Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Woodshed

All my life I have traveled this route, with my parents or, in my college days, alone; with my fiancé now my husband and our two children. And someday, I know, what we call progress will overtake these rural farms but not now, not yet – for one more journey I've been granted a reprieve and the woodshed still stands.

It is not my woodshed in any sense but the site of unshared fantasies and so I cannot protect or preserve it except in my mind or pictures; I could never explain a desire to buy the property, more rundown each year and now so far removed from every other part of our lives but it is the sight of this lonely outbuilding that, more than anything, tells me I'm home.

This was not always the case because when I was young, when at age ten I first noticed it and began to watch for it, it signified that we were getting close, that the nearly hour-long car ride was nearly over, that soon we would be at grandma's house. My father had laughed and my mother, a confirmed urbanite, had scowled as he explained that one building, now long removed, was an outhouse; when I asked about a second building not much further along he had said it was a woodshed.

My father was older when he had children and his mother was already elderly and trips to grandma's were a visit to a long-gone world, with wood-burning stoves and a kitchen "hotter than the hinges of Hades," as he would complain; of hand-made quilts and down comforters on the beds of people not rich; of crockery and maple mixing spoons; and also of things remembered or rumored or whispered about – switches and razor strops and, yes, woodsheds.

I was in Advanced Reading and had heard of a woodshed, which in my mind had no other purpose than a place of corporal punishment, the thought of which affected me strangely. So common were my thoughts on the subject that the idea of having a separate building dedicated to it seemed not at all odd but perfectly reasonable. My first sight – my first conscious sight – of one was a revelation, in that it was so small; I had been imagined something more on the lines of a barn, at least a smallish one, maybe with a window, uncurtained but dark with cobwebs. And yet I was not disappointed, I just adjusted my thoughts to fit this reality – that rather than a tack room, walls hung with harnesses, hames, and seemingly-innocuous leather traces as long as a car, it was dark and private in sight and sound.

Doubtless the route from the interstate to the road to grandma's was dotted with numerous sheds, at least when I was ten; but having had one identified for me I was mortified at the thought of asking about any others and seeming to express an interest in them. So this first became my woodshed, my landmark. The first time I saw it a small girl was being led to it, having had a tantrum in church, still in her pretty dress and, presumably, frilly panties, an angry man in uncomfortable clothes and a thunderous scowl leading the way. The girl, who existed only in my mind, was not me – I had never had those curls and certainly not a tantrum and my skin was too sensitive for anything but the smoothest, unadorned underwear. Still I was spanked, on the bare, for this misbehavior, and lucky he used only his hand. Over the next six weeks I was spanked many times in that woodshed, apparently deeply angered by church services on a disturbingly regular basis.

At the tender age of twelve I contrived to take a picture of my woodshed, creating an entire hobby and dragging my overly-accommodating father up and down the highway for hours, shooting two rolls of film as cover while only daring a single shot of my secret obsession. But oh! what a shot it was, living inside my dresser drawer for three years before I managed to update it with one in focus. At least on the second trip I managed to have my father drop me off to wander up and down the highway alone; I shot one roll with three pictures of the shed, spread throughout the other photos so no one, not even the person who developed them, would suspect.

By that time I had developed a fascination for tight jeans and the strap, though my own jeans were seldom tight, my figure not cooperating with my fantasies. Still, country girls were sassy and ill-tempered and were always being told "that's it, you're getting the strap" or "you'll be getting the strap for that" to my uneasy delight. Like the built-for-purpose shed, the strap was a country creation to provide effective discipline, broad heavy leather, worse than any belt. At times my imagined plump rump was roasted right through the well-worn denim that stretched tightly across it; most often, though, they came down, with effort, peeled off like the second skin I intended them to be, bare skin leathered until I was squalling and bawling and then "given something to cry about." Once, even, I had so much trouble getting them off that I was given double for dawdling, which became a threat thereafter. Somehow, as if in a dream, these imaginings combined so that I received my strapping and its extensions on the bare while I still seemed to be sealed into my fictional jeans, which held in the heat so that I'd be "cooked in my own juice." For by then I well knew the source of my fascination, and each detailed imagining left me feeling like I had earned another spanking.

Also at fifteen my grandmother passed away, a time during which I spent days on end inside the woodshed. My father was devastated and remote; my mother has never been comfortable around his family. I felt guilty over not feeling a greater sense of loss at the passing of this eighty-five-year-old woman. And so it was off to the woodshed. Perhaps I had objected to making the trip a week ago, or two – now I was paying the price; maybe I had complained about my outfit for the funeral, for which I was introduced to the switch. Situations occurred at such a dizzying rate that I was unable to keep them straight.

After that our trips to the homestead, with two of my aunts in residence, became less frequent, generally once at the holidays and a reunion in the summer. My fantasies would become more varied, more vivid, and would last a month or two before I'd forget them, the next time striking me completely differently. During college, when I would make the summer trips alone, I became taken by nudity, or the idea of it; I had been caught skinny-dipping, or with a lover, or a party had gotten way out of hand, and there I was, led – almost dragged – naked to the woodshed to be taught proper behavior. By now the choices were varied, and my bound wrists were attached to the rafter so that I may be disciplined by crop as well as switches and strap.

My own father never spanked me in the woodshed (or in reality, anywhere else); he was a gentle man, serious, and his disapproval alone kept my behavior pretty blameless. In the case of my cropping it was a neighbor of my grandmother's, who I had never formally met, impossibly old in a blue plaid shirt and suspenders, hands dry and chapped but a grip like a clamp, the disapproval of a deacon and the determination of an evangelist. At times he was accompanied by his wife (most definitely not my own mother) to avoid the appearance of impropriety and, based on the other times, with good reason.

Also in college I had the idea of a wool-suited woman with a hairbrush who encouraged my studies in the dining room of her lovely, very formal home. I wore a white blouse under a sweater and only my shirttails protected my modesty, being all bare below. She spanked very hard but without anger, just disappointment and resolution and I had to visit her many times for being late to a study session or missing an easy exam question. No matter how minor the infraction I was always, in my mind, spanked until I couldn't sit and then some more before being sent to the corner to frame my apology and plan for improvement. One Christmas I tried very hard to get her into the woodshed but she simply refused, no matter how I put them together they never fit.

Not all my dreams were dire; I would imagine flirting at the Fireman's Field Days and having my boyfriend (equally fictional, unfortunately) throw me over his shoulder and stride off to show me the errors of my ways. I was a wife, "wanton but well-tended," with gorgeous wavy hair and a perfect ivory nightdress, taken to task and having her pretty little bottom painted bright scarlet for her grievous indiscretions. And once I was a wife for real, with an equally real partner in these trips, I easily imagined my real-life husband escorting me to the woodshed for our nightly (!) discussion of poorly-balanced checkbooks or missing dishes on the dinner table. Seldom was he too harsh, certainly not more than once a week, and afterward of course he would love me so well that, well, sometimes he would have to spank me again.

Now my fantasies have stopped growing, so great is the traffic through the woodshed door, so many are the spankings I receive upon passing, every one meant to be remembered. And the shed itself never changes, weathered grey against an explosion of green in the summer; boards soaked black by melting snow throughout the long winter, lit by the low sun behind us.

My parents are waiting along with my relatives; the kids are patient but bored in the back, so we don't stop to visit my woodshed; my husband doesn't even know why I take his hand and squeeze it but the woodshed is still there and maybe there'll be another chance next time, or the time after, or the time after that.

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