Getting the Strap – Part 4 of 4

This is the final instalment in a four part series prompted by recents news stories about four Manitoba Mennonite parents being charged with assault. I  welcome comments and other strap stories.  If  your story is  too long for a comment response send it to me by email and I’ll post. A complete copy of this essay is available on my writing page.

 boy hesslerah_008The half a strap  mentioned in my first post was out of character for my Dad. I was making too much noise in the basement rec room while he was preparing a sermon. Aas I  stomping upstairs he burst out of his office, swinging the strap that was always in his desk and gave chase. He missed all but once. I decided though it would be advisable not to return to the basement anytime soon that evening.

 I say it was out of character for Dad, because very rarely got angry or lost his temper.  The one time I saw him in a blind rage was after my horse Dancer shied, driving him hard into the side of a passing pick-up one Sunday morning.  While the driver hurried to our house telling my mother to call an ambulance he came to, got up and walked to the barn where Dancer returned.  He got a piece of leather harness, grabbed Dancer’s bridle and beat the shit out of that horse (see Lucky Man  pp.20, 21).

 The third and last time I was strapped is probably the one that affected me the most. I sold pumpkins I grew in our garden every October. One day after school I sold one to David Nickel for twenty-five cents after school. He asked if he could have free delivery because the basket on my bike was big enough to take it to his place. I didn’t consider just letting him use my bike and trading back at school the next day. I didn’t realize actually how far outside of Gretna David lived and it was well after supper when I got back.

 I knew I was in trouble the minute I got in the door. Supper was over. Mom and dad were waiting for me.  They had been worried sick not knowing where I was.  The actual strapping I don’t remember like the first one. What I remember is how unjust I thought punishment was. I was just trying to help a friend. More humiliating though was the walk with Dad round our 3.5 acre property with him pointing exactly what our boundaries were with instruction not to cross those boundaries for a month.


 My mother made my father promise not to get angry  before she accepted his proposal for marriage. He kept his promise, slipping only twice in my presence, once turning out the sunflower seeds in his pocket in our Fort Richmond backyard in response to mom’s nagging about the shells. The other was on a road trip where she wanted to go to a pulp mill he drove by, with her complaining enough for him to turn around, though she said he didn’t have to.  That’s all I saw in my 20 years living with them.

 The only problem this created for me were my expectations of relationships and marriages, nbo tools whatever for dealing with conflict, and never learning to express anger appropriately; instead at some point  my rage usually overcame my repression and I just totally lost it. 

 With that caveat I know I was a very lucky boy, getting the strap  less than many many other children.  There were other issues at home, the absent father, the overriding importance of service and work before family, and a dose of neglect.


I was abused by a stranger who my father let take me fishing because I begged and begged to go, this after begging and begging to go on an actual lakeside vacation. 

 The  title of the poem about this experience is called “So how much does it matter?” (boy 93 – 96) I am curious why I responded to the situations I describe by becoming a very angry boy, telling my parents I would never say these were the best years of my life. Jimmy Bang Poems (Turnstone 1979) is a very much a young angry man’s book. I was diagnosed with depression in the seventies (the whole anger turned inward thing), though delaying treatment until 1984 when my first son was born.

I wonder about diferent levels of resilence individuals have facing f trauma and abuse.  The nature nurture discussion, how much have genetics and nuerobiology  shaped my mental health, or lack of it.   How big a factor  religion, and repression dominant in our home, in feeding my own, largely unabated, anger.   I am angry often now at my limitations, physical and mental, and it does no good.  Neither does blame, which I readily assume because, well, as Linda Ronstadt sang, “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good.”


 I was talking to one of my former Gretna Public School classmates about our experiences, my new book (boy) and my interest in writing a novel set in southern Manitoba  loosely based on the stories of his family and the street where I grew up.

 He said “You know we really pitied you when we were little. Remember when your Dad was Gretna Public principal there were two school buildings for a time, with one across the street for the younger grades. There was a strap in our building, and when a teacher wanted a child disciplined the teacher put the strap in a brown bag and we were to bring it to the your Dad’s principals office across the street. Usually we were such a mess by the time we got to his office he rarely used it. We could only imagine what it must have been like for you at home.”


Have a story about getting the strap you want to share? Email [email protected], clearly indicating if you want to remain anonymous, but real email address and names required. Or just post a comment….


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One Comment

  1. Strapmenow
    Posted August 9, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I was strapped when I was 12 years old at the Intermediste school I attended in New Zealand. This was in 1961. Getting the strap was very common back then. I was strapped for following a Special Needs pupil around and imitating his looping gait or walk. The duty teacher was furious when he rounded a corner of the school building and I was ordered to report to the cloakroom between two classrooms. When I arrived there were about 15 other pupils gathered there for various offences. We each received six of the best- delivered to the palms of our hands – three on each hand.

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