Raising my children in Minnesota, the one thing I miss is family. I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma on the outskirts of an even smaller town where my father was born and raised. Having lived there his whole life – and my father being one of more than a dozen children my grandmother brought into the world – we were constantly surrounded by family. In fact, we were quite literally surrounded by family every single day of our lives; my dad’s younger sister lived across the street, and caddy-corner to her lived her daughter with her family. Behind both of them lived my oldest brother with his family of four boys. It was really quite something to explain to newcomers and visitors that we were all related. And the best part is that each house had a revolving door. If Mom and Dad weren’t home when we got home from school, we were to go next door to my aunt and uncle’s house. If they weren’t home, then we could go to my grown cousin’s house, caddy-corner to the aunt and uncle. And if they weren’t home, then my adult brother or his wife would surely be home. There was always someone around to keep an eye on the little kids. So it was that, growing up, our neighborhood was a true example of the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Now, I realize that in 21st Century America, spankings have become taboo. But, in the 1970s in Oklahoma (and maybe still in Oklahoma?) it’s how we disciplined our children. And I’ll tell you one thing for certain: children didn’t misbehave very often. There’s something to be said for a healthy amount of fear for the adults in a child’s life. Just the threat of a spanking from my dad was enough to put the fear of God into us and put us back in line. Nobody gave spankings like my dad!
One day my younger brother was playing at my Aunt Shirley’s house next door. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but the story goes that he had somehow destroyed one of my uncle’s young fruit trees (a sapling, still), and this after Aunt Shirley had repeatedly told him to leave them alone before he destroyed them. But, boys are boys and if you tell them not to do something, even the threat of the dreaded discipline from dad sometimes isn’t enough to deter them.
Catching my brother in the act of destruction, my sweet aunt – the favorite of pretty much every niece, nephew and child in the family – gave my brother a choice: “I’m very disappointed in you,” she told him. “You have a choice: You can take a spanking from me, or you can wait until your dad gets home and we can discuss it with him and you can take the spanking from your dad. It’s up to you. Which would you prefer?”
Oh wow! A choice! This was something brand new! Never had we been given a choice! This is why every child ever born just adores this particular aunt!
Well, given the choice of facing the wrath of dad versus the spanking from our favorite aunt, my brother took what he thought was the lesser of two evils. “I’ll take a spanking from you,” he responded.
With no small amount of relief, my brother bent over to take his punishment – a reduced sentence, he was sure – from Aunt Shirley.
“Yikes!” he thought. “This is a woman who knows what she’s doing!”
WHACK! went the paddle a second time.
“HOLY SCHMOLY! Who is this woman and what did she do to my sweet Aunt Shirley?”
After a couple of well placed smacks to the butt, the spanking was complete. Having (barely) survived his punishment, my brother dried his tears, turned to Aunt Shirley and said, “I’m sorry, Aunt Shirley. I didn’t mean to ruin your trees. I won’t do it again, I promise! But, just in case I do, do you think it’d be okay if I took my spankings from my dad in the future?”
Now, I’m sure some people are wondering whether Aunt Shirley lost her “favorite aunt” status after this episode. The answer is,without any doubts, ABSOLUTELY NOT! Aunt Shirley remains to this day – 30+ years later – the favorite aunt of myself and all of my siblings…and probably all of my cousins and their children as well. But I will tell you one thing: I’m in my 40s now and, when I go to visit my aunt, I still take a wide berth around those trees…just in case!