Alan Linda

Freelance Writer

Parenting has sure changed since my generation were kids. Most of what our parents threatened to do to us for punishment back in the fifties would now involve half the local social services bureau, along with some emergency responders, the police, and the fire department.

And now? It’s all “time out” and surrender your electronic game pad.

Then? It was “this is going to hurt me more that it will you” and the very effective threat of various paddles, switches, and maybe a belt.

Farm children back then, we were on our own.  There were no neighbors close enough to hear us yelling even if we were inclined to yell. Mostly, we knew we deserved what we got. No use calling for help. Heck, as much as those old wall-crank phones worked back then there was usually no phone to call for help even if we remotely believed there was any. Dad was The King. The Dealer Out of Disciplinary Measures. The Ogre whom mothers called upon when they played the Just Wait Until Your Father Gets Home card. That “Get Home” card was usually all it took. Stuck in the corner being “The Dead Kid Walking” while time passed waiting for dad to come home was horrible.

In all my childhood, I only really recall maybe twice even being touched, once a swat on the butt (which I had coming), and once being told, after having been caught playing with matches, to “hold out your fingers.” That order was accompanied by that old look on dad’s face that said: “This is going to……” Well, you know. He waved a lit match under my fingers, I barely felt any heat, but I immediately got the idea. 

Often, just the threat of some unknown punishment was enough. Kids back then being told to sit in the corner until The King came home was enough to turn even the worst offenders into little angels. For a while.

I’ll have to ask my brother if he and our cousin got the old “hold out your fingers” treatment when dad caught the two of them on top of the chicken house, lighting farmer matches and throwing them off the roof. Those were great smoke trails, I’ll bet. For sure, there weren’t any “time outs” on the table in the aftermath of that situation. When barns full of hay and old wooden houses were so flammable, things got serious quickly.

What triggered all this was the sudden memory of an incident that took place when I was about seven or eight, and my brother and cousin were a year younger. Dad was out in the field. Mom was in the kitchen, and we were caught plotting abuse on our little sister. (It was a good thing we ganged up on her back then, because when she grew up a little, she got a lot tougher than we were. )

I don’t remember what particular torture we had set up for her, but Mom caught us. “Okay,” she said, in a fashion that brooked no lipping off whatsoever, “You three go out to the willow tree by the chicken house and cut yourselves each a switch.”

Oh no! Not the–gasp–willow switch tree. We’d already at some point cut long whippy switches from that tree to play with, and they were AWFUL. Like a bullwhip. Worse. We plodded reluctantly out to that tree, began selecting our punishment.

Cousin Douglas saw us measuring out switches about three feet long.  Now, Cousin Douglas knew stuff. We were always impressed with stuff he knew, like how to inhale a stolen cigarette, or how best to pull the feathers out of a chicken. Stuff like that.

Anyway, he watched my brother and I selecting those long switches, and he said: “What the heck are you doing, are you guys nuts?”

What? We didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Here,” he said, and he proceeded to cut a switch out of a teeny weeny little branch about six inches long, a branch that wouldn’t lick a fly a good one.

Well, heck. The logic of his choice was brilliant! After all, she never did say how big a switch to cut, did she. So we each of us cut this little piece of willow branch, and marched back into the house with them.

Mom took one look and burst out laughing, said something like “Good grief you three” and next thing you know, we had milk and cookies.

She could appreciate creativity, I guess.

Boy, those were the good old days.