When I was growing up, there was one punishment worse than a spanking. It was reserved for the pet peeve of my mother – if she heard a bad word come out of any of her children, the culprit was in for an old-fashioned mouth washing. These were a threat until I moved out of the house, when I turned 18.
The last one I received at home was when I was 17. No matter how old or young culprit, the procedure was always the same. It started when I came home from school. Normally, the second I walked in the door, I was on the phone with one of my friends. My mother usually worked until 5pm so I usually had a few hours home alone with my brother and sister.
But this day, my mother came home early and heard me say the F-word to one of my girlfriends over the phone. All she had to do was look at me and I knew what to expect. I immediately hung up the phone and she announced as she had many times before that she needed to ‘see me after dinner in the bathroom’. My heart stopped when I heard those words but I knew that any protest would be meaningless.
I sat quietly through dinner and hardly touched my food. At the conclusion of the meal, Mother again reminded me to meet her in the bathroom when the dishes were cleaned up. My face turned bright red as now my brother and sister knew what was about to happen. I gathered my nerve and walked up to my mother’s bathroom.
There, I found the punishment materials already laid out on the counter. A neatly folded white washcloth sat next to the sink. On it was placed a small bar of soap, like the ones found in hotels and motels. I put the lid down on the toilet and sat down. Tears began to fill my eyes, as all I could do was stare at the counter and the punishment tools.
While it seemed like hours had past (actually more like 15 minutes), my mother walked in the bathroom and closed and locked the door behind her. “Alright Ericka, off with your blouse. No need to get it wet, now, is there?” she asked rhetorically. As I took off my blouse and hung it on a hook, my mother began to run hot water in the sink and slowly peeled the wrapper off the little bar of soap.
As I sat back down on the toilet seat, I began to sob, knowing what was about to take place. I sat mesmerised as my mother wetted the washcloth in the hot water and began to work up a good lather with the small bar of soap. When she was satisfied that the cloth was well prepared, she called me over to the sink. I stood before her, trembling in my bra, with tears running down my face. A very meek ‘no’ rolled past my lips as I watched her pick up the small, gooey bar of soap.
“Open up!” she commanded, as I felt her grab a handful of hair to hold my head still. With her other hand she pushed the tiny bar of soap into my mouth in a well-practiced motion. Instantly, the horrible taste of the soap filled my mouth as more tears rolled down my cheeks. “Now chew it all!” she shouted at me, giving my hair a tug to emphasise her point.
As I chewed the horrible little bar, the terrible taste of the soap intensified. Several times I almost gagged as I chewed the soap up into smaller and smaller pieces. When my Mother was satisfied that the bar had been thoroughly chewed, she picked up the soapy washcloth and began shoving it into my mouth, almost like a gag. The effect greatly intensified the putrid taste of the soap.
“Now start counting slowly, my dear!” she said, and in very muffled tones I started counting from one to 100. As I counted, I drooled bubbles down my cheek and onto my breasts, soaking my bra. I also gagged several times on the horrible taste of the soap but was careful not to lose count. Tears rolled down my cheeks, but my pitiful looks didn’t have any effect on mother.
Finally, I mumbled 100 and she mercifully pulled the washcloth from my mouth. She quickly pushed my head into the sink and told me to spit. That command was hardly needed as, in a very unladylike fashion, I began to spit out as much of the soap as I could. After about two minutes, she pulled my head upward and told me to get my blouse.
Turning, she unlocked the door as the sounds of my brother and sister scurrying down the hall could be clearly heard. Not letting me put my blouse back on, she grabbed me by the arm and escorted me to my room. There she watched as I put on my nightgown and got into bed.
“You may not leave your room until midnight – is that understood?” she said. “Yes mother,” I replied in a very small voice. She turned off the light and closed the door.
I waited for a few minutes, then grabbed the wastebasket and began spitting again, trying to rid my mouth of the horrible taste. The soap coated my teeth and resisted every effort to remove it. I once smuggled a toothbrush in my room but using it only resulted in a huge mouth of bubbles, aggravating the problem and taste. There was no way to avoid swallowing some soap, and my stomach churned and cramped as the soap did its worst.
About 11pm, I finally fell asleep, still tasting soap as I dozed off. It was about 3am when I awoke with a horrible tummy ache. Still half asleep, I ran to the bathroom, where my bowels erupted the minute I sat down from the powerful laxative action of the soap. Before the alarm went off at 6am, I had made several other mad dashes to the toilet.
That morning I dressed and brushed my teeth several times with mint flavored toothpaste in an attempt to remove the still-present taste of soap from my mouth. When I walked into the kitchen for breakfast, my mother walked up and gave me a big hug and kiss and told me how sorry she was for having to punish me. With tears in my eyes, I apologised for using foul language and promised to clean up my act in the future.
To this day, I cannot remember the last time I swore or heard a foul word from my brother or sister. Mother would be proud to see the way we turned out.