Summers in Plymouth: The Cousin Invasion and the Switch or the Belt

This is a partial re-posting of a memoir piece I posted last year, perfect for Summers in Plymouth.

My uncle, cousin Paul, brother Jay, cousin Peter, my aunt, and I
My uncle, cousin Paul, brother Jay, cousin Peter, my aunt, and I

When I was growing up, my year was always dominated by summer adventures. In late August, my mother’s sister and her husband and two boys would come for a visit. These visits were always awaited with great anticipation, since their oldest boy, Peter, was six months younger than I, while the youngest, Paul, was six months younger than my brother Jay. I could never figure out how Mom and her sister had managed this arrangement.

We had built-in playmates for a week or two: Paul and Jay roomed together in my bedroom, while Peter and I were housed in the old servant’s quarters on our old house’s third floor, in a bedroom with twin beds under the eaves.

After the first couple of days of the cousin invasion, the bloom was off the rose. Peter and I or Paul and Jay were either getting into trouble or fighting. Which raises the subject of punishment. Spoiling the child was never an issue for my parents. Mom had a Master’s degree in verbal tongue-lashing, while Dad was in charge of physical discipline. I had a “smart mouth” according to Mom, and trouble found Jay several times daily. Thus the switch, a thin green stick cut from a forsythia bush in the back yard, was frequently applied to our posteriors by 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.

Pain never seemed to be an issue for Jay, who was hyperactive and barely responded to anything that hurt. The only time Mom wielded a whacking instrument to my brother was when in complete frustration she broke a yardstick on Jay’s backside. Part of the frustration was that Jay smiled all the way through its application. I, on the other hand, dreaded the switch, and only managed to avoid encountering it once over the years, when I hid under a bed.

Our uncle was of like mind with our father, only he applied a belt to our cousins. The belt was an old black leather strap that hung in the kitchen closet in their home, but it traveled with them to Plymouth each summer. Each pair of cousins swore that what they experienced was worse, usually at the conclusion of 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 a choice: switch or belt.

While Paul and Jay were on the receiving end of the belt and switch respectively, Peter and I sat down on the kitchen floor and recommenced our discussion of the merits of each of these instruments of torture. “Well?” my Dad asked, when our turn came.

“I think I’ll take the switch,” I remember answering rather reluctantly.

“I’m okay with the belt,” said Peter.

Later that evening, with our backsides smarting from the latest insult, we collectively decided not to discuss our different forms of punishment again, just in case discussing them somehow elicited their use.

As a parent, I never used a switch. When my children were little, they infrequently got one swat on their diapered rears for effect, but we mainly used time outs.

Here we are grown up: Paul, Peter, Jay and I
Here we are grown up: Paul, Peter, Jay and I

Peter and I had another adventure I clearly remember – we took my turnabout, the Yama (it means ‘hurry’ in Bahamian) out to sail around Plymouth Harbor. We had a picnic with us and I figured we could land near the bird sanctuary at the end of the long spit of land that protects Plymouth harbor, anchor the boat and eat on the sandy beach.

The birds had other plans. We were still about a quarter of a mile away when I noticed a gathering of gulls above us. As we drew nearer, they started to dive bomb us, at first just missing and then landing on Peter’s head and pecking him. I came about in a hurry and prayed the wind wouldn’t die down before we got far enough from the shore. Needless to say we ate on the Yama. I do remember when we got home, we had sunburns on half of our faces, depending on which side of the sail we’d sat on!



9 thoughts on “Summers in Plymouth: The Cousin Invasion and the Switch or the Belt”

  1. It seems not all childhood reminiscence involve rose tinted glassed Noelle. Though I guess the ordeals took up very little of the Summer really and the rest of the time can be looked back on as fun.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  2. Gosh isn’t it terrible that parents could do that to their own children? I know it was thinking at the time, but no way could I watch or allow my husband take a strap or stick to my sons. I do remember my mother saying she was punished as a youngster by being made to stand on a chair and being lashed with a leather belt. Such cruelty to our own flesh and blood! And clearly it never worked… Never seemed to stop the ‘bad’ behaviours which earned it, either in your case, by your account, or my mother’s. I also used time out and the naughty step with my boys. They’ve grown into lovely polite well behaved teens, (I am biased, of course!) so obviously it worked well enough!

  3. What fabulous memories! I love the image of you all sitting and discussing the merits of the switch and the belt, I can imagine that the tales of mischief which instigated their use were wonderfully exaggerated, in the way children do. Thank you for sharing!

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