When I was 10 years old, I was extremely fond of the old radio shows that came on late on Sunday afternoons – The Shadow, Inner Sanctum and others. They started at 4pm and every Sunday I could be found lying on my stomach, drawing with my coloured pencils as I listened to the shows.
Sunday evening supper was just that, for our main meal was at noon, so I often had supper there in the nursery in front of the radio. My brother Jeff was not interested in these programmes. He had just come into a dreadful era of childhood (one I had been in myself not long before that) of being a tease, and I was his target.
His best time was during this radio time of mine. Sunday after Sunday, he would sneak into one door of the nursery, race through between me and the radio, spin the dial, and race out the other door in hysterics.
I was hopping mad, for it took me forever to find my station again on the old Philco radio and by then the big moment was over, and I had missed the whole thing. I would yell at Jeff, but it did no good. I told mother, and she talked with him, but that did no good either. Nanny couldn’t get through to him either, and I really felt abandoned on this one. I decided, after weeks of this, that I would take matters into my own hands.
As I look back on it, I don’t think I had a conscious plan, except to strike him somehow as he ran by. I decided that this would be the Sunday – no more victim for me!
I lay on my stomach, as usual and was drawing with my beautiful new Mongol pencils, which I cherished. At the end of a show, I could relive the entire episode by looking at what I had drawn – it was wonderful.
I forgot all about Jeff and became totally engrossed in my show and drawing. In he came as usual, racing through and grabbing the dial. This time I was ready for him. I jumped up and struck him with my fist, still clutching the pencil. It happened to hit him in the head, and Jeff went howling out of the room. I mumbled something about it serving him right and set to searching for my station once more.
Mother came right in and told me that I had severely injured Jeff. Apparently, the lead of the pencil had broken off in his head and he needed immediate medical attention. I was immediately terrified. Nanny bathed him in readiness for his trip to the hospital and I just stood watching in disbelief. There was such a flurry to make medical arrangements for Jeff that no-one was paying any attention to me, and for that I was grateful, though uneasy.
Mother left with Jeff for the hospital and Nanny told me to get ready for bed. There would be no more pencils, paper or radio today. I climbed into bed and cried for a long time. A while later (time not clear in my memory), mother came in and said that the doctors had been able to surgically remove the lead from Jeff’s scalp. They said that the colour I used (purple) was the most toxic I could have chosen, but they thought they got it all.
Nanny was helping Jeff become comfortable – he was still groggy from the medication. I went in to see him and he was very still and bandaged in the bed. His hair had been shaved from the spot where I had struck him.
Mother took me into my room. “Gigi,” she said, “we have to talk about what you did.” I felt quite confident about the justification for my actions, so I explained it carefully to mother.
She acknowledged that I was having a very difficult time with my teasing brother but that this had been a dangerous and unacceptable solution to the problem. She told me that I would be punished.
She led me to an unused guest room and put me in there in the dark (except for street lights), closing the door. I recall how cold the room was, so it must have been winter time. I sat there for a long time, getting colder and more frightened. They had not done this to me before.
Finally, Mother came to get me. I was so relieved to get out of there that I almost didn’t care what happened. Suzanne, our maid, was out in the hall putting away the last of the linen for the night. She looked at me and just shook her head. I didn’t see the butler, thank goodness. Nanny was furious. I knew she didn’t understand at all, and had it have been up to her, I would be in real trouble.
I was glad to be with my mother, who at least understood my feelings about all of this. She took me into her room and closed the door. “Gigi, are you sorry that you did this to Jeff?” I wasn’t, so I carefully said that I was sorry that he was so badly hurt and that I hadn’t meant to do that. I also made it clear that I was not sorry for defending myself against his abuse.
Mother was really taken aback. I think she expected me to be truly penitent for it all. I was surprised at my bold defence of my actions, for I was still in the unknown as to what the penalty would be.
“Gigi, you are 10 years old. We didn’t think you would need to have this kind of discipline by this age but your behaviour was that of a much younger child. Little children do not know how to talk well, so they strike out. You do have a good command of the English language, and we could have had a family discussion about this. You chose a very dangerous and unacceptable, unladylike behaviour, and for that you must be punished.”
I tried to convince mother that I had tried to communicate my desperation many times to no avail, but mother was in no place to hear me. She had just gone through the ordeal of seeing her son go through surgery. She told me to take off my robe and lie over the arm of her stuffed chair, which I did under extreme protest. When I was there, she went to her dressing table and got the dreaded hairbrush.
She lifted up my nightgown and told me that this was for doing the dangerous thing to Jeff, not for feeling angry with him.
The spanking began. I cried immediately, not just because the spanking was hurting my bottom, but because I was so angry that Jeff was being pampered for abusing me with his teasing. I started to hate him for what was happening to me here – but soon it all washed away, as I had to cope with what was happening in the here and now.
Mother halted the spanking, leaving me there, and returned her hairbrush to the dressing table. My father came into the room, and I reached back to cover myself immediately, sliding off the chair as I did so. He had just been with Jeff and told us that Jeff was waking slowly now, was groggy and in some pain. Nanny had given him some medication that the doctors had given my mother, so Jeff would probably sleep until morning.
“He will have a very sore head for a long time, Gigi”, my father said, “You were really naughty to have done such a thing.” I looked down in shame. He grabbed my arm and gave me several whacks on my behind, and I found myself running in circles around him, trying to escape.
He must have decided that this just would not do, so he pulled out a chair, placed me over his knees, and hand spanked me on my bare behind on top of mother’s hairbrush. It was over quickly, and he stood me up.
He explained that I had not been a violent person, and he was afraid for me. He wanted to discuss this further in the morning when we all had some sleep. Recalling that the next day was a school day, he said that we would talk as soon as he got home.
Mother took me back to the nursery, and I stood sobbing softly in the playroom as she checked on Jeff. Nanny came past me and said: “You’ll get no sympathy from me, lassie!” She went on past me to the bathroom to put things away. On her way back, she ushered me into my room and told me what she thought of my damaging behaviour to my poor brother.
I was suddenly very angry with her. I told her rudely: “Be quiet! We already figured it out!” or something like that. The basic message was that Nanny should mind her own business, and Nanny figured that out quickly!
Whatever I said, it was taken badly. Nanny grabbed my arm, pulled out a chair and placed me over her big white apron. “Don’t you ever speak to me like that again, young lassie! You will respect your elders!”
She was still spanking me when my mother came in. I was kicking and hollering away. Nanny stood me up and told my mother what I had done. Mother was appalled. She made me apologise to Nanny, and told me that there would be a bare bottom spanking every time I spoke like that to anyone on staff here. She reminded me that she had thought that by 10 years old, I should not need spankings anymore – but they would certainly happen should I deserve them.
I realised that strange new feelings of rebellion were beginning inside me. I didn’t like them, but they seemed to be speaking to me about ‘having to be a lady all the time’ and ‘respecting elders’ etc. Therefore, aside from a smarting bottom, I also had a grieving heart that I hadn’t been heard to my satisfaction.
Mother tucked me into bed and before she left she smoothed hand cream over my smarting buttocks. I didn’t want her to do that, because I just wanted to be alone, but I must admit that it did help. I was asleep shortly after that.