A hairbrush shared

I’m in my 70s now. I grew up in the 1950s and it was a different world back then. The stories on this site make me nostalgic for what now seems a simpler and more innocent time.

Unlike today, when many countries have made it illegal for parents to physically chastise their children at all, back then all nearly every child got the occasional smack, and I can’t say we were any the worse for it. In fact, maybe we were the better for it, because I’m sure I was a much better-behaved child than some of the ones I see today, ignoring their parents’ attempts to control them and treating their elders with rudeness and disrespect.

My parents were not at all unkind, or even particularly strict, but they would have thought they were not doing their duty if they hadn’t given me the odd slap on the wrist or the very occasional smacked bottom. They had both received much worse as children, both at home and at school, and they considered it part of their responsibility as parents to guide me and discipline me with the sort of sharp reminder that young children can readily understand.

My father worked very long hours, so it mainly fell to my mother to keep me in line, and she had a little bit of earlier experience to help her in that task. She had a younger sister – 15 years her junior – for whom she had already fulfilled a maternal role. My grandfather had died quite young from a heart attack, and when my mother was only 20 and her sister just five, their own mother also died.

Naturally, the responsibility of caring for the poor orphaned little girl had fallen on my mother, who had therefore acted as almost a second mother to her little sister. They had lived together, along with their two brothers, in their parents’ old house, and my mother was the housekeeper to all of them until she married. This did not happen until she was 32, owing to separations enforced on she and my father first by the war, and afterwards by my father’s work.

I was born when my mother was 35, so her sister – my aunt – was by now 20. She still lived in the old house, but the two sisters remained very close and my aunt was very often round at our place. Thus, she went from having a second mother in her sister to being a second mother to me, and in my earliest memories she is always present, helping prepare meals, reading me stories, bathing me and tucking me up in bed.

The role of disciplining me, however, fell entirely on my mother, and although she was mostly very lenient, she would occasionally give me a few smacks on the bottom to keep me in line.

I particularly remember a particular incident, when I was about eight or maybe nine, when I was being disobedient by refusing to go to bed. My aunt, as so often, was present while I (despite having already changed into my pyjamas) was still full of energy, running around, screaming with laughter and no doubt being extremely irritating.

Finally my mother lost her patience with me. “If you don’t go to bed now,” she warned me, “I’m going to give you a good smacked bottom.” “You should!” put in my aunt. “After all, you used to smack my bottom when I was his age – and look how I’ve turned out.”

My mother laughed – and I stopped still in amazement. It had never occurred to me that a grown-up like my aunt could have been put over my mother’s knees and spanked, as I was. “You’re right,” my mother replied. “It never did you any harm.”

At that, she picked me up, deposited me over her lap and pulled down my pyjamas to reveal my little bare bottom. I was too startled to resist, and Mother started to smack my behind firmly, but not too painfully, with her hand.

“No, no!” I cried. “I’ll be good! I’ll go to bed! Let me go!” But my mother kept a tight grip and carried on smacking. My aunt started to laugh uproariously at the sight of my legs kicking and my small bottom on full display.

Suddenly, she left the room, – and returned moments later, holding an old wooden hairbrush. “Here you are,” she said, handing it to my mother. “This is what you used to use on me – see if you can make his bottom as red as you used to make mine!”

My mother laughed. “Your bottom was a bit bigger then – and a lot bigger now.” Instead of using the brush on me, she aimed a swat at my aunt’s ample rear. At this, both women collapsed into helpless giggles – and I seized my opportunity to jump up, pull up my pyjamas and dash on up to bed.

From then onwards, my aunt always referred to it as our ‘shared hairbrush’ – and it made several more appearances as my mother’s spanking implement of choice. Somehow, though, it never seemed to hurt much – perhaps because it became an emblem of our shared family history and the love we all shared, too.

Contributor: Steve

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