Pray for us, sinners

May 25, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1960s, Australia, Health, Immunisation, Polio epidemic | 13 Comments
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This story tells of a time in 1961 when everything changed for our family.

October 1961

There’s a tiny pebble beneath my knee and I open my eyes a fraction. Reaching down, I brush it away, impatient at the distraction. I must keep my concentration total, or my prayers won’t be effective.

It’s difficult to stay focussed on the Mysteries of the Rosary when I am so worried about Dad. I’m not saying the Joyful Mysteries. They don’t seem right. Neither do the Glorious Mysteries. The Sorrowful Mysteries fit the situation much better. The rosary beads pass through my fingers, one for each Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and the Glory be at the end of each decade of the Rosary. I’ve done The Agony in the Garden. The next decade is The Scourging at the Pillar. But my mind refuses to focus on the sufferings of Jesus.

Rosary beads

Rosary beads

“Please don’t let Dad die. Let him come back home soon.”

My concern for my earthly father constantly interrupts my address to the One in Heaven, and again I have to force myself to concentrate.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

I can hear my older brother, Peter, in the kitchen. My sisters, Pauline and Sheelagh, are probably there too, though I can’t hear them. I’m in the lounge room, in the dark so nobody will see me. I don’t know why I don’t want them to see me, because we all know how important prayer is – and this is an especially important time for prayer.

The carpet is rough on my knees, but I’m used to kneeling on all sorts of floors. I’ve done it for most of my thirteen years, and I can ignore the discomfort. However there’s usually the back of another pew in church,  a desk at school, or my bed to lean against. It’s hard to ignore the ache in my back from having no support for most of the Sorrowful Mysteries. I stretch, then say another Hail Mary, feeling guilty that I can’t keep focussed on Jesus and His Mother. My mind soon wanders again.

Mum’s at the hospital. I don’t know how she got there because there are no buses at night. It’s very hard for her. She always worries so much about everything, even little things. Now we have a really big worry. She’s already had to go to the hospital every day for the last two weeks to see my little brother, David. Now Dad’s in the isolation ward too, in the adults’ part, not the kids’ part. It’s pretty hard for us four as well. We have to wait at home, not knowing what’s happening. What will we do if Dad dies?

That’s what the prayers are for. Surely Jesus and Mary will help us. We’ve always gone to Mass and kept the Holy Days. But what if I’ve done something bad and God won’t listen to my prayers? I haven’t been able to go to Confession, none of us have. Not since we’ve been isolated in the house to stop the germs spreading. Surely Jesus will realise that. We can’t even go to school. I close my eyes tight and hold my breath, sending my prayers up to Heaven.

Polio quarantine sign

“Please listen, God. Even if I’ve been bad, Daddy’s a good man. He loves you and keeps the Commandments and goes to Mass. We don’t have much money even though he works hard. Please, don’t take him away from us. I’ll do anything you want me to.”

Hoping God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Ghost – and Mary too – are all listening, I begin the next decade of the Rosary, The Crowning With Thorns. I think about how that must have hurt Jesus. Then I think about David, and wonder why a three-year-old like him has to suffer.

It was Tuesday two weeks ago, and he was kneeling on the stool at the kitchen sink, playing in the water with his little boats. He wasn’t feeling too good and he fell off. Then he couldn’t stand up. Mum took him straight to the doctor. She had to carry him all the way, about a mile. Even though he’s only three he must have been heavy. The doctor sent him straight to the isolation ward at Wollongong hospital.

It’s Tuesday today as well. Mum said Dad was driving to work in his truck this morning when he felt sick and weak. So he went to the doctor’s surgery instead. By the time the ambulance took him to the hospital, he could hardly walk or even sit up. It sounds like he’s really bad. Oh, why didn’t they have the vaccine like we did? They wouldn’t have got this awful disease. Me and Peter and Pauline and Sheelagh walked from school down to the Council Chambers to get the needles. Salk vaccine it’s called.

We had our needles before people started to get polio around here. But for the last couple of months, polio has been everywhere, all along the Illawarra Coast, and it’s been really scary. They call it an epidemic – that’s when lots of people get it. Some people have even died. Now Dad has it as well as David, and we don’t know what will happen to them, or whether they’ll get better. Mum didn’t have the needles. Gee, I hope she doesn’t catch it too. I begin another decade of the Rosary.

rosary-tattoo

Peter pokes his head through the door and sees me kneeling there.

“What are you doing?” he says.

“Saying the Rosary for Dad. Want to say it with me?”

“Nah,” he says. “I’m hungry. Where’s the tin of jam?”

I sigh and make the sign of the cross, putting my rosary beads away in a little bag. I’m hungry too, though I hadn’t noticed it until that moment. I get to my feet and go into the kitchen.

“I’ll cut the bread,” I say, picking up the knife. “I cut it straighter than you.”

(c) Linda Visman

Paddling Peter’s Canoe

May 18, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, Discipline, Family History | 14 Comments
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I wrote this story a few years ago about one aspect of my childhood – a combination of where I lived; what I wanted to do; what I wasn’t allowed to do; what I did do; and what I was punished for doing.

We lived right beside Lake Illawarra when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. We played cricket on the shore outside the back yard (into the water was six and out), explored its shoreline and adventured in its casuarina forest. Several fishermen plied their trade in the deeper waters, catching mainly bream and mullet, and prawns in season. At night, the lights of the prawn boats and waders looked entrancing from our bedroom window. The lake wasn’t very deep in our bay, but we didn’t play in it because you sank to your ankles in sticky black mud when you walked in it.

ErnThompson &boat Dapto Abt1956 001

Dad with one of his boats. About 1955

In his spare time, Dad made boats for sale out of plywood. My older brother Peter wanted a canoe, so Dad made him one. It was flat-bottomed and had both ends enclosed on top. There was a seat at the centre, so Peter could put his legs into the front section for a foothold. For safety, because none of the family could swim, there was a small outrigger to prevent it tipping over. The craft was painted black and so was the paddle Dad made for it. Peter could now paddle off across or around the lake on his own adventures.

I was three years younger than Peter, about nine years old. A tomboy, I was jealous that, because he was a boy, he could have a canoe and go off on his own, whereas I, being a girl, couldn’t. One day, I decided to take Peter’s canoe out on the lake for a short paddle. It was just to see what it was like. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t: I would be careful; it was easy to paddle; and I didn’t even think about the possibility of capsize – Peter never had so it wasn’t an issue.

I carefully and quietly pulled the canoe down to the water’s edge, then pushed it out and climbed in. I began to paddle away quickly, so that I wouldn’t be seen from the house. I followed the shoreline to the south and, as I got into the swing of it, my confidence grew.  Deciding I didn’t have to go back straight away, I set about enjoying myself – just for a little while. I was sure nobody would miss me. So I paddled on, imagining myself as an intrepid explorer searching out new lands. Then decided it was more exciting to be Hiawatha, paddling down a raging river in his Indian canoe. I had a wonderful time, but eventually knew I must paddle back home.

canoe_outrigger

An outrigger canoe

I had not realised I’d been out a couple of hours. My absence and that of the canoe had been noticed. Mum was waiting for me and she was in no mood to be understanding. I had been disobedient and, in spite of the canoe having an outrigger, she, fearful of water herself, had been afraid I would capsize it and drown. As soon as I’d put the canoe and paddle away, I got the sharp end of her tongue and a thorough hiding with her green leather belt. Then I was sent to the room I shared with my two sisters.

As I’d been approaching home in the canoe, I’d noticed that I was developing a headache. After I went to my room, it got worse and worse. Soon I was throwing up violently and feeling terribly weak. It had been a warm sunny day and I had been out on the water for some time. We only wore a hat to church – we had no others. As a result, I had developed sunstroke. This was a natural consequence of a few hours in the sun, but, to my young Catholic mind, it was really God’s punishment on me for disobeying my parents. The illness I suffered, and my own guilty conscience, were much more effective than any hiding Mum might give me, and I was never again tempted to take Peter’s canoe out on the lake.

Linda Visman

Share Your World – 2015 Week #19

May 14, 2015 at 3:00 am | Posted in Gratitude, Share Your World | 9 Comments
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This week’s questions are all about our home, whether it be a house, a mansion, a trailer, an apartment, or treehouse; a mini theme version of Share Your World.

Would you prefer a one floor house or multiple levels?

I’ve never lived in a multi-level house. I wouldn’t have minded it when I was young – mainly so that there would be plenty of room to have my own quiet place to read and write. However, we do live on a sloping lot, and now that we are closer to 70 than 60, we notice that it can sometimes be an effort to climb the outside steps to the main door. I wouldn’t want to have to go up and down stairs to get from one room to another, and I am glad the back door is at ground level.

If you have a TV, would you prefer the TV in the living room or another room?

We do have a TV – only one! It is in the living room, and that’s because both of us want it that way. I wouldn’t want one in the bedroom- bed is for sleeping and cuddling; not for watching TV as far as I’m concerned.

When you leave a room, do you turn the lights off behind you or keep the lights on throughout your house most of the time? Explain your answer.

We both turn lights off when we move from a room – unless we are going straight back to it. It makes sense not to waste power – and money – by leaving them on. If a light isn’t needed, then it goes off.

What’s your favorite room in your home?

I like several of our rooms and don’t know that I have a particular favourite. It certainly would not be the kitchen, even though we’ve just done it up and it looks great – I do not enjoy cooking. I like the living room because that’s where my reading chair is. However the TV is also there, which is a drawback; Hubby watches TV, but I rarely do. My study, where I am at the moment, is the place where I go to write to get emails and browse the internet, and to do my scrapbooking. If I had room for a comfy chair, I would also read here. I suppose, because I do so much here, and I can also shut the door if I want/need to, that my study would be my favourite room

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week we got most of my new kitchen finished. Now it is the right height and the horrible pink bench tops have been replaced.

Next week, I will be catching up with four of my sons and their families – and hopefully welcoming our 12th grandchild into the world. Happy days.

Linda Visman

Household Chores

May 11, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1960s, Australia, family responsibilities, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, household chores | 12 Comments
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Our childhood days were often anything but fun and games. Both Mum and Dad believed that children should learn early to help around the house. There were no free rides – at least not for the girls. Throughout our childhood and teens, we had our jobs to do and we couldn’t get out of them without good reason.

My sisters and I were expected to help Mum clean the house. We did a lot of the big weekly clean under Mum’s supervision. We didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. Instead, we used a stiff bristled hand (banister) brush to sweep the lounge room carpet on hands and knees. After that it was dusting the furniture, as well as sweeping and dusting the rest of the house.

One of the things I didn’t mind doing was polishing the brassware with Brasso. Among these were three or four round wall plaques pressed with scenes of sailing ships or old villages. Mum had worked in a large munitions factory in Accrington during WWII and, among other things, had filled the shells that the British fired at the Germans. Dad was a fighter pilot in the RAF, one of those who fired those 22mm shells.

20mm shell casing WWIIOn one of his leaves, Dad brought home an empty .22 shell casing; one that had been fired. That casing became one of the brass ornaments that lived in Mum’s china cabinet. I loved polishing that one. Many years later, after Mum had died, I noticed that the shell casing was missing. Despite enquiries, we have never discovered where it went to.

My sisters and I did all the washing up after dinner (we called it tea). We took turns clearing the table, washing up, and drying and putting away the dishes. With no hot water, an electric jug had to be boiled to start washing up the crockery, and another to heat the water up again for the pots and pans. We all hated washing up. There were occasional arguments when one of us ‘forgot’ which task we were supposed to do that night, or was late getting on the job – especially the washing up.

We had to make our beds of course – even my brother did that – and polish our shoes in the evenings for school or work the next day. When we were about nine or ten, we learned how to do our own ironing. The iron, although it was electric, had no heat regulator or steam. We had to turn it on or off at the power point to attain and maintain the correct heat – not easy to do, and easy to forget when distracted. Woe betide us if it got too hot and scorched the item of clothing we were ironing – especially if it was a white school shirt!

A Louvered Glass Window

A Louvered Glass Window

We also had to help clean the windows once we were a bit older. I remember the louvered windows and cleaning each one – each window had 10-12 long narrow panes. We had to wash each pane, on both sides, with wet newspaper then dry it with dry newspaper. You couldn’t press too hard on the glass or the pane could break in two. By the end of the job, our hands were black with newsprint. Sometimes we used Bon Ami, an abrasive paste that had to be spread evenly and thinly onto the glass. When dry we rubbed it off with a dry cloth. Every window in the house, apart from three, had louvres. So we soon got to hate the day that Mum decided it was window-cleaning day!

My older brother didn’t have many jobs to do – I only remember him doing one apart from making his bed and cleaning his shoes. Once we got a mower, he mowed the lawn and the bulrushes down the back. However, he left school to start work in 1960 when he was fifteen and had done his Intermediate Certificate, and he didn’t have to do it then. Other things happened that year too. When Dad contracted polio in October 1961 [that story to come] he could not do physical work for some time. I took over the mowing and loved it.

So, until we left home to marry, pretty well all the chores that Mum didn’t do fell to the three of us girls. My elder sister learned how to cook and I think my younger sister learned a bit of cooking too. They both did Home Economics at school, but I didn’t. I never did learn while I was living at home I wasn’t at all interested in cooking or sewing – I’d much rather do the mowing and other outdoor work.

Old Victa lawn mower

Old Victa lawn mower – except I always wore shoes!

(c) Linda Visman

A to Z Challenge 2015 – Reflection

May 5, 2015 at 3:00 am | Posted in A-Z Blogging Challenge 2015, blogging, Discipline, Reflections | 17 Comments
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A-to-Z Reflection [2015]

I have completed my second A to Z Blogging Challenge!

cheerleader

I have posted 26 entries through April with one of my poems for each A to Z entry, and I have enjoyed the experience a great deal.

I cannot think of a negative regarding the Challenge itself, but I have a lot of positives to report on my own participation:

  • The day before the Challenge began, I had intended to pull out. I thought it was too much for me to handle, and that the stress would be too much. Then I had a great idea – I would use my poetry for the entries.
  • I finally learned how to schedule my posts so that I could get them up on my blog a few days ahead of time and thus have some days in reserve in case I couldn’t make it on the day the post was due.
  • I strengthened ties with some blogs I follow and who already follow mine. Some did not do the A to Z Challenge, but they faithfully followed my posts. Among them are:
    • QueasyPeasy – QP and Eye, who writes on several different themes, and in this year’s A to Z, wrote posts mostly on her travels;
    • Frederick Anderson – Author, who writes a great blog and tells wonderful stories;
    • Our Rumbling Ocean, where I am finding out a great deal about South African bird and animal life and flora;
    • Baz – the Landy, who is a mountaineer who also loves travelling inland Australia and posts some great photos of the country.
  • I made some wonderful new blogging friends along the way, and have found great new blogs to read and to share. Among these are:
  • Even though many of my regular followers didn’t join the Challenge, they were quite engaged with my A to Z posts, and commented onthem regularly.
  • The number of my blog followers increased, and so did the number of visitors each post received. Views on my blog numbered 1,509 in April, where the usual monthly views are around 700-800 – so, a nice increase. The best week saw 485 views. These stats are small compared with many other A to Z-ers, but for me they are very satisfying.
  • My poetry had more exposure than it ever has before.
  • I completed the Challenge!

One problem I have had is nothing to do with the Challenge, but with my Gravatar. Somehow, about the start of the Challenge, the link from it changed from my wangiwriter wordpress blog to an old website I used to have years ago. I have still not been able to correct this.

I’d like to say thanks to those on the A to Z Challenge Team who dropped in on my blog and commented. It was lovely to see you and know that I was seen as one of the Challengers.

Thanks also to the organisers, who must be delighted with the steady increase in participant numbers each year.

I will certainly be taking the Challenge again in 2016, but I will start getting ready for it earlier than I did this year.

Here are all my posts for the 2015 Challenge:

A is for Answer

B is for Black Dog

C is for Crossing the River

D is for Dirty Fingerprints

E is for Embrace the Good

F is for First Touch

G is for Going Grand

H is for Haiku

I is for Imagination

J is for Justice

K is for Kangaroo

L is for Lost

M is for Mowing the Lawn

N is for Never-ending

O is for On the Rocks

P is for Petrol

Q is for Quinzaine

R is for Rivers of Life

S is for Snow Angels

T is for Time

U is for Unconditional Love

V is for Valentine

W is for Writers’ Block

X is for … X

Y is for You’re In There, I Know It!

Z is for Zephyr

Linda Visman – wangiwriter

Entertaining ourselves in the 1950s and early 1960s (3)

May 4, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 13 Comments
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Playing Outside

Whilst we girls were always under our mother’s eye wherever we lived, we had lots of room to run around and play. Mum was always fearful of something happening to us or someone coming to hurt us. She always had an axe behind the caravan door in case anyone came when she was there without Dad. There were a few dangers, such as snakes and spiders; and water was another, but on the whole it was safe. I think Mum was so fearful because of the isolation, of being alone a lot and not having lots of family and friends around. It had been so different in England.

At Reed Park we had the sports field and pavilion area to play, as well as surrounding bush and creek close to the caravan. There were huge pine trees around the park and the smell of them has stayed with me very strongly to this day. I remember one day we were playing by the creek. Dad had told us not to try pulling out the coarse grass there, but my older sister did. She ran screaming to the caravan with blood dripping from her hand where the tough, razor-sharp grass had sliced deep into the webbing between her finger and thumb. With no doctor available on the weekend, Dad had to deal with it. I think she still had the scar.

 Reed Park in the 1950s. Photo taken from about where our caravan would have been located.

Reed Park in the 1950s. Photo taken from about where our caravan would have been located.

Avondale made a huge impression on me. We lived right next to the bush there for several months. Dad worked on a new bridge, and then on a reinforcing wall at the coal mine. My brother used to take his dog, Patch, into the bush. Sometimes, they would come home with a snake they had killed and lay it out in front of the van. Mum used to hate that. I always wanted to do what my brother could, and didn’t think it was fair that girls were treated differently.

At Albion Park Rail we had to clear the scrub and a big tree from the block of land, as well as bulrushes down by the lake. We kids helped burn our rubbish too. The area close to home, which included the lake shore at the bottom of our block was free for us to play in, as long as we were careful of the red-belly black snakes. These were venomous, but fairly timid and would try to escape rather than attack.

With Mum such a fearful person, even after we moved out of the caravan, we couldn’t stray by ourselves more than a hundred yards or so either way along the lake shore – the girls, anyway. When we got a bit older (11-12) we would go and play in the small river oak (casuarina) forest a little farther along the lake shore. It could be scary there. The sun didn’t shine among the close-growing trees with their dense needle foliage, and there was little if any undergrowth; just a thick layer of dead needles. When the wind sighed mournfully through the foliage, it felt eerie and I imagined ghostly spirits wandering around.

Casuarina forest. The trees grew closer together in our forest.

Casuarina forest.
The trees grew closer together in our forest.

I had cowboys and Indians adventures there, or went exploring strange new lands. We also went for walks both ways along the lake shore for about half a mile each way. We couldn’t swim in the lake – we weren’t allowed to. It was shallow, and if you walked in the water, you sank into a thick black mud. We wouldn’t have swum there anyway because not one of us could swim. Mum was petrified of the water and never learned to swim. We caught that fear and, for my part, I was in my fifties before I was happy to go into deep water and learn to swim.

We never followed any kind of football, but cricket was big, especially when there was a Test Match, played in England or Australia between our two countries. We would often listen to the radio broadcasts, especially as we got into our teens. With constant mowing, the lake shore had become a lawn; a great place to play our own games of cricket, which we did on a regular basis. Even Dad and Mum sometimes joined us when they had time.

Backyard cricket (not us).

Backyard cricket (not us).

One of the things that seems to be a constant in the lives of most kids of my era was going to the pictures (movies) for the Saturday matinee. There would be a movie, a newsreel, cartoons and a serial, and from what I have read, these were great and memorable times, and kids attended almost religiously.

We never had that. The nearest picture theatre was in Dapto, I think – I am not even sure of that. But we never went. Public transport was poor then, but even so, Mum wouldn’t let us travel to the pictures on the train or bus. Money was always short when we were growing up. Dad worked long hours at his job and constantly adding to or re-modelling the house. Our parents even had trouble paying the fees to keep us at the Catholic school we went to. In late 1961 (that story soon to come), there was barely enough money to feed us.

Kids at a Saturday matinee

Kids at a Saturday matinee

The only movie I saw when I was a kid was “The Miracle of Fatima” a religious movie that the church approved. We may even have gone to it with the school – I can’t even remember that, though I do remember seeing the movie. The first time I went to the pictures with anyone – on a date – was after I had left high school, dropped out of university and was working at a newsagency before going to Teachers College. I would have been eighteen years old then.

Another thing that strikes me regarding the years when we were young children is how few friends of our own age we had. Both my sisters did have friends from school and church, but it was rare for them to come to our place. I don’t remember even having a friend at all until I was in third year high school, and it wasn’t until my final two years of high school that I found a real friend – an introverted outsider like myself.

(c) Linda Visman

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