52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 40: Trouble and Punishment in the “olden days”


The topic for Week 40 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Trouble. What happened when you got into trouble as a child? What was punishment like in your home?

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a curl in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good, but, like the nursery rhyme, when she was bad she was horrid. On one occasion when she was horrid she must have been given a bit of a smack with the razor strop (those heavy leather belt-like items that were used to sharpen old fashioned razors). Not being too fond of being smacked at the best of times, she didn’t like getting the strop so she decided to do away with it. She dug a hole in the dirt under the house and buried it. From that day to this it has never been uncovered and luckily when the carport was put in, the concrete was laid on the other side under the house. Is this a true story or fiction? I’ve often wondered myself: one day I may have to turn archeologist just to find out. But then a negative result would spoil a long-held memory.

This story should not be interpreted to mean that childhood in the “olden days” was a violent experience, because it wasn’t. Really I have very few specific memories of being punished so I guess if/when I was smacked it didn’t have any lasting impact. I do think most children then knew a smack meant parents were serious about an infringement. I think the fact this memory centres on what happened to the strap is important –it’s not the fear of being smacked, or the pain, that’s stuck in the mind but the insubordination of burying the strap….and seemingly getting away with it. Nor can I recall ever getting the strap at another time, so perhaps the story really is just a fairy tale. A more common form of punishment was being in the dog house, something I really didn’t like despite the fact that no physical punishment took place.

Like Cyndi over on the Mountain Genealogist, discipline was neighbourhood-wide so that if a child misbehaved in another person’s house the parents would certainly reprimand you and you’d know full well that your parents would hear about it soon enough.

Household punishment can be seen in the context of the era by looking at school-based punishments. Swipes of the cane were delivered regularly for comparatively minor misdemeanours. “Sixes” (six hits of the cane) were reserved, generally, for the naughtiest child, often a boy…something to be avoided at most costs, though it was always a matter of honour not to show pain or defeat.  I certainly avoided the cane as much as possible and in fact have no recollection of copping it. Flying blackboard dusters and bits of chalk were alternative forms of attention-getting by teachers in those days.

Violent and aggressive punishment, depending on your point of view I suppose, certainly in 21st century terms, but in some ways more honest and quickly recovered from, when not excessive, than covert forms of bullying or alienation by other children or teachers. These behaviours, while always somewhat evident in the playground, seem to run rampant in the modern day life of children.

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