It was the mid 80’s. We were still living in south Austin on a secluded little street. It was a neighborhood anyone would want to live in, if you have to live in the city. We moved In with on Jan. 1, 1977 and spent a decade there. We had a 2 1/2 year old son when we moved in and by the time we left there our family had grown to a total of 5 sons.
We were having a party. We had lots of parties. There were an abundance of friends and family there. The door bell rang. It was a man, a little younger than myself from down the street. To say I didn’t know him wouldn’t be entirely correct, but I probably had never had a conversation with him. Which was unusual, since they lived only 6 or 7 houses away. I visited up and down the street and what made this odd, we had sons the same age and that played together all the time. The boys were about 7 or 8. Madeline and the boy’s mother talked often and even car pooled some.
When I stepped outside he said “I don’t appreciate you whipping my son, I’ll take care of disciplining him if he needs it”. Well you can’t even imagine how I felt. I was dumbfounded. Immediately I started the denials. I knew his son had been there earlier at the party but hadn’t even realized that he was no longer there. I finally explained that I didn’t know what he was talking about and I was finished talking to him. I went back and joined the party, the best I could. But I think the party mood had left me.
After everyone left and we settled in I told Madeline what had happened. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
A hot topic around that time was the McMartin Daycare case that was unfolding in California.
I was feeling like those people must have felt. I slept very little that night. Maybe not at all.
Very early the next morning I got dressed, to go take a walk. Madeline realizing that I was upset, dressed and walked with me. We usually didn’t go walking together, as there were too many little ones in our house to leave them alone. We made the long circle that was more than a mile, talking about what I’d been accused of. When we got back to the house of my accuser, it wasn’t daylight yet, but I could see the flicker of a TV set though the window. I knocked on the door. The little boy came to the door, dressed in his pajamas. I ask him to get his daddy for me. The kid I guess went and woke his dad up and then must have went back to watching cartoons. The very sleepy father finally stumbled out into the front yard. We talked for a bit about our conversation the evening before. I finally suggested that he get his son so we could get to the bottom of the spanking issue.
With the little boy standing in the yard with us, we ask him to tell us again what had happened. He immediately started to whimper. Then he broke down and told the story of being at our house and he and our son Mike had been scuffling and the little boy ran home crying. It sounded like a better story that Mike’s dad had given him a spanking rather than saying what had really happened. He was afraid to say he and Mike where fighting because that may preclude his being able to come to our house anymore. The mind of a child.
We left there with a good understanding that I hadn’t so much as even spoken harshly to the child much less laid a hand on him. I then felt like carrying on with my day. I felt good.
The lesson I took away from this was to never just think what a child says is going to be factual and to never leave business unattended. There is always the chance that a story can fester and grow. Before long, if left alone, I could have been made into a neighbor that beat every child on the block and worse.
This didn’t help mine and the dads relationship because he would always look the other way when he saw me. I guess out of embarrassment.
An article about the McMartin Day Care incident – 30 years later.