I love forsythia, their delicate yellow flowers with the barely detected scent. What I didn’t like, when I was a kid, was the fact that a forsythia branch was the means by which punishment was enforced in our home. While my mother had a Master’s degree in verbal tongue-lashing, my father was in charge of physical discipline. Thus the switch, a solid forsythia branch, was frequently applied to my or my brother’s posterior by my Dad, with varying degrees of force and frequency depending on the infraction. “Wait ‘til your father gets home,” was an ominous sign of things to come.
My uncle was of like mind with Dad, but he applied a belt to my cousins. The belt was an old black leather strap that hung in the kitchen closet in their home, but which traveled with them to Plymouth each summer, when they came to visit us. My brother and I swore that what we experienced was the worse than what our cousins endured, and part of each visit involved a lengthy recounting of recent times the belt and switch had been used, the infractions that had called for their use, and the virtues of each form of punishment. All this ended during one of the cousin invasions when, exasperated to the limit by our behavior, our respective fathers gave us the choice: switch or belt.
The cousins all sat down on the kitchen floor and recommenced our discussion of the merits of each of these instruments of torture. The dads watched on in amusement for a while, then demanded an answer. I remember saying, “I think I’ll take the switch,” to which my cousins replied, “We’re okay with the belt.”
Later that evening, our backsides smarting from the latest insult, we collectively decided not to discuss our different forms of punishment again, just in case discussing them might somehow elicit their use.
My husband and I planted forsythia along our driveway, but I never once cut a switch when my kids were growing up. Not that I didn’t think about it.