Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Corporeal Punishment

Corporeal Punishment

Growing up in the 1950’s and early 60’s, corporeal punishment was the rule and not the exception it is now.  If a parent did these things now, a visit from Social Services would be forthcoming.

Parents would routinely smack a kid for some sort of transgression, and in fact, I knew kids whose parents would use a belt or stick to whack them with.  One family I knew, invoked the “you should have prevented this” rule, whereby all the children would be lined up and hit with a belt for the transgression of one of them with the idea that it would be a lesson for the guilty culprit and a future warning for the others. 

These disciplinary measures didn’t seem to have a permanent deleterious effect on us when done in moderation.

I was a model child.  I say this in all honesty.  I never felt I gave my parents reason to punish me.  I was always amazed when my mother would smack me or seek to do me bodily harm.

My mother was a firm believer in hitting, slapping, banging my head into the wall and other things I will speak about.

My sister was also the recipient of our mother’s disciplinary philosophy.  For years, my mother kept my sister’s hair in pigtails, so she could easily grab her as my sister sought to get away from some “well deserved” (unlike me) punishment.

Every day it seemed, I would receive a smack for one thing or another.  None of these hurt too badly and I mostly could ignore them.

If my mother got really angry (I swear, I was innocent), she would resort to other means of bodily harm.

She once chased me around the house with a bread knife.  Fortunately I never found out what would have occurred if she caught me.  While running through the house, I tried to hurdle over the landing leading from the hallway to the stairs and to the living room.  I tripped and had the breath knocked out of me.  She came rushing over thinking there was something really wrong with me caused by the fall.  She forgot for the moment what innocent action prompted her rage.

Another time, she burned me with a butter knife she had heated up on the burner on our gas top stove. It happened this way:

I was a senior in high school and came home around lunchtime with some important news.  I had won a NY State Regents Scholarship for college.  I tried to tell her about it.

She refused to be interrupted from watching her soap opera and wouldn’t pay any attention to me.

The story line in the soap opera had reached a critical point after several months leading up to this moment and she was not going to get distracted and miss any of it.

The commercial came on.  The next scene was the critical one. The male and female characters would face each other and resolve the issue separating them.  While she went to get something out of the refrigerator, I turned off the sound.

The scene started, the camera would show the face of one character while the other character was talking.  The back of the head was shown of the talking character.  The camera kept switching back and forth between the two characters; the only thing my mother saw was the back of the head of one character and the facial expressions of the other.  She thought it was very dramatic and artful to play the scene out without sound, just seeing the facial reaction of each character looking at the other as the camera kept switching from one face to the other.  My mother was enthralled.  Then the scene ended and the next commercial came on.

My little joke was not taken well, hence the burn from the hot butter knife I received.

I never did tell her about the scholarship, she and my father learned about it from an uncle whose daughter went to the same school as me.

Don’t get me wrong; my mother was no more violent than any other parent at the time.  In fact, she received expert advice on this, as you will see from the following incident:

As I got bigger, her attempts to smack me become harder to accomplish.  I would put up my arm in self-defense and she wound up hitting my forearm and eventually it would hurt her. 

Things came to a head, when I was in Junior High.  She had just attempted to smack me and consequently hurt her hand on my forearm.  She became very frustrated so she grabbed my arm and bit me.

Not a love bite, but a real bite, it broke the skin and caused a very small amount of blood.

I saw an opportunity and told her I could get infected with a bite.  I told her I had just had a class in hygiene at school addressing this issue and I probably needed to see the doctor.  I kept this up for a while and she grudgingly agreed to take me.

We arrived at the doctor, our family physician who was (or so it seemed to me) in his 70’s.  Dr Silverman was his name.

He heard me out, turned to my mother and said, “He’s right, he can get infected from a bite”. 

I thought I was home free.

“But what can I do?” my mother complained, “He’s too big for me to hit him effectively”

The doctor had an answer ready.

“The next time he does something, hit him across the back with a chair” he said.

The next day, she did.

For those of you who feel I have taken dramatic license with the facts, just ask my cousins Julie and Joe. My mother once confirmed the validity of these stories to them.  She seemed proud of it.

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