One of my mother’s favorite responses to someone’s unreasonable behavior was: “What possessed him [her, you, or them] to do such a thing?”  I didn’t quite comprehend what “possessed” meant as a child, but I did know that when she spoke the word, she was not happy with whatever action had occurred. 

When my sister, at approximately 5 years old, colored her white shoes with lipstick, our mother demanded in a voice that seemed to shake the earth,  “What possessed you to do that?”   My sister just squirmed.  What satisfactory answer could she give?  It was obvious that our mom did not appreciate my sister’s artistic endeavor.

When our mom read in our small-town newspaper that someone who had a job was fined $100 for stealing a $5 package of pork chops, our mom exclaimed, “What possessed her to do such a thing?”

Well, the question of being possessed came to mind the other week when a little boy kicked me for no obvious reason as I stood in line in a grocery store.  I stood behind this little boy and his mom and older brother.  He appeared to be about 3 years old.  I observed that this little scamp did not respond when his mom summoned him several times to join her and his brother in line.  In fact, the mother had to start toward him before the little cherub decided to obey her requests to join them.  

The little boy was rather animated and talkative as he stood with his family, then, out of the blue, he kicked me.  As he appeared to get ready to kick me again, I told him firmly and with a facial expression that I hoped would scare the dickens out of him, “Don’t kick me.”   He looked at me and started to approach me again with his foot in the air, and I repeated loudly, “Don’t you kick me.” 

He muttered something about me kicking him back, to which I replied, “I don’t like kicking, so I’m not going to kick you back, but don’t you kick me again.” 

The mother was in the process of being checked out, but she could hear the conversation between me and her son.  She finally bent down and said to her son, “Did you kick her?”  The little boy squirmed and looked guilty but said nothing.  The mother asked him again, “Did you kick her?”  I said loudly, “YES, HE DID!”  The mother coaxed the little imp into saying, “I’m sorry!”  

I thanked the little brat for his apology, but I know my face continued to show my disapproval of his behavior. 

I couldn’t help but think:  What possessed this little boy to kick a stranger who had said nothing to him or interacted with him in any way?  And what possessed the mother to ask this little hoodlum if he had kicked me when she and I both knew that he had? 

They exited the store. 

When I left the store, there was the mother outside, bending down, and reprimanding her little demon for something he had done to someone else.  Whew!  I thanked my lucky stars that this was not my little boy and I didn’t have to ask him on a daily basis,  “What possessed you to …?”

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...