Title: Mud and Little Boys
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
Little Ben Fraser stood before his grandmother with his head bowed. His entire body was covered in mud, twigs, leaves, and gook that only a boy of 7 would love. His grandmother eyed him more sternly than she ever had before. Ben was in trouble and he knew it.
Martha Fraser collapsed on a kitchen chair, her eyes blazing, her lip quivering. She'd been waiting a long time for Ben to begin acting like other little boys. But she was certainly unprepared for this. The sight of her grandson covered in so much mud and debris both riled her and touched her funny bone. She watched him shift from foot to foot as he tried to watch her without really looking at her.
"Well, young man. You better have a good explanation for this mess you're leaving on my clean kitchen floor."
"Yes, Mam." Ben whispered in a very tiny voice. He swiped his left foot over and rubbed it against the itching mud on his right foot. His clothing lay in pile at his feet, clean everywhere but where his little arms had touched it when he carried it home after being caught out in the woods by Grandpa.
"Well, out with it. What were you doing out in the woods covered in all that mud without your clothes."
Ben looked down at his vine wrapped torso. He wasn't naked exactly, but pretty close and he knew that that was one of the things he was in trouble for along with the fact that his white shirt was sprinkled with mud. Hanging his head even lower, the 7 year old tried to figure out just where to begin.
"Well, you see Grandma, Granpa gave me that book to read and I thought it might be interesting to try some of it out."
"Which book was that Ben?" Martha Fraser cast mind back over the last couple of weeks and didn't remember any book with muddy little boys in it that Ben might have read.
"Granpa gave me a book on 'Abor, Aborig, Aborigine's and Other IndigenIndigPeoples of the Earth'." Ben stuttered over the title, but proudly got most of it out.
"And this book has little boys covered in mud in it?" Martha tried to keep from smiling.
"No Mam. It's a book about how some people can hide like Chamel, - Chameleons do for hunting and protection. The book is very interesting Grandma." Ben tried to put an educational spin on his day's activities.
"I can see you found it interesting." She turned away and walked over to the kitchen sink. She pointed at Ben's clothing. "Bring that all over here Ben and try not to get it any dirtier than it is, please."
Ben carefully picked up his clothing and held it away from his body as he approached his grandmother. She filled the sink with water to the half waypoint. "Put the clothes down Ben and pick up your white shirt."
Ben did as he was told and looked at her questioningly. She was filling a small kettle of water as he watched her. "You are going to wash those clothes yourself young man. First I want you to soak that shirt, and after you are done cleaning yourself up, you will wash each piece of your clothing until it's spotless. And you'll do it by hand. Understand."
The little boy's eyes were round as he contemplated the stack of clothing at his feet. He sighed a deep sigh and started to walk towards the hall and the bathroom.
"OH no you don't." Martha stopped him by latching onto one of the many vines that wrapped around and around his waist. "You get yourself out onto the porch. I'll be right with you."
Ben's shoulders drooped; he wondered what was going to happen next. But his little 7-year-old mind could only think of that fact that he might be going to receive corporal punishment. Granpa had threatened it once or twice, but it hadn't yet happened. Ben thought maybe he better look that word up soon, so he'd know what was on Granpa's mind. The little boy exited through the cabin door and stood in the darkness of the cabin porch.
George Fraser rose from his chair by the window where he'd been watching the entire confrontation between Martha and Ben. His lips were curled in a soft laugh as he walked over to hug his wife. "That boy is what they used to call a 'caution'", he whispered into her ear.
"Oh you're so right. But he has to be punished George, it doesn't matter how cute he looks standing there in all the muck. Whatever possessed him to try that out?" She turned in her husband's arms and searched his face. "Could it have been something you said Dear?"
George turned a little red in the face but admitted nothing. "I just give the boy books that answer questions he asks. Won't hurt him to experiment a little."
Martha turned away with a laughing sigh and picked up another bucket. She filled this one with luke warm water and headed out to the porch. She put the bucket down in front of Ben and went to sit down in her favorite chair on the porch.
"Well, start getting those vines and leaves off of you right now. You will not take that muck into the bathroom, understood."
Ben became truly embarrassed, "Take off all the camouflage, Gran." He whispered it hoarsely.
"Yes, all of it." She looked at him and realized his embarrassment, but wasn't about to give an inch.
The boy turned away with a sigh and began pulling and plucking the leaves and vines off of his torso. Some of it flaked off quickly while some of was stuck in thick gooey mud that had dried on his skin. He kept his back to his Grandmother as he finished the last of it and stood on the porch in just his mud covering. His little shoulders shook. Martha rose and picked up the broom she kept on the porch and swept away the debris. Then she picked up the bucket and warned Ben to stand very still. She poured the cooling water over him slowly from head to toe until most of the muck was gone leaving a very pale skinned and shivery child on the porch.
George Fraser walked out onto the porch as Martha finished drenching the boy and folded him into a large old blanket. He tucked the blanket around Ben's head and body as he picked the boy up to carry the shivering boy inside. He smiled at Martha as he passed her and left her laughing silently on the porch.
Ben knew his Granpa was shaking as he carried him into the cabin and Ben was afraid of what might come next. George went down the hall with the boy and deposited him in standing position onto the bathroom floor. He put the plug in the tub and began filling it with bath water for Ben who stood watching his every movement with dread.
When the water was halfway up the tub, George lifted the still shaking boy into the tub. He handed him a bar of soap and a washcloth. "See you get every spec of that mud off of you, when you're done you can clean out the tub and wipe off the floor. I'll go get your pajamas."
Ben slunk down into the water when his Grandpa shut the bathroom door. He knew he was in big trouble with his Granpa. Granpa hadn't smiled at him once since they got home. He began scrubbing himself as he thought of all the fun he had had getting dirty. He figured he'd know tomorrow if it had been worth getting up early and sneaking out.
Ben went over all the details in his mind. The sun had just risen when he left a note on the table and snuck from the house and did his chores before taking off into the woods. He had headed down towards the creek and had carefully removed each piece of his clothing. He did silently curse the fact that he had worn the white shirt. That possibly was a mistake. But it had been fun to roll in the mud on creek bank in the summer's warm water and then to find vines and leaves to fashion into camouflaged clothing. When he had been satisfied that he could hide successfully, he had found a place near the creek's edge, upwind from his pile of clothing and had nestled into the underbrush to hide.
He thought of all the animals he had seen during the day as they came and passed over, by or through the creek. He'd even seen a family of deer come and drink by the water's edge. He'd been so still he hadn't been seen. He'd seen a badger, an otter and even a porcupine. It had been a thrill to watch each animal survey the area before nearing the creek. Well, he would wait and see if Granpa meant to use that corporeal punishment he mentioned before deciding on the success of his day.
Ben went back to getting his person clean and settled into the warm water gratefully. Really, it did feel good to be rid of the mud. But the mud had been a successful aid in hiding by the creek.
George stood outside the bathroom door, Ben's pajamas in his hand. He listened carefully at the door for a minute before putting a stern expression on his face and entering the room. Ben looked up at him with his curly dark brown hair hanging in riveleted curls around his head. The young boy's freshly washed face was pink and glowing. George smiled inside. He could see Ben knew he was in trouble, but he was also proud of the fact that Ben wasn't in a nervous state wondering what his punishment would be.
"Pull the plug Ben."
"Yes sir." Ben pulled the plug and stood up to be enveloped in a huge warm towel. His Granpa rubbed him down and patted his hair dry. Ben thought just maybe he wouldn't get more punishment than washing his clothes.
He was wrong. When George was sure the boy was warm and dry he let go of him. George put on the sternest face he ever had worn when dealing with one of Ben's escapades. "Ben, I know you left a note for us and I know you didn't intend for your clothing to be so badly soiled. But you were gone all day, young man, without a word to your Grandmother that you were safe. I won't hold with you frightening your Grandmother like that Ben. She loves you and when she doesn't know where you are for long periods of time, she imagines bad things might have happened to you."
Ben had the good grace to turn bright pink in the face before he dropped his eyes to the floor. But his Granpa put his hand under Ben's chin and lifted the boy's head so that they were looking eye to eye at each other.
"Does this mean you're going to use corporal punishment sir?" Ben questioned with just a hint of fear in his voice.
"Yes, I am afraid it does Ben. This is not a choice I make lightly."
"Yes, sir," Ben felt a lump in his throat. "What is corporal punishment Grandpa?"
George sighed; so many people had so many different definitions for the word. He stared directly into Ben's eyes and said, "Part of your punishment will be to clean your clothing, and to look up the word corporal. But basically it means some form of physical punishment that is done to someone as a result of that persons actions."
"What kind of actions, Granpa?"
"In this case, Ben, your hurt your Grandmother by frightening her. You showed disrespect for her feelings. You also put yourself in danger. Both of these actions I will not put up with from you Benton."
"I came in to lunch expecting to find you and your Grandmother discussing whatever it was you had been up to this morning. When I came in your Grandmother was crying, Benton. She was worried about you."
Ben's eyes got a little watery as he listened quietly, but he didn't cry. He stood bravely in front of his grandparent, just hoping to get the whole thing over quickly.
"Come closer Ben" George said as he held out his hand. He put his hand on Ben' shoulder and sighed. "This better be the last time you scare your Grandmother, understand."
George picked Ben up bodily and placed him face down over his knees. Ben's head bopped up as he tried to look back at his Granpa. He saw his Granpa's hand pulled back and the tears in his Granpa's eyes as the hand he loved descended on his rear. Three times George whacked Benton on his rear with smarting, stinging slaps that would not leave bruises before he picked the boy up and deposited him on the floor in front of him. "That's corporal punishment Ben."
Benton watched his Granpa rise and leave the room shutting the door with a loud click behind him. Ben put his hand behind his back and rubbed his bare rear. Ben turned to look inside the bathtub and noted it needed to be rinsed. He turned on the water and flushed the residue out of the tub before turning with tear-filled eyes to put on his pajamas. He glanced around the bathroom floor and noted it was clean then he took a deep breath and opened the bathroom door.
Martha hugged George the minute she saw him enter the living area of the cabin. She knew Ben ad been punished with more than a lecture. "God, Martha I hated doing that."
"I know dear. But we both knew it was coming, Ben can't keep running through life rushing headlong into things without thinking of the consequences. Sooner or later, he's going to get hurt."
"Well, I don't think I'll spank him ever again no matter what's he's done. He never flinched but I know he felt it. And I'm not talking about the physical pain either. I think you'll get an apology from our Benton."
Fifteen minutes later, a small, weary, and still slightly damp and stinging 7 year old marched out from the hallway and walked directly up to his Grandma.
Ben stood before her with his hands clasped behind him over his still stinging rear. "Granpa explained to me that I scared you Grandma. I never meant to do that. I won't do it again. But sometimes Granma I just have to see things for myself. But I won't, I mean I promise I'll tell you my plans so you won't worry. Would that be OK?" His little face was pinched white as he spoke, his eyes huge in his face and his lip trembled just the tiniest bit.
"Yes, Ben, I think that would be OK?" Martha smiled and reached out to pull him close to her. She picked him and tried set him in her lap.
"Please Gran, I think I'd rather stand." Ben said as he laid his tired head against her shoulder.
Martha smiled at her husband as she hugged her repentant grandchild to her.