When I was growing up, my year was always dominated by summer adventures. In late August, my mother’s sister and her husband and two boys would come for a visit. These visits were always awaited with great anticipation, since their oldest boy, Peter, was six months younger than I, while the youngest, Paul, was six months younger than my brother Jay. I could never figure out how Mom and her sister had managed this arrangement.
We had built-in playmates for a week or two: Paul and Jay roomed together in my bedroom, while Peter and I were housed in the old servant’s quarters on our old house’s third floor, in a bedroom with twin beds under the eaves.
After the first couple of days of the cousin invasion, the bloom was off the rose. Peter and I or Paul and Jay were either getting into trouble or fighting. Which raises the subject of punishment. Spoiling the child was never an issue for my parents. Mom had a Master’s degree in verbal tongue-lashing, while Dad was in charge of physical discipline. I had a “smart mouth” according to Mom, and trouble found Jay several times daily. Thus the switch, a thin green stick cut from a forsythia bush in the back yard, was frequently applied to our posteriors by Dad, with varying degrees of force and frequency, depending on the infraction. “Wait ’til your father gets home,” was an ominous sign of things to come.
Pain never seemed to be an issue for Jay, who was hyperactive and barely responded to anything that hurt. The only time Mom wielded a whacking instrument to my brother was when in complete frustration she broke a yardstick on Jay’s backside. Part of the frustration was that Jay smiled all the way through its application. I, on the other hand, dreaded the switch, and only managed to avoid encountering it once over the years, when I hid under a bed. While I was hiding, Mom and Dad calmed down considerably, so when I finally dared to emerge, I was assigned to wash all the dishes all by myself, each day for a month. The hiding-under-the-bed tactic didn’t work the next time.
Our uncle was of like mind with our father, only he applied a belt to our cousins. The belt was an old black leather strap that hung in the kitchen closet in their home, but it traveled with them to Plymouth each summer. Each pair of cousins swore that what they experienced was worse, usually at the conclusion of a lengthy recounting of recent times the belt and switch had been used, the infractions that had called for their use, and the virtues of each form of punishment. All this ended during one of the cousin invasions when, exasperated to the limit by our behavior, our respective fathers gave us a choice: switch or belt.
While Paul and Jay were on the receiving end of the belt and switch respectively, Peter and I sat down on the kitchen floor and recommenced our discussion of the merits of each of these instruments of torture. “Well?” my Dad asked, when our turn came.
“I think I’ll take the switch,” I remember answering rather reluctantly.
“I’m okay with the belt,” said Peter.
Later that evening, with our backsides smarting from the latest insult, we collectively decided not to discuss our different forms of punishment again, just in case discussing them somehow elicited their use.
P.S. As a parent, I never used a switch. When my children were little, they infrequently got one swat on their diapered rears for effect, but we mainly used time outs.