Yesterday's blog entry, in which I discuss the old-fashioned punishments I received as a child has me thinking now about other times when I was punished. Usually, the punishments were deserved, but sometimes they weren't (at least in my eyes).
My twin sister, Carol and I came into the world during the bleak winter of 1960. My father was 29 and now the father of four children. My mother was 26 and beginning to show the effects of all that childbearing. At his most exacerbated moments, he would ask my mother "Donna, why did we have so many kids?" My mother grew up Catholic and Catholics were supposed to have large families, preferably with lots of sons. My mother was an only child, as I've said before, and I think my grandmother was horribly disappointed by this. Her own mother had had six children, three boys (Noel, David and Carroll) and three girls (Velda, who was my grandmother, Viola and Ruth, the baby of the family). My Aunt Ruth was married to my Uncle Clyde, a cattle farmer from Corpus Christi, Texas. One of his neighbors were the Fawcetts, whose daughter, Mary Farrah, my mother sometimes babysat for. Later, when Farrah Fawcett-Majors was on the wall of every pubescent male in the country, my mother would describe her as the "prettiest baby she'd ever seen". Anyway, getting back on track, my mother dressed Carol and I alike and my dad couldn't tell us apart to save his life. Carol was by far the more outgoing of the two of us, a trait that never changed during our lives together. My father's sisters, Esther and Mary Ellen, both married brothers named Worden. When Carol and I were born, both Aunt Esther and Aunt Mary had their own births eminent. My Aunt Mary gave birth to our cousin, David, on January 15th and Aunt Esther had her son, Paul (called Punkin by the family, even when he was an adult) on January 31st. So in one months' time, my grandparents welcomed four new grandchildren.
This is Carol and I on Christmas morning, 1993 with three of our cousins. On the left is Denise, then Paul and David, Denise's older brother. I can't even begin to recount all the mischief the five of us got up to together. We were all so close in age, with Denise being David's "Irish twin", as she was only 19 months younger than him. We were thick as thieves and partners in crime, but we were never hateful or malicious. We were just rambunctious kids.
Because we were all so close in age, we got up to a lot of no good together. It started at a young age, too. My Aunt Mary had five children--two sons and three daughters--so her hands were always full. My Uncle Dale had left her by the time Denise, the youngest was about three or four years old. My Aunt Esther was still married to Dale's brother, Dave and they had three sons together. I was petrified of Uncle Dave. He had a metal brace on his ankle from an undisclosed injury (which many in the family said was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to keep from having to go to Korea) and it clanked when he walked. He was a strict disciplinarian, too. I recall an incident when I couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old. David, Paul, Carol and I had been visiting with Aunt Esther and Uncle Dave, who lived in a duplex in a somewhat seedy part of town. There was a vacant lot across the street where we were expressly forbidden to play because it was unsafe. Neighborhood rumor had it that a boy had been found dead there a few years previously. More recently, a couple of boys, out looking for bottle caps, had found a loaded gun in that lot and now all the parents were forbidding their kids to play there. Unfortunately, we were caught because the vacant lot was right across the street from the house and when Aunt Esther came out to hang some laundry on the line, she saw us. Or rather, she saw asses and elbows as we tried to hide. She called us in the house, where Uncle Dave was waiting, belt in hand for his sons and a house slipper for us girls and the other boy in this group,David. I thought it grossly unfair that my cousin, Mike, by far the oldest at seventeen, was going to get a thrashing when he wasn't even there. Apparently, he was supposed to be watching us.
"I told you to watch these kids!" Uncle Dave said. "What were you doing instead? Tinkering with that dirt bike?"
Mike looked at his feet.
"Yes, sir," he mumbled because, when you addressed Uncle Dave, there was no other response acceptable.
"Bend over that chair," Uncle Dave ordered, "and show these kids how to take a whipping. The only reason those jeans aren't coming down is because there's girls here. Otherwise, they would be hitting the floor."
Mike's face was covered in acne, for which he was profoundly mortified, and when his face blushed red it stood out. I still can picture his lanky frame bending over the chair and Uncle Dave wailing on him. He bore the blows solidly. He had always been a favorite cousin of mine because he could always be counted on for piggy back rides and trips to the ice cream shop. But now my admiration for him really grew. When Uncle Dave was done, he beckoned his other son, Paul to take his big brother's place. The middle son, Jimmy had been smart enough not to be with us that day. Paul was a wuss and took his licking badly. I bet even I could have taken it better than he did.
Since my other cousin, David, wasn't his child, he opted not to belt him. Instead, he sat on the chair and beckoned David.
"Come here, David," he said taking up the house slipper.
"No way," David said shaking his head.
"You want the belt instead?" he asked.
"No, sir," David replied.
"Then get over here," Uncle Dave said.
So David walked over to him. Uncle Dave was a tall man and he had no problem putting David across his knee. I was embarrassed for him. His face bore an expression of sorrow and defiance. Uncle Dave took that slipper to the seat of his pants with gusto. For his part, David took it pretty stoically, despite the fact that Uncle Dave really wore him out. Then he beckoned me.
"You next," he said.
I walked over to him, my head held proudly.
"I'm tellin' my daddy about this," I said as he bent me across his knee.
"Oh you are?" Uncle Dave said. "Well, I'm glad. Tell him what you did to get this."
As I was just a little girl (and small for my age) he took it pretty easy on me. When it was all over, there was a group of very sorry kids rubbing their sore bottoms. Such was life back then; when a kid had to decide if what he was about to do was worth the spanking he was going to get. And, as I've shown time and time again on this blog, girls weren't immune. I said before that Aunt Esther and Uncle Dave lived in a duplex. At the time, no one was living in the upstairs apartment so we kids used to play up there. I remember one night when the adults (my parents, Uncle Dave and Aunt Esther, and my Uncle Bob and his second wife, my Aunt Julie, whom I hated) were sitting in the kitchen playing cards. I think it was gin rummy. There were kids running all over the place, even though we had been instructed to stay upstairs. Someone dared my cousin Darla, who was the third of my Aunt Mary Ellen's kids, to sneak down and shut the light off. Darla, who had a thing for Tom Jones, was light on her feet and was the best person for the job in my estimation. Her older siblings, Butch and Debbie (who had been the flower girl at my parents' wedding) were both old enough to date and were out for the night. I knew Butch well enough to know that if he had been there, Darla would have had to face the ire of her big brother, who wasn't above taking them over his knee if the situation called for it. With his father out of the picture, he was the man of the house and he took his responsibilities seriously. Like my cousin Mike, Butch (or Dale, Jr.which was his real name...but no one ever called him that) was lanky and had acne. They could have passed for brothers and not cousins. Anyway, Darla was about to chicken out when David held up the bait, a Zagnut candy bar. It was right after Halloween so there was a lot of candy around. Darla loved Zagnut bars and couldn't resist them. So the decision was made. Darla would sneak downstairs and flick the light switch. She was superb. All the grown ups thought that a fuse had blown and my Uncle Bob, being a fireman, was sent down to investigate. I guess it never dawned on them to try the light switch. Anyway, eventually someone did because the lights went back on and the game resumed. Having gotten away with it once, of course, we couldn't leave well enough alone and another kid was soon recruited, my older brother, Ray. Unlike Darla, he didn't need to be bribed. He would do it just to be able to say he had done it. So off he went, the rest of us stifling our giggles as best we could.
"Listen, you guys," Paul said, "we gotta be quiet. If my dad ever knows we're doin' this, we might as well dig graves and crawl in. Now be quiet!"
My brother was well practiced in tomfoolery. He slid down the narrow staircase sideways and hit the light switch, then covering his mouth so he wouldn't laugh, darted back upstairs. The adults were onto the game now, however.
"Knock that off, whoever's doing that!" came Uncle Dave's voice.
We just giggled in response and sent Uncle Bob's older daughter, Gretchen (who goes by Greta now for some reason) to do it next. Uncle Bob always referred to her as "Hurricane Gretchen" because destruction usually followed in her wake. She broke more things and broke them faster than any person I've ever known. She was scared, no doubt about it. I had been treated to one of her father's hard spankings, so I knew her fear was well founded. But she proved to be a natural and again, the trick was pulled off.
"The next kid who does that will be the sorriest kid alive!" came the usual threat from Uncle Dave.
Not being the kind of kids who would let a mere threat deter them, we had to do it again. We decided to send Denise, who was only about 5 or 6 at the time, because if she was caught, Uncle Dave would take it easy on her. She was his favorite niece and everyone knew it. Even though she was barely tall enough to reach the light switch, she did manage to do it and ran back up the stairs as fast as her legs would carry her.
We heard the familiar sound of Uncle Dave's belt being unbuckled as he charged up the stairs to confront us.
"Who did that? he demanded.
Since no one 'fessed up, you can imagine the scene that followed. There were kids being chased in every direction and even though we all got thorough spankings, it remains a fond memory of mine because I was so close with all of my cousins. I remember my father managed to snag Gretchen and gave her bottom a series of smacks that probably wouldn't have hurt me, but made her burst into tears. Her dad, my Uncle Bob, was the one who caught me. Believe me, I got the short end of that stick because Uncle Bob spanked hard, even harder than Uncle Dave. My cousin Darla had the misfortune to get caught by Uncle Dave. I don't know to this day how that happened because Darla was quick on her feet (the result of years of dance and gymnastics classes) and Uncle Dave had a brace on his ankle. Boy, did he wallop her! He only used his hand on her, while my unlucky big brother got the belt. When it was all over, the room was filled with crying, sorry kids.
Uncle Dave put his belt back on.
"Now stay up here and behave!" he said as all the adults headed back downstairs and the gin rummy game continued.
It was a strange experience for me because I had never seen my father spank any kid who wasn't his. We had dried our tears, but we all stood around rubbing our bottoms.
"Whose idea was this?" Cousin David asked.
"Yours!" we all shot back.
My mother, who had the kindest heart of anyone I ever knew, popped her head around the corner. She had heard the round of spankings from downstairs.
"Is everyone alright?" she asked.
We all said we were, but my brother needed lotion on his bottom.
My last two blog entries have been odd to say the least. But I have a ton of memories of growing up in an era when spanking was a cure-all for whatever ailed a kid. Even when we played "house" or "school", someone invariably ended up over someone's knee. This happened because that's simply how things were done.
I have mentioned my friends Trudy, Julie and Sally on my blog before, but that was quite a while ago so I'm going to relay a story I've never told anyone before. It's a story of heartache and revenge. OK, not really heartache, but definitely revenge. Sally's mother dated my Uncle Bob for a while after he and Aunt Julie divorced. It shames me a little bit to say that we made Sally "prove" herself before we would accept her into our little circle. To be perfectly frank, Sally was a wimp. She was afraid to break rules or get dirty. Because of the latter, she was useless on our baseball team. And because of the former, she was useless when it came to pranks. But in one regard, she outshone us all: she could charm the birds out the trees. This talent alone was sufficient to get her out of some pretty serious scrapes. Trudy, Julie, Carol and I spent one entire rainy afternoon trying to come up with something sufficiently daring but not too dangerous that would prove once and for all that Sally was worthy of inclusion. This still shames me when I think about it because I know how bad it feels to be excluded. We should have just taken her in without the silly "initiation".
"We could make her go to SuperX and steal make up for us," Trudy suggested.
"She'd get caught," Julie said dismissively.
"How about making her ride no-handed down Suicide Hill?" I asked.
"We don't wanna kill her," Trudy said.
"That's what you guys made me do," I reminded her.
"You're a better bike rider than she is," Julie replied, "and you almost broke your neck."
While my friends were busy discussing among themselves what should be done about Sally, my devious mind was at work. I had been trying to get revenge on Doyle Collins since February, when he knocked me down and washed my face in the snow. Doyle was a bully and rarely went anywhere without his right hand man, John Ufen. These two all by themselves could make a person's life miserable. A year later, these two boys would do something to me that I've never forgotten. But I already blogged about that. Doyle, however, needed to be dealt with. It had to be embarrassing, it had to be memorable, and most importantly, it had to be done by a girl. Doyle lived on the next block over from me with a divorced mother and a younger brother. I think it's possible that Doyle had been held back at least one grade, maybe two because he seemed a bit older than we were.
"Hey, you guys what about Doyle?" I asked.
"He's an idiot," Trudy replied. "What about him?"
"We could have Sally do something to his bike," I said.
"Are you still mad about what he did to you in February? Julie asked. "Give it a rest already. You survived."
"Maybe I did," I replied, "but there's pride involved here."
"I don't know about you," Trudy said, "but I'm not going anywhere near Doyle's bike."
So we opted for a "girl's revenge". It was childish and immature, but it got Doyle back good. Because I value my good name and I'm still ashamed of myself for coming up with this idea, I won't say what we had Sally do. But suffice to say it was underhanded and wicked and we all knew it was wrong. Sally, to her credit, pulled it off without a hitch and her incredible charm kept her from getting into too much trouble.
That's how life was though; a series of misadventures and punishments. But we managed to laugh through most of it. We lived by the motto "Laugh now, cry later." The problem was with the way the system worked back then. In those days, any adult had the right to discipline you if you were a kid. So the deck was almost always stacked against you. But I still say we had more fun in those days than kids today have, even with all the electronic gadgetry that they have now that we didn't have. It was a way more innocent time. I miss it badly.