Children: Precious little bundles of joy that learn and grow at an amazing rate. I have to remind myself that part of the experience of being a child is to test boundaries lest I send my Baby Belles off to be the youngest boarding school students in the history of ever.
God knows, I was a five-star boundary tester when I was growing up (some would likely say that adulthood has not quelled that trait), second only to my brother who my mother freely admits she was utterly unsuccessful at disciplining. I was a comparative walk in the park to my brother in that I did at least respond to some punishment. I did and do have a keen survival instinct and there were lines that I knew well not to cross.
I tend to think that every child—no matter how ill-disciplined—has an instinct for knowing exactly which boundaries are not meant to be pushed no matter what. It’s never clear exactly what punishment will await the crosser of the line—a parent isn’t keen to verbally admit to what could possibly be an illegal act—but most kids know their parents well enough to fill in the blanks. It doesn’t even matter if the rules make sense or if they are viewed as arbitrary by the child—there is no crossing of the Rubicon.
What were “The Culbreth Rules?” Well, one was pretty understandable and the other was somewhat arbitrary.
First Culbreth Rule: Thou shall not rideth a motorcycle.
I suspect that there is some form of Motorcycle Rule in the majority of houses, but the Culbreth House had a unique twist. One of my father’s many legal hats is that of a personal injury attorney. When one is a personal injury attorney, one does have the occasion do deal with a motorcycle accident here and there. As I’m sure you can imagine, motorcycle accidents can be catastrophic and Dad had pictures—ghastly, horrific and gory pictures that haunt my nightmares to this very day.
How do I know about those pictures? Well, Dad showed them to me and my brother. We sat through prehistoric PowerPoint presentations on the evils of motorcycles and why we should never ever under any circumstances (including running from axe murderers, alien invasion or tsunamis) get on a motor cycle. What was our punishment for failing to comply? Well, it was one of those things that was left unspoken, but I had no doubt that my tail end would resemble those horrible pictures.
To say the least, my father’s admonishment remained in the forefront of my mind during even the most rebellious years of my youth. I was presented with several opportunities to ride motorcycles on several occasions where there was no way that my father would catch me and I still said, “No thank you.”
Case in point: When I was at Peace College, I met a lovely fellow at...um...church! Yeah, that’s it, church! Anyway, he asked me out on a date. The guy was very good looking and personable and I was at a loss to understand why in the world he would be interested in me. Of course, I should have known that it was too perfect.
At the time and date of the appointed rendezvous, Mr. Perfect showed up to fetch me for dinner and a movie...on a BMW motorcycle. Why couldn’t it have just been a regular BMW??? Why??? My heart sank. This wee tiny little part of my brain tried the “Your Dad Will Never Know” argument and I certainly didn’t want to tell him that I couldn’t get on the motorcycle because my father said so. On the other hand, the majority of my brain recalled those pictures and my dad’s tone of voice and I knew without a doubt that if I got on that blasted machine and had a wreck...well, if I managed to survive in the first place, Dad would finish the job.
What did I do? Well, I told him that I was afraid of motorcycles (not completely off the mark) and I followed him to dinner and a movie in my car. I never heard from him again...can’t imagine why. Of course, if he thought taking a girl to dinner at Burger King was suitable for an outing, good riddance.
The Culbreth Motorcycle Moratorium is so sacrosanct that it still applies. As my mother often reminds me, I am never too old to beat:
You know how kids talk when they are first able to string sentences together? They don’t even really know what they’re talking about and they can’t distinguish reality from make believe and they tell these crazy tall tales? Yeah, kids can tell some real humdingers.
When Baby Belle 1 was 2 or 3 years old, she spent the day with her Papa and Bonbon (grandfather and grandmother). Baby Belle 1 proceeded to tell her Papa that her daddy had bought a big red motorcycle and that he had taken her for lots of rides and she didn’t even have to wear a helmet. I have no idea where the child came up with all of that and of course not one word of it was true, but I had some fast talking to do when I explained all of that to Papa. I was worried that I would have to tackle my own father in order to save the father of my children.
Second Culbreth Rule: Thou shall not venture into the arcade at the mall.
For those of you not familiar with Wilmington, we’ve only ever had one mall and that is Independence Mall on Oleander Drive. If you are used to the shopping options of Raleigh and Charlotte, then Independence is a sad little place that you want to avoid. Nonetheless, when the mall opened in the early ‘80’s, it was the biggest hit since sliced bread and all of the potential mall rats scurried off to their Mecca.
When the mall first opened, there was an arcade tucked in one of the smaller wings of the Mall and it was called Space Station or something like that. The front was done up with a silver colored plastic mold with clear bubble windows which allegedly gave the impression of...wait for it...a spaceship! From what I could see on the outside, the inside was pretty dark and filled with video games that are positively archaic in this day and age.
As I am sure you can imagine, it was a big deal to get dropped off with a friend for an afternoon of havoc-wreaking at Independence. I was over the moon when my mom allowed me to frolic in the mall with friends, but she gave one caveat: Do not go into the arcade.
Although I would normally have asked for an explanation, Mom’s tone brooked no argument and I wanted to go to the mall bad enough to comply with whatever cockamamie conditions she threw at me. If I recall correctly, the penalty for venturing into the arcade was never being able to go to the mall again—or something drastic like that. I stayed out of the arcade and my friends were cool with going elsewhere, but they did always ask “Why?” when I told them that my mother forbade me to enter and all I could tell them was, “Dunno.”
Yep, things were fine and dandy until I went to the mall with a girl who was new to our junior high school. That chick was a born boundary tester. She was actually more of a boundary obliterator. We walked around the mall for a while and I tried to avoid the wing with the arcade because I really didn’t want to have “that” conversation again.
Of course, this girl could smell trouble and she immediately skipped down to the “No Fly Zone.” I took a fortifying breath and told her that I couldn’t go. She asked why and I told her. The very fact that I wasn’t supposed to go inside made her nearly rabid to get me across the threshold. Again, there was a good chance that Mom would have never known that I’d gone in, but mothers have eyes everywhere. For all I knew, Mom would swoop down from the rafters like a commando the second my toe crossed the line.
Accordingly, I forfeited all of my cool points and resolutely refused to enter into the dark Sodom and she went without me. It felt like she spent hours in the damned arcade while I sat outside nervously wringing my hands and breaking out into a cold sweat. I was genuinely concerned that I was going to have to go in and get her and that was likely what she was trying to accomplish, but she didn’t have a mother like mine. Eventually, she gave up and came out in disappointment.
Why wasn’t I allowed to go into the arcade? I still don’t know. I suspect that, if I asked my mother, she wouldn’t remember the reason either. Video games were nothing like they are today (it’s all I can do to keep Baby Belle 1 from staring at that damned zombie killer game at the skating rink) and we had an Atari at home—Pac Man and Frogger didn’t offer much in the way of gore. I don’t suppose that I would want my child going into a dark place like that without an adult to look out for the predators likely lurking in the shadows.
Either way, those are two rules that I never have and never will break. Of course, the arcade is long gone, but I can assure you that you won’t see me on the back of a motorcycle. You’re never too old to get whupped.