wee-wee.”

“Did God make that too?”

“Larry!”

“How do babies get started?”

“Oh, dear! You’d better talk to your father.”

“Don’t you know about babies?”

“Oh, Larry!” She gave a great sigh. “Have you said your prayers yet?”

“Aw, ma. Do I have to?”

“Yes, God wants you to.”

“I don’t see no sense to it.”

“Hush! It isn’t nice to talk that way. Come on, now. Our father . . .”

“Oh-kay. Our Father . . . ”

“Our Father, who art in heaven.”

“Who art–What does ‘art’ mean?”

“It’s just a religious way of saying ‘are.'”

“Then why not say ‘are?'”

“I don’t know, honey. It just sounds nicer this way. Come on now. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

“Hallowed be thy name.”

“Say the whole thing, Larry. You know it by now.”

“What’s the use? What good does it do?”

“It’s a way of telling God how much you love Him.”

Larry squirmed. “I don’t love him,” he said mildly. “I don’t even know him.”

“Oh, Larry!” The frustrated mother sighed. “Can’t you just say the prayer and get it over with?”

“But it’s goofy! Why should I tell God all this stuff if he already knows everything?”

“Lar-ree!” There was a dreadful pause. “Don’t be naughty!”

“Okay, okay. Our father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.” And Larry finally finished the prayer.

“And remember,” his mother said, “God wants you to go to church every Sunday.”

“I thought God was all over the place. What difference will it make if I–”

“It’s a sin if you don’t go to church.”

“Mom?”

“What, dear?”

“Can I have the light on?”

“Oh, honey. Won’t it keep you awake?”

“I’m scared of the dark.”

“There’s nothing to be scared of. Now close your eyes and go to sleep. With your eyes closed you won’t know whether it’s dark or not.”

“But Auntie Ruth told me that when it’s dark that’s when the ghosts come out.”

“Now why should ghosts come out?”

“She said ghosts would get me if I was a bad boy, and you said–”

“Larry, there are no such thing as ghosts. Now go to sleep!”

“There aren’t any ghosts?”

“No. No ghosts. Close your eyes and–”

“Then what are spirits? Aren’t they the same as spooks?”

“Larry, Larry. Will you please–?”

“And, mom. Didn’t you tell me God was a spirit?”

“That’s enough! I’m going to have your father talk to you! I’ve had enough of this–this–Well, you just wait!”

A few minutes later, Larry’s mother returned, bringing his father with her. “Henry,” she said, “see if you can do something with this boy. He will not cooperate. He always stalls and refuses to do as I tell him, arguing and saying awful things.”

Father speaks. “Now, look here, young man, you’re going to do as your mother tells you. Understand?”

“Okay, Pa. Okay.”

“And I don’t want to hear any more of your lip. You respect your mother. Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right. Your mother went through a lot so you could be born, and don’t you forget it! It was agony, terrible pain, and you had better appreciate all she does for you. Darns your socks, sits up nights when you are sick, mends your clothes, feeds you. You are too small to remember, but when you were a baby you’d wake up screaming and she’d feed you at all hours of the night.”

“Did she feed me off her chest?”

“What?”

“Did I suck on her chest like some babies do?”

“Larry, it isn’t nice to talk about that. You just do as mother says, specially about going to church and praying. It’s good for you.”

“Okay, Daddy. And God is a spirit. Right?”

“Well, a human spirit, yes.”

“But a spirit is a ghost, and Mom says there ain’t no such thing as ghosts.”

“Uh . . . God is a different kind of spirit. He is the all-powerful Creator.”

“And he’s more powerful than anything?”

“Oh, yes, and He’s everything that is good and kind.”

“And he knows everything and is all over the place?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, Mikie says if he’s such a good guy, how come he let his little sister be born with rickets? And how come he let his Aunt Abbie get sick and die, yelling with pain and all. He said God is a fake, and– ”

“Don’t talk like that! You hear me? Mikie is a bad boy and you aren’t to play with him any more. Understand?

The father turned to his wife. “Did you hear that, Ma? It’s that Miller kid. That’s where he gets all this–this bad talk.”

“Larry,” the mother said, “promise me that you won’t play with Mikie any more.”

“Larry!” the father said, “That Miller kid calls his mother Ma. You are going call her ‘Mother’ or ‘Mama.’ Understand?”

“Okay, Dad.”

“Mikie is a naughty boy,” the mother said, “and I’m going to tell his mother all the nasty things he told you. That’s terrible! He shouldn’t be allowed to play with nice boys. He should have a real hard spanking. And don’t YOU ever talk like that again. You hear me?”

“I won’t, Ma–Mama, and yes, Mama.”

Later, on the school ground, Larry was approached by Mikie, his fists at the ready. “All right, sissy boy, put up your mitts.”

“What did I do?”

“You know damn well what you did, you little sneak. You snitched to my ma, and now you’re gonna get it! I’m gonna make you look so bloody your ma won’t know you.”

Back home, Larry came in the house with a bloody face. His mother was aghast, and took him to the medicine cabinet.

“How did you get like this? You’ve been fighting again, haven’t you. Who with?”

“Mikie, but–OW! Don’t put any more of that stuff on me! That stings!”

“I thought I told you not to play with that boy any more. Now, you see how bad he is. Are you going to play with him any more? Are you?”

“But, Ma, I wasn’t playing with him.”

“You call me ‘Mother.’ If you weren’t playing with him, how did you get your face all bloody? Please don’t lie to me! Now, are you going to stay away from him?”

“Okay, Ma.”

“Now, you’re going to bed without your supper, and I’m going to speak to your father when he gets home.”

THE END