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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

Italian punishment was more threat than swat

My parents were not into corporal punishment with us kids.

Yes, our butts were swatted when we were toddlers, or wrists were lightly slapped when we reached for a hot stove or a knife when we were tiny.

But it pretty much ended once kindergarten started.

I think our parents knew the value of the spoken word rather than action. A withering glance and a harsh comment was enough to bring us into line. A belt was threatened but it never materialized for any of us.  And trust me when I say, we gave them plenty of reasons to want to whack us. It was a threat we all feared but learned that our parents’ disappointment was the worst punishment of all.

When we moved to Hammonton, we learned that the wooden spoon used for making sauce on Sunday was also used for handing out punishment.

The cucchiaio was used to administer swats to misbehaving boys and girls alike.

This was new to us and our parents.

Many of our friends had a healthy fear of the wooden spoon in their grandmother’s house.

It seemed to us that the grandmothers were the ones who handed out the spoons swats.

Our friends were explained to us many times the wooden spoon’s capabilities.

It can be shaked in warning. It can be used in a stretched out hand to prevent a hungry child from sneaking a meatball before dinner. Some grandmoms just let a wooden spoon hang in the kitchen as a reminder.

Often the wooden spoon wouldn’t make contact with the offending or mouthy child. It would just whoosh by the ear or the rear end of a misbehaving child. The rushing air past the head was scary enough, they said.

The misbehaving kids would then make them act like adorable little angels for the next 10 minutes or so.

So I looked it up to see if it was a Hammonton thing or an Italian-American thing.

“The wooden spoon is a tool for both cooking and punishment. It is for cooking, but it can also be used as an attitude adjustment. If you complain or act disrespectful, proceed with caution,” from

On, Claudia DiMartino writes about her Aunt Dolores, “Her favorite way to discipline was with the infamous ‘wooden spoon’ used by Italian mamas to punish their kids. When my Aunt Dolores passed away, the only thing my cousin Mark wanted to remember his mother was that wooden spoon.”

So it turns out the wooden spoon is a usual punishment in Italian-American households. Just not ours.

We were just lucky I guess, although we did have several spoons threatened at us at the homes of our friends when we tried to pilfer dinner before it was served.

Let me ask you, do you use the spoon as a threatened weapon against your children?

Do you have a story about growing up Italian, either in Hammonton or anywhere else? Send it to


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