Randye Hoder’s recent op-ed page column, “Sadly saying so long to hugs,” called to mind one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “What in this world coming to?”
The writer described how her 16-year-old son, reporting as a volunteer for a YMCA camp for underprivileged children, was admonished not to hug any of the kids.
Instead, if any of the youngsters rushed at him with arms outstretched, he was to turn sidewise and give them a high-five instead of a hug.
My first thought was, “How foolish. The young man could get far more germs from hand contact than from a simple embrace.”
Then came the ugly part. The “no hugs” rule is to protect the counselors from possible child molestation allegations.
I suppose the real or imagined necessity for such a rule angered me in part because my childhood was a “hugless”one.
My parents withheld hugs, not because of any reason of sex. That three-letter word was taboo, never mentioned.
For example, we were told that babies were found under stumps.
So naturally, my older brother’s son, who was my age, and I spent days digging under stumps in search of babies.
We once thought we’d struck gold when we dug into a warm, cozy nest. But instead of bringing forth a child, we routed a rabbit.
Back then, parents were careful not to compromise their authority over their children by displaying emotional vulnerability.
In spite of our childhood lack of outward demonstrations of affection, our present family – including dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren – has become first-class huggers. Some are not above hugging a supermarket employee for escorting them to the low-calorie honey mustard salad dressing or some hard-to-find cooking spice.
At Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, the late first lady Jeanelle Moore, wife of Gov. Dan Moore, sat on the same pew that we did.
Every Sunday, as soon as she was seated, two little boys would rush up the aisle to her side and give her a hearty hug. Then they would stand patiently as she searched her purse for two $1 bills, which she gave them.
Once, as the boys returned to their pew, she said, with a smile, “A.C., it’s terrible when you have to buy love.” Mrs. Moore was one of our best-loved first ladies.
I’m wondering if the YMCA where columnist Hoder’s son, Nathaniel, volunteers isn’t over-reacting. I suppose that when an epidemic of sexual abuse by adults in positions of trust has been going on under our noses for years, there is cause for caution.
But, as Hoder pointed out, children need hugs.
One of my fondest memories is of an incident a few years ago at a nearby elementary school where I had gone to speak.
As I was leaving, a teacher was marching her class to the playground when suddenly, Jenna, the sweet child of a neighbor, broke free, rushed over and gave my leg a hug. My heart sang.
A child’s unsolicited hug is as precious as spun gold or fine rubies. It signifies not only trust, but also respect and affection. The fact that my own grandchildren lived so far away made me doubly appreciative.
On another occasion, as I was leaving the same school, I came upon a neighborhood boy walking home. I pulled over and offered him a ride.
“No,” he said. “My mama told me never never to get into a stranger’s car.”
I felt momentary hurt and disappointment. I was no stranger to John. The lad had visited my house several times, chatting happily with me as I went about yard chores.
But I did not blame his mother. Our culture has deteriorated to the point that parents have to warn their children against the sickos who pose a threat.
Almost echoing my mother’s words, the columnist’s son, speaking of the banned hugs, told his mother, “It makes me kinda sad, that this is what the world has come to.”
So say we all.