I grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s, when corporal punishment was a normal part of kids’ lives.
When I was little, my stepmother had no problem planting a strong palm across the seat of my dress or shorts, but I never remember any sort of lengthy spanking in my pre-school days. I do recall my father looking at me running past in a muddy dress one time and mildly remarking to my stepmother: “She should get spanked for that.” But I knew he didn’t really mean it.
Catholic school was a different story. When I was in kindergarten, I remember one particular quiet time when a couple of my friends kept giggling and causing a fuss. Suddenly one of our teachers – a nun in full habit – grabbed me by the back of the neck and dragged me into the cloak room. Evidently she thought I was the one making noise, although I hadn’t uttered a peep.
“Why are you making noise during quiet time?” she demanded. “I was quiet, Sister!” I said, wide eyed and innocent as I truly was.
The nun became incensed. “What would your parents do to you if you were naughty and then lied about it? Wouldn’t they pull down your underwear and give you a good spanking?”
It still hadn’t truly dawned on me that my teacher was getting ready to paddle me. I thought about the question honestly. If I was naughty and then lied to a nun, of all people, I can imagine my stepmother might impose the dread sanction of a bare bottom spanking. “Yes, Sister, my stepmother would spank me for that.”
I still remember how angry and red her face was. To her, I guess, I was being incredibly insolent. “Face the wall and put your hands on your head.” I did so – and I think this is the moment I finally realised the peril I was in.
I faced the wall and I heard her moving a chair, most likely getting in position to put me over her knee. Then, although I couldn’t see it since my nose was pressed against the wall, I heard our second teacher come into the cloakroom. There was a short conversation, then the first nun took my shoulder and turned me around to face her.
“I am so sorry, Patricia,” she said, “it wasn’t you making the noise, was it?” I shook my head. “Will you forgive me?” she said, holding my little hands in hers. I nodded and said: “Yes, Sister.”
I came back into the classroom with both teachers, who announced that it was now time for recess. “Emily and Mary, you will stay in the classroom with me,” said the nun.
Both girls looked suitable frightened but we were all ushered out to recess and didn’t observe what happened. However, after recess we could all see that both girls had clearly been crying.
I got more details when I got home. Later in the afternoon, my stepmother approached me with a grave face and said: “I just spoke to Mary’s mother. Did you know that she and Emily got punished at school today?” “Yes,” I said, without embellishing to include my own role, which evidently hadn’t been shared with anyone outside the classroom.
“Well,” said my stepmother, “both girls got bare bottom spankings for being naughty. You had better not misbehave there or you will get the same treatment.” “Yes ma’am,” I replied.
“If I hear you get punished at school, you can expect a pants-down spanking at home. Do you understand me, young miss?” I think she must have had a suspicion I was involved – they were my friends after all – and for the second time that day, I felt in danger of going over an adult’s knee. “Yes, ma’am,” I said.
The danger passed and, it was several years before I encountered another brush with corporal punishment. But that’s another story.