Mike and I got our gear out of the trunk of the car and up onto the porch. We propped open the porch door which lead into the kitchen and dropped our gear. Mom was there to greet us with hugs and kisses.
“Why don’t you boys get your stuff up to your room and get unpacked. I’ll get supper started in a short while after your dad fires up the grill. And don’t forget there are ice cream sundaes for dessert.”
Mom added, “And don’t forget to get your dirty clothes into the laundry bin in the bathroom, and wash up while you’re there. I piped up, “OK mom. Let’s get this stuff upstairs,” I said to Mike and off we went.
Upstairs Mike and I dropped our bags onto our beds, opened them and started to pick out the stuff that needed to go to the laundry bin in the bathroom. I finished first and headed, arms loaded, for the bathroom across the hall to drop the clothes in the bin.
I entered the bathroom and used my right foot to nudge the bathroom door from against the bathroom wall in order to get to the laundry bin. There was the “surprise” dad had mentioned in the car on the way home: A brand new razor strop, hanging on the inside of the bathroom door, swinging back and forth. I dropped my dirty clothes spontaneously onto the bathroom floor and went back into the hall and in a loud whisper I called, “Mike, get in here quick!” and went back into the bathroom and stood facing the new strop. Mike appeared, asking “So what’s up?”. I nodded, indicating for him to turn around and look at the inside bathroom door, which he did. He quickly turned back to me and we stood there facing each other, bug-eyed, for what seemed like forever.
Mike said, “Oh man! I didn’t think dad would ever get one of those. Look at this thing…” and with that Mike handled the strop without actually removing it from the teacup hook it hung from on the door. It was very much like uncle Ted’s strop, made up of 2 leather straps bound at the top with a shiny metal clasp. It was also square cut at the “business” end…the “biting” feature which made it hurt the worst during a licking, according to our cousins at uncle Ted’s house. The top strap was maybe ¼” thick, shiny, black and had a devil-like emblem embossed into it at the top, just below the metal clasp. Beneath the emblem were the words “Red Imp”. Later in adulthood I learned that this was the trademark of a U.S. razor strop manufacturer. The second strap behind it was of the same thickness and dark brown. The two straps combined, we would eventually learn, made for one painful licking when dad decided that was called for, and pretty rare.
From downstairs dad called, “Finish up you guys, mom and I need help getting stuff out to the yard to start grilling burgers for supper.”
Mike and I finished loading the laundry bin, washed up and changed into some clean jeans, T-shirts and sneakers and headed from the bedroom, down the hall to the stairwell which lead to the kitchen, where we met dad who had just bounded up the stairs to get changed himself.
Dad smiled. “From the look on your faces I’ll bet you discovered the ‘surprise’ I mentioned in the car on the way home.”
I jumped in sheepishly, “How come you got a razor strap?”
“OK guys…sometimes young men mess up and need stronger medicine than the usual spankings like you guys get. Like your cousins and probably most of your buddies down the street and at school, the razor strap is the only answer. I didn’t want you guys to feel left out. Come here…”
With that dad walked into the bathroom. We followed. He partially closed the bathroom door and removed the new strop from the hook on the door. Mike and I stepped back some. Dad smiled and half chuckled.
With the strop in his right hand, Dad started smacking the strop against the palm of his left hand. It made an impressive smacking sound. “You boys mentioned you heard Thad catch a licking from uncle Ted last week.” Mike and I stood motionless, bug-eyed.
“Seems like you were both impressed with how bad it must hurt when a boy gets a licking with a razor strap. Uncle Ted and I both got lickings from grandpa, and believe me you don’t want to go there if you have a choice. But you know what…it sure turns a boy’s head around when he’s headed in the wrong direction, which happens to you boys sometimes. Think about the smacking sound you just heard on my hand and how that would feel, and much harder, on your fanny.”
“You and uncle Ted got lickings from grandpa with a strap like this?” I asked.
Dad replied, “Yup. It didn’t happen often, but I sure remembered it for a while when it did.” Years later I recalled that conversation and thought it really cool that dad owned up to the lickings he’d gotten and maybe, because of that, he knew how to administer the strop sparingly and with the desired effect. I often wanted to ask dad for more details on the lickings he got, but I never did.
“OK guys, I don’t ever want to use this strop on you, but if you mess up real bad and ignore too many warnings, I will use the strop to get your attention, and you’ll get the licking you deserve. I thought that hanging the new strop on the bathroom door was the best way for you to see it every day…as a reminder of what could happen if you really messed up.”
Dad, Mike and I headed downstairs for grilled burgers and sundaes to follow.
Mike and I would be talking about the strop for a long time to come, before and after we’d had close “encounters” with it. Our younger brother, Greg, would have his own “encounters” in time. Those were the days.