This may come as a shock to the folks who think of me as a sweet old lady who spends her days cleaning, sewing, and tapping on a keyboard, but I spent more than my share of time in timeout as a kid.
That’s not to say, I passed many hours sitting on a bench waiting for a game or sporting match to resume play. This was not the kind of timeout designed to give a team of players a chance to strategize, or to provide coaches the opportunity to verbally abuse the officials without missing any of the action on the field. This kind of timeout was designed to be punitive. Like a penalty box in hockey. Only without the giant scoreboard on the wall at the far end of the room.
We didn’t call it timeout back then, of course. To be clear, we were already calling automobiles “cars” instead of “tin Lizzies” by the time I was born. We also had color TV—well, WE didn’t—but some people did. In other words, it had been invented.
I mention these things to give you context more than anything else. To give you an idea of how far back it was so you don’t think the concept of timeout is something that Supernanny Joanne Frost invented at the turn of this century.
The practice is believed to date back to nearly ancient times. In the 20th century, according to the more colorful pages of the average Sunday newspaper, children were sent to stand in the corner when they misbehaved—especially if their misdeeds annoyed or caused harm to an easily aggrieved man named Mr. Wilson. And according to several black and white film reels, children were also forced to stand in the corner when they misbehaved at school. Further evidence of this can also be found in 20th century depictions of 19th century Walnut Grove.
I don’t recall having been asked to stand in the corner, myself. My timeouts were usually spent on a couch or in a chair.
During one two-year period in my youth, when my dad was married to my first step-mom, I spent much of my time in timeout for arguing with my step-brother, Burt, who was usually sent to an adjacent cell—er, chair.
On one particular afternoon I recall nearly having extra time added to my sentence thanks to that little bastard, who was two years older than me but exceptionally unintelligent and immature for his age.
Never one to tolerate either silence or inactivity very well, I decided to pass my time in the penalty box by mouthing my list of vocabulary words, and their spellings and definitions. As I was doing this—and because he was either a moron or a lying sack of steaming doodoo—Burt decided to go tell his mom, Betty, that I was swearing.
Fortunately, she didn’t buy it. Although she did call me to the stand and ask me to repeat what I had been “saying” while she was out of the room, she also stopped me less than three words into my list to tell me to sit down and shut up. I’m paraphrasing, of course. She would never have been that nice.
The point is, she recognized that Burt was trying to get me penalized and have time taken off his own sentence by providing testimony—false though it was—of my further wrongdoing. Burt’s plan backfired, I’m thankful to say, and while I don’t think he learned much from the experience, I myself learned two valuable skills: how to manipulate tattle tale step-siblings into cutting their own throats, and how to successfully defend yourself against false and not so false accusations of swearing under your breath.
That incident wasn’t the first in which I was accused of something I hadn’t done, nor would it be the last.
During middle school, circa 1979, I was summoned to the administrative office, where I found myself subsequently being interrogated by the principal and the school nurse, Mrs. St. Pierre, about some unspecified item that had been found in my locker.
To my knowledge, all that was in my locker were books, school supplies and perhaps a spare feminine product or two, so I was dumbfounded. Especially since the only other person who had access to that locker was my friend, Alicia, who was as pure a soul as they come and without a doubt even less likely to be in possession of contraband than I was.
Unable to get me to admit to anything—since there literally was nothing to admit to—Mrs. St. Pierre reached into a drawer and produced an 8-ounce bottle that bore the original and unadulterated product labels, including one on the front that said Cepacol mouthwash (similar to the one seen here ) but instead of the original and unadulterated urine-yellow liquid, it contained a caramel colored substance resembling brandy or bourbon.
“So this isn’t yours?” Mrs. St. Pierre asked calmly as she set it on the table.
“Oh that! Yeah, that’s mine.”
“Well what is it?” she asked. “Because it most certainly isn’t Cepacol mouthwash.”
She was right about that. It was Ten-o-Six lotion by Bonne Bell. Ten-o-Six lotion is an astringent I used to clean my face after P.E. Because it was expensive, I would buy it in the large bottle (like the one seen in here) which didn’t fit on the top shelf of my locker. And so, I kept a supply in an old mouthwash bottle, which DID fit on the top shelf of my locker.
Assuming they thought it was booze, I explained all of that, believing it would soon lead to my release. It did not.
“Why didn’t you label it Ten-o-Six lotion?” the principal asked.
“Because I knew it was Ten-o-Six lotion.” DUH.
It was then that I found out that illicit alcohol was the least of their concerns. As it turned out, believing what was in the bottle was Cepacol mouthwash, Alicia had taken a swig of Ten-o-Six lotion during our last break, planning to stop and spit it out in the bathroom sink on her way to her next class.
But instead of fresh clean breath on her way to the next period, Alicia got a nasty set of chemical burns and I got pulled into the office on suspicion of trying to poison her. Which is not something I would have thought of doing to anyone at the time. (Now, sure. But then, never.)
In retrospect, I probably should have told Alicia it wasn’t mouthwash. But since I never imagined anyone would help themselves to someone else’s mouthwash (ew!) I didn’t think I had to tell anyone that it WASN’T mouthwash. Later, as a college student with three untrustworthy roommates, I learned that people will help themselves to all kinds of things you wouldn’t expect (double ew!) but in eighth grade, I was still an innocent.
Ah, the good old days.