My 2 younger brothers, Greg, Mike and I were born and grew up in an averaged-sized northern New England city. Homes were modest, mill-worker affordable I guess, though mom and dad never actually owned their own home. They were mill workers and so we were apartment dwellers. Most of the rental situations in our neighborhood were of the triple-decker type, stacked it seemed wall-to-wall, with no intervening driveways to access the non-existent garages. That was fine, as most parents in our neighborhood couldn’t afford a car anyway. Getting to and from work, school, errands, or whatever, occurred on-foot or by public transportation. We were semi-poor and didn’t know it. Life was simple and happy I guess, as best I can recall. We weren’t particularly traumatized by our modest start in life, despite occasional spankings.
In time the unimaginable happened. Dad and mom bought a car. It had some years on it. I remember it as a 2-door, black, ’48 Chevy. We didn’t care…we had arrived. Much of the same was happening around us in my friends’ families.
My dad, Hank, had 2 older brothers, uncles Ernie and Ted, and a younger sister, aunt Peg. They all lived in the same neighborhood early on, but somehow they found their ways into better digs during our early years. Job changes and even modest wage growth afforded them to purchase a single-family home, not too far out of the city, and for uncle Ted, a rural home on a couple of acres (it seemed as big as a ranch!) with a small pond no less.
The first summer out of school after uncle Ted bought his home he contacted my parents and invited me and Greg to come spend a couple of weeks at his home on the pond. Mike was yet too young. Uncle Ted thought it would be a great way for me and Greg to stay in touch with his kids…our cousins Jake, Thad and Denny. While they were slightly older, we weren’t much aware of that.
And so came the week of the 4th of July that first year uncle Ted and aunt Meg bought their country “estate”. Mom…Jen…packed our suitcases with our necessities for a 2-week stay with our cousins, including a list of expected behaviors…or else!...while we were guesting at uncle Ted’s. Dad loaded the suitcases, along with our fishing rods, in the trunk of the ’48 Chevy…and off we went on a 45-minute drive which took us to uncle Ted’s. On arrival, uncle Ted, aunt Peg, and our cousins streamed out of the house through a side door off their kitchen, across a large, covered farmer’s porch out onto the driveway which lead to a barn/garage. We were invited into the large farmer’s kitchen where dad, having deposited our fishing poles on the porch, placed the suitcases on the floor. We all stood around chatting for a short while and soon enough my dad looked at his watch and announced, “I guess it’s time for me to be heading home.”
Looking at me and Greg he added, “Don’t forget…you’re both guests here, have a great visit and I hope that will include your best behavior over the next two weeks.”
Turning to look at my uncle Ted he added, “They’re all yours Ted. I expect them to live up to your expectations and house rules, and if they don’t you have my OK to deal with them as you would your own, no playing favorites just because they’re guests.”
Uncle Ted added, “I’ll keep that in mind Hank, but I’m sure everything will be fine.”
Mike and I looked at each other wide-eyed. “But dad, uncle Ted has a razor strap.”
“I know,” dad added, “and if you guys screw up, then it’s the strap for you guys too. Like I said, I don’t want uncle Ted to play favorites, versus your cousins. Do you guys understand that?”
Mike and I acknowledged with a very sheepish, “Yes sir.”
Then turning to uncle Ted, dad reiterated to uncle Ted, “If the strap is called for, have at it.”
And so, formalities over, Jake and Thad helped us gather our things and showed us to the spare bedroom where Mike and I would be sleeping. At the far end of the hall leading to that room, Jake and Thad stopped abruptly in front of a door which lead to the basement. There, about halfway up the center of the door, a shiny, double-ply, black razor strap hung on a teacup hook on the hall side of the door. Thad gave it a nudge so that it began to swing slowly, left-right. I was immediately terrified and felt “butterflies” about it, something I would a few short years later come to identify as a sexual stimulation thing…but that’s another story.
“OK you guys,” Jake said, “there it is. Trust me, you don’t want to encounter that thing if you have a choice. Your uncle Ted doesn’t use the strap often, but if he does, you won’t forget it any time soon.”
As fate would have it, shortly before the 2 weeks had passed, my cousin Thad earned himself a licking and uncle Ted put the strop into action. I don’t even remember what Thad did…but Mike and I sure remember the outcome. The sound of the strop lashing Thad’s butt and the instantaneous howls were pretty impressive.
Dad returned to take us home a couple of days later. After loading our things into the car, we headed down the driveway and home.
“So, how was your visit with your cousins?” dad asked.
I jumped in, “It was great, lots of fishing, swimming, cooking out on the grill.”
Mike added, “Yeah…and Thad got a licking with uncle Ted’s razor strap. It sure sounded like it hurt something awful.”
“I’m sure it did…it’s supposed. It’s just the right medicine to get a boy’s head turned around to the straight and narrow and keep it that way. And by the way fellas, I have a surprise for you when we get home.”
The rest of the ride home was pretty quiet.
As we pulled in our driveway, it was near the supper hour and dad announced, “We’re doing burgers and hot dogs on the grill for supper with ice cream sundaes for dessert. How’s that sound, fellas?”
We thought that was the “surprise”. Little did we know.