I had a school friend – let’s call him Paul – who had a stepmother. From their very first meeting, Paul had been resentful of the person he frequently referred to as ‘my wicked stepmother’ – though he would eventually come to love her even more than his real mother, even though she was far stricter with him.
Whenever he talked to me about his stepmum. Paul would paint this picture of an ugly old battle axe – a real tyrant who beat him daily. So when I met her for the first time, I was shocked to discover that she was nothing like the person he had described.
Paul certainly resented that he was now bound by strict rules and structure, and that he could no longer do just as he pleased, as I think had been the case with his natural mother.
However, far from being a dragon, his stepmum was very attractive, softly spoken and very pleasant to everyone – including Paul – as long as you did as you were told.
As I found out one day, she was not a woman to be crossed. I was at Paul’s house for tea after school. He was trying to show off to me and demonstrate how much he hated his stepmum. I was shocked by this behaviour – if I had dared do anything remotely like that at my house, my own mum would certainly have taken her slipper off to me.
Paul’s stepmum issued him with several warnings, but finally she had had enough. She told Paul to go to his room and get ready for bed, adding that she would be up soon.
I saw the look change on Paul’s face. He said: “No – you can’t. Not with George here.” She turned back from the sink and gave him a look. “I said your room – now – or I will do it here.” Paul didn’t say another word and did as he was told.
She then turned to me and said kindly: “I’ll be back soon. Here, here have a slice of cake – I made it this morning.” She was perfectly nice to me but I knew Paul had pushed her buttons and was now for it. I knew from many an experience with my own mum what happened when you went too far.
Paul’s stepmum went to the kitchen door, which was open. She half closed it and for the first time, I saw hanging on the back of it a thick, wide brown leather strap, around 18in long, and a thin crook-handled cane, about as thick as a pencil and 3ft long.
She took down the cane and went upstairs with it. From the kitchen, I could hear her calmly telling her stepson off. I also heard Paul say: “Please close the door!” A firm ‘no’ was her response. By now, I had a good mental picture of what was happening, and I crept to the bottom of the stairs so I could listen.
Paul’s stepmum told him to take down his trousers and bend over the pillows. I then heard 12 firm strokes of the cane being applied to my friend’s bottom, and some predictable yelling as the punishment was administered.
Finally, I heard her say: “Sort yourself out and come down when you’re ready. But don’t take too long – your friend is waiting.”
I hurriedly scuttled back to the kitchen. Paul’s stepmum came back in, calm as anything, and asked if I would like another slice of cake and a drink. As she did so, I watched her put the cane back behind the door.
In all the years I knew Paul’s stepmum, I never once heard her shout or even raise her voice, but she was strict as anyone I ever knew. She was the nicest person in the world if you behaved, but she was most definitely not a lady to cross.
I wonder how many of your readers also received corporal punishment from a step parent? My partner had a stepfather from around the age of eight. She was shocked the first time he told her he would slipper her bottom if she misbehaved – and he kept his word, too!