Whatever happened to honesty, rock fights and hellfire?
“Honest to dog, I did not throw a rock through the girl’s bathroom window.”When I made that proclamation I slurred the word “dog” so that the school’s principal, Mrs. Beschelle, would think I said “God.”Of course I could not say, “Honest to God …” because if I said that and lied I’d then be in danger of being sentenced to eternity in Hell. Every good Catholic kid in the ’50s and ’60s knew that you could not evoke the Lord’s name and lie. You could say, “I swear on a stack of Bibles, I swear to heaven, I cross my heart and hope to die” and still lie through your teeth. It was only the exact phrase of “honest to God” that carried the penalty of eternal damnation. Of course being Catholic, Mrs. Beschelle knew all about that. That is why she tried to trick me into spending eternity in the hot fires of torment by lying to her about my errant aim; but I outsmarted her.
I think I might have been part of the last American generation that actually engaged in rock fights. Of course the sport is still very popular in the Middle East and Gaza Strip, but it is difficult to keep American kids interested in the pastime when the options include skiing, skateboarding and video games.There were actually rules for rock fights – only small stones, no throwing at the head, and if someone missed and broke a window, everyone was to run away and no one was to tattle. Evidently Jed Casey never read the rule book, because he rolled over like a beach ball in May and ratted me out to Mrs. Beschelle. That’s the thanks I get; had I not obeyed the rules and aimed my rock at Jed’s melon-sized head instead of his skinny body that window might still be intact.Luckily it was only Jed’s word against mine. The rest of my gang had more integrity and was able to stand up to the tough questioning of Principal Beschelle. The schoolyard-inquisitor needed me to corroborate Jed’s testimony and incriminate myself before she could take the matter to a high authority – my parents. She tried everything in her book of interrogation tricks to get me to sing. Luckily there were no secret CIA prisons in those days. Though I freely admitted to taking part in the after- school rock fight, I remained steadfast and indignant that she would suggest I broke a window. That was when she said, “Jeffrey will you say, ‘Honest to God, I did not break that window?'”Any other kid might have cracked from the pressure and sung like a canary – not me. I pleaded my innocence by swearing to “dog” and if I was caught would have claimed dyslexia as an excuse. She missed my mispronunciation, and I was acquitted.
I’m not sure exactly where in the Bible or Catholic doctrine it states that if you lie after using God’s name you will go to Hell; but we all believed it. Of course, you could go to confession and be absolved, but confession was held on Saturdays. If you lied early in the week you had to carry around that mortal sin for several days. If, God forbid, you got hit by a bus between sinning and confessing then … well let’s say you better enjoy hot places. You don’t hear much anymore about the Honest to God sanction. Kids today are more sophisticated and cynical; such is the pity. What a benefit it would be for teachers and parents if kids still believed in the “lie/Hell cause and effect.” Not to mention what an advantage for society if adults believed the same thing. The government would be more efficient and cost effective, the divorce rate would be lower, and no one would ever karaoke twice. Think of the money the world would save on attorney fees and legal costs alone. Studies suggest that Americans are lying more than at any time in history. It seems that many in our government feel that if you repeat a lie enough times, it eventually becomes the truth.
I can think of only three reasons for justifiable falsehoods – a lie to spare someone pain and heartache, an untruth to make a story or column more entertaining and occasionally to blame your dog when your mate is investigating the source of a bad odor. Other than that, I’ve found honesty works almost as well as creative reality. Of course, if I knew then what I know now about the beauty and value of truth, I would today give Mrs. Beschelle a different response. “Honest to gog.”Jeffrey Bergeron under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.
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