Aunty Betsys Paddle Punishment

Thirty-five years ago, I was sent away from Georgia to a New England boarding school in the days when they accepted students as early as eighth grade.
Among the day students were Tommy Springer, a cousin of mine who lived nearby with his widowed mother, my Aunt Betsy.
Since Tommy and I were both small for eighth-graders – we looked about two years younger – and were unathletic in a school that placed an emphasis on sports, we found ourselves somewhat excluded from the rough and tumble clubbiness of high school.
This situation along with many common interests and family ties drew us together and we were quickly inseparable.
About two weeks into the semester, Tommy got a D on the first math quiz and fretted for the rest of the day as if he had flunked the final exam.
At some point, I finally asked:
“What’s big deal, Tommy?
It’s just the weekly quiz.
You can easily make it up next week by studying hard.”
He mumbled something about how he was “really going to get it at home” and changed the conversation.
Since my mother still spanked me once or twice a week and frequently mentioned how her sister used the same methods, my curiosity was instantly aroused.
Eager to find out more, I pressed Tommy further.
But he only put me off with more vague answers.
“It’s nothing, Billy.
It’s just that my mom has my teachers call her whenever I get anything less than a C- and then I get in trouble,”
Knowing there was more to it than that, I asked him as innocently as I could:
“What do you care if you can’t watch TV tonight or lose this week’s allowance?”
“Never mind, Billy … it’s no big deal.
Let’s get back to the Red Sox and their chances this fall.”
“Only after you tell me what happens to you at home when you get bad grades.
Come on, Tommy, you can tell me.
Since when do good friends have secrets?”
“I suppose they don’t… but really… it’s not anything.
I’d just rather not talk about it.”
Since he was obviously embarrassed, I realized the only way to get the truth out of him was to tell him about my own experiences.
“Tommy, I get the feeling your mother still uses the same kind of old-fashioned methods that my mom uses at home.
My mom warned me to mind my manners when I came north or your mom would handle me the same way.”
At this, Tommy’s eyes widened.
“What do you mean handle you the same way?
What are you talking about?”
Realizing I would have to spill the beans first, I looked around to make sure no one was nearby and lowered my voice to a whisper.
“Tommy, cross your heart and swear to die you won’t ever tell anyone?”
After Tommy gulped and nodded nervously, I continued,
“I think I know what happens to you because it still happens to me.
I’m talking about getting punished like little boys even though we’re in junior high.
I’m talking about… you know… about… about… getting spanked.
You’re the first person up here I’ve ever admitted this to.
Now fair’s fair, Tommy. I’ve told you my secret.
You’ve got to tell me yours?”
After looking around nervously and swearing me to absolute secrecy in return,
Tommy nervously admitted he too was still spanked at home.
After further prodding encouraged by additional disclosures on my part,
he even admitted that spankings were a regular occurrence at home and had been since kindergarten.
For those who grew up after 1960,
a little background might help at this point.
Back in the 50s, spanking was a fairly routine punishment in American homes.
In the South, especially the strict Baptist South where I grew up,
many mothers even spanked their children into their early teens and a few well past that.
It was certainly that way in my neighborhood.
All in all, spankings were a regular part of life,
even a visible part since they were often given in semi-public places regardless of who was present.
Many a naughty youngster found him or herself getting a paddling in the family room, the backyard, the front porch, the teacher’s office, the church basement, or a neighbor’s house.
And since some often got into more trouble in groups, it was not uncommon for two or three youngsters to find themselves waiting to go over a mother or babysitter’s lap one after the other.
Things had been a little different for Tommy because Aunt Betsy had moved north after marrying a doctor from Boston.
In the Northeast, spanking was a somewhat more private matter and it rarely continued after elementary school.
Since Tommy’s home was an exception in this regard, he certainly didn’t want his new, high schoolmates to know he was still spanked.
It was hard enough that all of his mom’s friends knew, not to mention the neighborhood babysitters.
Worst of all, some of his new high school teachers even knew because they were longtime friends of his mom from church or neighborhood groups.
Like Tommy, I was just as eager to keep my own mother’s methods a secret from my high school classmates once I arrived in Massachusetts.
Growing up in Georgia, I had long since taken for granted that naughty children of all ages were paddled.
It was only after arriving in the Northeast that I began to see just how embarrassing it was really for a eighth or ninth grader to be taken over his mother’s knee like a little boy and spanked on his bottom.
But back to my discovery about Tommy.
Once we got over the initial embarrassment of admitting we were still spanked, our mutual confession led to a whole series of whispered discussions after school.
We compared notes on spankings we had received,
the different methods used by our moms,
and the prominent role of a demerit chart tied to a regular, weekly spanking time.
We also swapped stories about our most embarrassing spankings such as the times when we were punished in the living room with family friends present or the spankings received from babysitters.
Like my mother, Aunt Betsy believed an extra witness or a surrogate disciplinarian added to the humiliation of a paddling.
Over the years, many of my mother’s closest female friends had witnessed my spankings including neighbors and school teachers as well as cousins and playmates.
While Tommy and I had both been spanked by babysitters, no one else had ever spanked him.
Consequently, he took a special interest in my accounts of being spanked by the school nurse, Bible school teachers, and even the den mother of my Cub Scout pack.
It was, perhaps, no accident that all of these women were good friends of my mother and regular visitors to our home.
The more Tommy and I talked about spanking, the more fascinated we became.
Fortunately for me, my weekly experiences across my mother’s lap had ended with my departure for school though mom promised this would change the very day I returned for summer vacation.
And for the first few months of the fall semester, I figured I was completely safe as long as I was away at boarding school.
Then, in late October, my mom wrote suggesting that I spend the shorter Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring vacations with Aunt Betsy rather than fly all the way back to Georgia.
For me, this was good news since it gave me more time with Tommy, especially vacation time which promised lots of fun and games.
And I adored Aunt Betsy for her loving yet firm manner and the way she always kept a cheerful disposition.
Even when she scolded Tommy, a real gentleness came through.
No wonder Tommy worshipped her and seemed genuinely disturbed when he let her down.
We also liked her because she spoiled us so with delicious meals, funny stories, and lots of outings.
That this wonderful mom still spanked her son once or twice a week without arousing any lasting resentment only made her more impressive to me.
In fact, she reminded me of my own mom in many ways, right down to her warm face and loving smile.
By late September, I had a crush on Aunt Betsy which only deepened over the next few years.
As the fall wore on, I came to develop a new understanding of my mom’s methods of punishment.
The distance I enjoyed from home and my talks with Tommy and Aunt Betsy seemed to put things in a new perspective.
While it was clear most boys our age would have been horrified at the idea of regular spankings – this had to remain Tommy’s and my secret – it did help to know that my best friend was disciplined the same way.
Unfortunately, there was no way Tommy could keep his secret in his immediate neighborhood.
All of his mom’s friends seemed to know he was still spanked especially since Aunt Betsy talked about it so openly.
Some of Aunt Betsy’s friends seemed to go out of the way to embarrass him by asking direct questions about his last spanking.
If that weren’t enough, there was the demerit chart and paddle his mother hung conspicuously on the kitchen wall (again, just like my mother).
If any visitor inquired, they always got a detailed explanation.
Not that they needed any explanations.
One side of the paddle had the words “Tommy’s Paddle” clearly printed in large black letters.
Demerit charts linked to a weekly spanking hour seem to have been more common in Southern homes before the sixties.
On my mother’s side of the family, they went back two or three generations.
In many ways, the chart was a special monthly calendar, with a page for each month.
Descending on the left was a long list of chores and behavior covering everything from housework and homework to obedience,
proper language,
roughhousing indoors,
behavior after lights out, grades,
school behavior (as reported by our teachers),
and a miscellaneous category.
Along the top margin ran the days of the week.
Before putting us to bed each night, our moms would mark a plus or a minus on the chart for that day with a number next to every minus for the number of spanked earned.
When Sunday came, we fetched the chart and the paddle after dinner so they could tally the spanks earned and enter the number of spanks earned.
Attentive visitors to our homes could see exactly how many spanks we had earned the previous two or three weeks, and if they flipped the pages, for other months as well.
This tended to generate more embarrassing comments and questions at home.
Needless to say, with so many categories for misbehavior, we almost always faced a spanking on Sunday nights.
The worst effect of the demerit chart then was to create what was basically a permanent spanking sentence that hung over us every week. Even before the sting of one Sunday spanking faded, we both knew the ritual would be repeated in seven days, if not before.
And over the years, each Sunday night spanking would revive memories of all the preceding spankings going back years while promising an infinite series of future lessons.
Though we got older, the Sunday night ritual created a firm tie to our past and reminded us we were still in some ways treated like little boys. With the demerit chart hanging in full view in the kitchen, we were visually reminded of what to expect on Sunday at least four or five times a day.
The more the number of demerits accumulated, the more tortuous the waiting became towards the week’s end.
With so much free time on Saturday and Sunday, the weekends were always the hardest time for me.
On top of that, there was always the added uncertainty of whether or not my mom might have lady friends over for dinner or go out and leave me in the hands of a babysitter charged with administering the Sunday night spanking.
No wonder I was often eager to get it over with by the time Sunday dinner finally ended and the last dish was cleaned.
Sometimes, if my mom got distracted with something after dinner, the waiting would really get to me.
On a number of such occasions, I eventually broke down and went to her myself with chart and paddle in hand to ask for my spanking.
Even without the demerit charts and paddles, everyone in my neighborhood seemed to know about my spankings from conversations with my moms and gossip spread by my babysitters.
(Tommy’s situation wasn’t much different).
One reason I was so glad to go away to boarding school was that I would finally be at a school where no teachers knew I was still spanked.
It was bad enough in elementary school to have teachers tell me I deserved a good spanking for something I had done and then listen while they called my mother to make sure I got one later that day.
Despite such embarrassing routines, Tommy and I accepted our punishments because our mothers always spanked out of love and made that clear whenever they put one of us over their laps.
According to Tommy, Aunt Betsy never spanked hastily or in anger and never without a good reason.
If she felt his correction couldn’t wait until Sunday night, she informed him in a firm tone that he had earned an “extra bedtime chat” and left it at that.
Tommy knew he would be put to bed early on those nights and that his mother expected him to take his evening bath directly after doing the dinner dishes.
Despite ten years of such bedtime chats with his mother, Tommy almost always got butterflies in his stomach while taking his bath.
After drying off and brushing his teeth, he reported to his room wrapped in a towel.
By then, Aunt Betsy was always sitting on his bed with his special “naughty boy jammies” laid out beside her, the jammies he always wore on Sunday nights.
This was a light blue, one-piece, sleeper outfit his mom had purchased at J.C. Penney with enclosed feet and a button-down flap in back. Except for its size, it was identical to the kind of thing they had worn as toddlers.
Apparently, Aunt Betsy believed spankings were more effective if they came with additional reminders of what happened to little boys who didn’t act their age.
For the same reason, she usually took his temperature rectally after she changed him into his jammies and before his spanking.
Tommy absolutely hated this since it really made him feel like a toddler.
Aunt Betsy always scolded him thoroughly for needing to be treated like a little baby.
To make matters worse, she always insisted that his babysitters put him into his “naughty boy jammies” right after dinner as a reminder of what to expect if he misbehaved.
And she always left the Vaseline jar and thermometer out on the bathroom sink in case the babysitter needed it.