While I was wandering through the aisles at Walmart, past shelves of K-cups, dog jerky, zit cream and Preparation H, I came upon a price-buster of a sale — a bin of wooden spoons selling for 50 cents apiece. How could I resist buying one or two or 22 for posterity?
The wooden spoon, which dates back to 250 BC when the Celts started carving them, occupies a place of honor in the history of the culinary arts and corporal punishment. Long before electric mixers, wooden spoons were used to combine ingredients like sugar and butter, and long before psychologists developed progressive disciplinary techniques like “time out,” wooden spoons ensured domestic tranquility in many homes.
The Walmart spoon was smaller and flimsier than the sturdy, thick spoon my mother used to wield like a Celtic woman engaged in hand-to-hand combat on the plains of Britain.
One good whack across the knuckles or the keister, would snap this spoon in two. They don’t make them like they used to, and I suspect these were mass-produced in the Shanxi Province of China, where unemployment is going to rise when President Trump brings jobs back to America and has wooden spoons manufactured on our great shores again, in Beverly Hills.
In our home, the wooden spoon was an implement of discipline second only to my father’s belt. A spoon from my mother’s collection should be on display in the Smithsonian under the title, “Multipurpose device used by Italian mothers circa 1959 for cooking and punishing unruly children.”
Every Saturday, she used it to stir her large pot of gravy with pepperoni and braciole as it simmered on the stove. She’d regularly dip the spoon into the sauce and bring it to her lips to taste. E’perfetto! And on summer days, she relied on the spoon to hold open the broken kitchen window and let cool breezes waft through the house.
Of course, the most notorious use was to promote law and order. If you crossed my mother, sassed her back or lied to her, the spoon came out of the drawer with the swift resolve of Dirty Harry pulling his 44 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver from his holster. My mother would wave it about with a wild look in her eyes. All she had to do was threaten my sisters and me to achieve the desired response.
There were occasions, however, when she resorted to violence and whacked it across my sister Margaret’s behind, after chasing her around the house over some act of disrespect, an F bomb perhaps, which required decisive retribution. When she caught her — and she always caught her — my sister would plead for mercy, but by then, my mother was beyond being merciful. It was time for justice.
“You had your chance and you blew it!” she’d sneer. WHACK. The number of whacks was determined by the severity of the offense. Punishment exacted, lesson learned … at least momentarily. Marge’s behind would be sore for a bit and then it was business as usual again.
Now, before every psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist and dog groomer starts accusing me of condoning corporal punishment, let me state unequivocally that I am NOT advocating hitting, so I don’t want to be denounced by George Soros, George Clooney and/or Boy George. Furthermore, I’ve had no conversations with the Trump administration about reviving corporal punishment as a parenting tactic in America.
I confess, too, that I was afraid they’d denounce me from the podium at the Oscars for encouraging the use of wooden spoons.( For the record, I never hit my kids. At least I don’t think I did.) The Oscars should not be an occasion to denounce discipline via wooden spoons as much as an occasion to celebrate violence and sex in films. Maybe the organizers can include a wooden spoon in the celebrity swag bags next year.
I am haunted, though, by one metaphysical question. Why in the era of “time out” and other New Age disciplinary techniques is there more violence than ever before in homes, in schools, in the streets and in our entertainment? Is this something we can blame on those mothers who brandished wooden spoons?
I’m sure our enlightened elected officials will read this and immediately submit a bill in the General Assembly, outlawing wooden spoons or at least requiring a very costly state permit to use one. So head on down to Walmart while there’s still time and still spoons on sale … until someone decides to ban them.
Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]