SUBSCRIBE NOW

DeWitt column: Little Ears are always listening

Michael DeWitt More Content Now.
Telegram & Gazette

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

*****

Little Ears. It was a term I heard a lot growing up, as in, “Mind what you say, dear, Little Ears are listening.”

Often, it would be my father sharing one of those words he learned aboard a Coast Guard cutter in the late 60s. Or perhaps it was an uncle or older male relative, sharing a dirty joke or R-rated story, and there was usually a matriarch of the family chastising them for their language and reminding them that Little Ears were present.

While the men liked to swear and tell jokes, the ladies liked to share scandalous gossip.The elders thought I wasn’t listening because my nose was always in a book. They were quite wrong. The writer that I would become was gathering material for a thousand stories and characters. To me, there was nothing more intriguing that hearing those juicy tidbits of the flaws in human character, often uttered behind a church fan:

“No wonder she still looks so young - she got pregnant when she was 14.”

“Look at her dressed all in white, and you know she ain’t nothing but an old floozie.”

“Yeah, they got a big house, all right. You would, too, if you stole everything from the company.”

“Don’t let your uncle’s new girlfriend kiss you - you don’t know where her mouth has been.”

I loved every tawdry word of it. To this day, I can still remember the dirt on every “floozie,” crook, drunkard and adulterer living in our hometown during the 70s and 80s.

Little Eyes are also watching. While I stored away all these tidbits until adulthood to use in my fiction, my little brother had a different method of sharing. BAD, as he was often called in those days, loved to share anything eventful that happened around the family farm. He was a big hit at Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and was especially popular in a dangerous event the Hopewell Baptist preacher called the Kids’ Sermon. This was where all the kids that could behave themselves and be trusted, and some that couldn’t, would come to the front of the church, sit at the preacher’s feet, and receive a simpler version of that day’s sermon. Of course, BAD loved to interrupt the pastor and tell his own parables.

Once, BAD shared with the entire congregation the detailed mechanics involved when Daddy butchered farm-raised rabbits for dinner. He told how Daddy knocked the cute little bunny rabbits in the head, then ripped off the fur and put them in a pot. But he didn’t eat any, he added, because he watches Bugs Bunny and that made him sad.

The following Sunday, BAD described how Daddy chopped off the chicken’s head and it flopped around for a while before we pulled all its feathers off and threw it in a pot, too. But apparently this was a mommy chicken, because there were some eggs inside, so that made him sad and he didn’t eat any chicken that day.

My favorite Kids’ Sermon came not long after Uncle Dave dropped off a cow to breed with our prized Black Angus bull. BAD interrupted the service to regale everyone with a vivid, play-by-play account of the bull “riding on that cow’s back” like it was some kind of weird rodeo.

I remember that sermon clearly. Momma looked at Daddy with her jaw dropping into the Baptist Hymnal, and Daddy just hung his head and looked at his watch, likely counting down the minutes until he could get that boy out of the church and whip the tar out of him.

Needless to say, BAD wasn’t allowed to set foot in church the week we castrated that poor little baby bull and those cute little boy pigs.

Whether we realize it or not, our children are listening to us and watching us, learning, developing, becoming at least a part of who and what we are. Every story we tell, every life lesson we exemplify, every moral or value we share, our take on current events, even every stereotype or racist attitude or political rant we may let slip out - they are taking it all in on their way to becoming the parents and citizens of tomorrow.

Be careful what you say and do, Mom and Dad, because Little Ears are always listening, and Little Eyes are always watching, even when you think they are only watching Bugs Bunny.

Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.