Before I start, I should get one thing out in full view:
I was spanked as a child.
Yes, I was.
I can see some of you gasping, eyebrows through your hairlines, at the horror. Those who know me may be noddng and thinking, “Ah, so that explains a few things.”
Herb and Eva were fair parents — exceptionally fair when I consider the demands on their time. The both worked hard to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs, never mind raising four (and then five**) girls. But sometimes we did things that earned us a spanking.
For instance, there was the day I came in from making mud pies. When I opened the back door, I liked the feeling of the smooth knob under my muddy hands so I proceeded to smear mud on each of the doorknobs inside. I got a spanking. That was fair.
Once, when I was about four, I cut off one of Linda’s braids. That’s braid, singular, and there were two braids to start with. I got a spanking. That was very fair.
Now that you see where I’m coming from, let’s get on with the story.
Anyone who has ever been around small children knows how hard it is to settle them to sleep in the summer when it just won’t get dark. Couple those long evenings with kids who are eight to ten years old, an age when they need to be in bed fairly early but can’t fall asleep as quickly as the smaller ones, and you have trouble.
Trouble on this particular evening came in the form of me and Linda when we were at that exact in-between age. It was a muggy evening and not a breath of air moved through the open windows. Linda and I, who shared a bed, were wide awake and we got talking and carrying on. The closed door at the bottom of the stairs gave us a false sense of sound barrier between us and the parents so we weren’t very quiet.
“Girls!” We jumped when the stair door opened and Mom called up in a loud whisper, so as not to awaken the younger two. “Settle down!”
Usually that was all it took. We were tired and we knew the consequences if we didn’t obey. But that night we either forgot, or we just didn’t care. Our noise continued, and Mom called up a couple more times. I’m sure the poor woman was just too tired to climb the stairs and give us our just deserts at that points, but by now we were on a roll. One of us found a small rubber ball and we began tossing it back and forth. As luck and gravity would have it, the ball eventually dropped onto the floor and that’s when our mother flew into action. When she arrived in our room we could see through the dimness that she was holding a fly swatter. It was the kind with a tough plastic swatter and a flimsy plastic handle.
“I’ve told you, and told you, and told you two to settle down.” She sounded exasperated, and although we couldn’t really see her face, I’m sure she was glaring at us. “Roll over,” she commanded. “Maybe a spanking will help you remember to do as you’re told.”
We didn’t move.
“Roll. Over.” There was no doubting now how serious she was.
Linda and I rolled over, each trying to move more slowly than the other in order to avoid getting the first swat. I don’t know who actually got it first, nor do I remember who was the first to giggle, but one of us did. And then, just like a contagious yawn, the other started laughing too. Of course that laughing tipped the scales for my usually gentle and long-suffering mother, and she started swatting. Those swats rained down on our behinds, and we continued to laugh. And the harder we laughed, the faster Mom swatted.
And then it broke. The plastic handle on the fly swatter just wasn’t meant to swat flies as big as us, and it broke right in half. Mom picked up both pieces of the swatter and went downstairs. Linda and I stopped laughing and went to sleep.
We never spoke of that night again until years later when we got to reminiscing. I doubt my mother is proud of that moment, but I sure do understand how we drove her to it. And these days we laugh even harder in the re-telling than we did that night.
We love you, Mom!
** Another story for another day.