Oh, how I hated those words! They sounded so mean, though in those early years I did not know what “demeaning” meant. It was meant as a put- down, obviously. As I was the only girl for half a mile each way, three boys were my only playmates besides my sister Mary, eight years older. This was not counting our dog Rover and the never-ending litters of kittens.

Donnie lived closest. Our parents were good friends and neighbours. Donnie was two years younger, so for a couple of years he was too young to play at our house. I was quite delighted to play at his place with its bigger barn, seeing his grandpa work in his little workshop, and having his mother give us treats in the afternoon.

But when Donnie started school things began to change—not for the better for me. He began to have more domineering ways, bossing me around for no reason. He found an older boy as a friend who was a bad influence on him. He started to take to punching me on my arms or back.

When I said, “Quit that,” he would often reply, “You’re only a girl.”

I had no answer. I had been trained not to hit people, so what was my alternative?

When I eventually told mother about my problem she said, “There are times when we have to stand up for ourselves. You will have to hit him back.”

I could not believe my ears. I could not believe that my gentle mother was telling me to hit someone.

“Now you listen carefully, Donnie wears heavy clothes this time of year so you will have to hit him where he is not covered.”

I was shocked. That meant his face.

“Yes,” she said. “Do not provoke him but when he hits you again, do your thing, then walk away. By walking away, it shows him that you would not continue to hit him but that you will stand up for yourself.”

Now I was relieved that there was an answer—of sorts—but nervous about the whole idea of a fight. If it came to that, how long could I hold out? I prayed for a quick result.

My chance came unexpectedly one day on the way home on the school bus. Our bus stop was on the highway between our two houses, so there was just the edge of the road to step down on. I got off the bus first, but Donnie was right behind me, closing fast.

He took a swing at me, hitting my neck. My reaction was so fast that I surprised myself. I lifted my mittened hand and punched him on his cheek. He lost his balance and fell down into the ditch—a very surprised boy.

The bus had not moved as yet, so he had an audience to see his disgrace of being put down by a girl. By this time, I had started walking home, still shaking but with a feeling of relief.

“Mother, I did it. I punched Donnie back.”

“Well done,” she said. “You likely will not have any more trouble with him now. He will know that even a girl can fight for herself.”

A few years later I learned that Donnie’s dad spoke to my dad after the event and learned of Donnie’s bad habits. Donnie was a better playmate after that, and I never punched anyone again.