Tags: children and parents, death, depression, growing up, memories, mothers and daughters, regret
Today, the 23rd of May, would have been my mother’s birthday. Sadly, however, Mum lost her battle with illness almost 22 years ago, on the 13th June 1994, at the age of 74, less than seven years older than I am now.
I was close to Mum as a child, though I knew little of her earlier life. The selfish perspective of youth meant that I knew her less as she aged. Then, at the age of just twenty, I married and left home.
For almost all of the next twenty-five years, I lived some distance away, having children, seeing them grow up, getting divorced from their father, entering what was then a forbidden relationship, moving even farther away in both miles and understanding, visiting briefly only once or twice a year. It was only when Mum was on her death bed that I returned home, helped Dad nurse Mum there for two weeks before attending her funeral.
I have always regretted that distance between us. As I grew into my forties, I wanted to know her better, but it was already too late. Illness had made the last years difficult for her.
A few years ago, while Dad was still alive, I wrote a poem called. “What’s your story, Mum?”. Recently, Dad having died in June 2013, I edited the poem and re-named it “I wish you could tell me, Mum”. Here it is, on what would have been her 96th birthday.
I wish you could tell me, Mum
What’s your story, Mum?
I wish you could tell me.
Dad told me his when he was still here,
when I could finally visit from far away
But you had already left us then.
We often talked about you, Mum.
He’d tell me of when you were young.
Like how beautiful you were, how popular,
and how, even before he’d met you,
there was never any other girl for him.
His eyes lit up as he told of how you’d laugh,
And how the joy of it made his heart sing.
Of how you later ‘walked out’ together,
through wet, coal-blackened streets,
and for miles over cold and windy moors.
He’d remember how you both loved to dance,
as if the two of you were one,
Still gliding and twirling when the band
And everyone else was exhausted.
Dad told me, Mum, about the births of your children.
The first, a son, and the paralysis his arrival caused.
He told me how he couldn’t defend you against the pain
whilst flying his plane far away in defence of your country.
He said how wonderful it was later,
to assist in the births of your three daughters,
at home, in the bed where we had been conceived.
He told me what a great home-maker you were,
always making the best out of very little.
But what’s your story, Mum – in your words?
Dad could tell me how much he wanted to migrate
to a country free of class and arrogance,
but he couldn’t tell me how you really felt.
Did you want to go as much as he?
Or did you go simply because you loved him?
It was easy, I think, to leave your selfish father,
but oh, how difficult it must have been
to say good-bye to your gentle, loving mother,
to go to a new country; a strange land.
Heat and drought and wide expanses replaced
the cold and damp of a bustling ancient township.
A tiny caravan, then a little fibro house, replaced
the solid security of your old stone terrace.
Venomous snakes and spiders brought unwelcome danger.
Barbed-wire fences and eucalypt forest replaced
soft green fields bounded by hedge and mossy stone.
Oak and ash, bluebells and buttercups were left behind.
How did you adjust to the changes?
What fears and insecurities did this bring?
Oh, what did you really think, Mum?
Then, in this new land, another traumatic birth:
my baby brother healthy, though his twin sister died.
And you, alone in a hospital bed, not allowed your own,
denied even the comforting presence of your husband,
as you fought, alone, for life.
Is that when the fearfulness began to creep in?
Is that when you began to think you might lose us;
had to always know where we were, so you
could feel some measure of control in your life?
Or did that happen in 1961, when two of your children
and Dad, all contracted the dreaded polio?
Was it when we thought Dad might not even live,
And there was no money to even buy food?
I remember that awful time, Mum.
I was only thirteen and could only guess
at the fears that burdened you.
The responsibility you had to take alone.
Dad, crippled and unable to help,
your father taking away the mother
that you needed then
more than you had ever done.
What I do know is that you kept our family going.
That it was your strength, dredged from
some deep, unknown place within you,
that fed and clothed and housed us.
It took its toll on you, I know,
but I thought of you as strong, Mum
in those desperate times.
But what did you think and feel then?
Dad struggled to overcome the ravages of polio,
to get back on his feet, figuratively and literally.
You were by his side, his partner in all ways,
as he set up a steady business
– concreting, of all things!
And how did it make you feel, Mum,
When, after so many years,
he took you dancing again?
The years that followed were mixed sorrow and joy,
With three daughters and one son married.
I remember the light in your eyes and your smile
as you welcomed my son,
your first grandchild, with more to come.
But as time went on, I realised that something
prevented you taking those little ones to your heart.
Not just because mine were always far away,
and you didn’t like or trust their father.
What was the barrier, Mum?
Did losing your own mother close your heart
against the awful possibility of hurt?
Was there something inside you that said,
‘if I don’t open myself to love, I won’t lose it’?
We grew apart – not only because of miles.
I saw you too seldom and we could not share
the things that mothers share with
daughters who are also mothers.
I missed that, Mum. I still do.
Dad and I nursed you at home,
night and day, until you finally left us.
Was it a relief to go; to give up
the burden that life had become?
Dad missed you so much then, Mum, lonely for you.
He always loved you – there was never another.
He never forgot the day you first spoke to him,
when you asked, ‘how old are you?’
He re-lived the days of your courtship
and listened to the music you’d loved together.
I am sure he felt you once more in his arms,
twirling yet again around the dance floor – until he left us too.
But I want to know more than that, Mum,
because I think that many parts of me –
my insecurities, my fears, my depression –
have come from you.
So I want to know how you felt; how you loved.
I want to know your story, Mum – in your own words.
But you’ve been gone now for many years,
and I must rely on fragments of memory,
and find you in the words of the man
who loved you.
But I wish you could tell me, Mum.
In loving memory of Agnes Mary Thompson;
born 23rd May 1920; died 13th June 1994.
I wish I had known you better, Mum.
Also in loving memory of Ernest Thompson;
born 24th June 1921; died 18th June 2013.
I am proud to have been your daughter, Dad.
(c) Linda Visman, May 2007
Edited 7th May 2016
Tags: acrostic, memories
I have written just a few memories here in the form of an acrostic, using the above title. They are from my first thirteen years, and are limited by the letters I had available to me. They are also very brief, though I have already, or will in the future expand on some of them in other posts. It actually wasn’t that easy to do this self-imposed exercise!
School days at St Mary’s, St John’s, St Paul’s, St Mary’s & Dapto High
Oswaldtwistle, where I was born, and left when I was five
Making my own bows and arrows to play Indians
Entertaining ourselves with simple toys and games
Mowing the lawn at twelve
Easter rituals at Church and school
Mum’s green leather belt when we were naughty
Ordinary – that is how I saw my life; nothing special at all
Reading to find worlds of adventure
Ironing before heat controls or steam and burning my white school shirt
Earning a few pennies by opening & closing the railway gates for motorists
Singing old songs from England with my parents, uncle & Granddad
Odd one out – the middle child of five who didn’t fit anywhere else either
Finances always strained, with no money for extras
Milk – our milkman came around with a horse and cart
Yearning for I knew not what, but something more than I had
Yelling at my sisters & brother when I was angry – too often!
Eating Mum’s trifle at Xmas & New Year with Grandma, Uncle Fred & our families
Sitting at the kitchen table on stools that Dad had made
Taking Peter’s canoe onto the lake when I was forbidden to
Eating tough mutton chops & being unable to swallow the over-chewed meat
Radio serials like Superman and Tarzan that we listened to after school
Dad, David & Pauline hospitalised with polio
Accident, where I fell onto a joist when Dad was building an addition to the house
Yearly tests and trying to beat the two boys who were my main rivals
Songs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s that we listened to on the radio
What memories would you write if you did this acrostic exercise?
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Albion Park Rail, Christmas Day, Christmas in summer, Oak Flats, Oswaldtwistle
Going away for a holiday in summer – or at any time – was unheard of in our family when I was growing up. However, the Christmas holidays were always a wonderful time of the year, as they were for all kids. Christmas Day was, for us coming to Australia from England, so different that we may as well have been in another world.
I still remembered the grey, drab, cold and usually wet days in Lancashire. Sometimes it did snow too. On Christmas morning, we would be rugged up in a coat and hat, with leggings and boots, and a mackintosh, to walk the mile or so to St Mary’s Catholic church for Mass.
How different was the two-mile walk to 7am Mass in Australia. We would set off, without breakfast, just after six o’clock. Our little home was in Albion Park Rail, but the hall where Mass was held was in Oak Flats. Almost always, the day would be clear and bright with no sign of drizzle or smog, and no smoke-blackened stone buildings. Instead of wet or icy stone footpaths, we walked along long, dusty streets that were usually hat as well.
Mum and Dad wore their Sunday clothes, as did we, but instead of the heavy clothes of England, they were light cotton shirts, or dresses (usually made by Mum) and sandshoes (usually freshly whitened by Dad). I remember skipping along the street, light-hearted and happy. The lake was on our left as we walked to church, and the new-risen sun shone from a blue sky onto its still waters, making it gleam and glisten. Everything looked fresh and clean.
There were few houses along our street, and hardly anyone was about so early. But whenever we did see someone, we would call out “Merry Christmas!” and they would respond with a smile and a similar greeting. This made the day even more special.
A wide creek marked the boundary between the two little villages and the halfway point in our walk. An old wooden bridge, missing many of its planks, spanned the creek. We thought crossing it was an adventure, but Mum always called out for us to be careful. It was later replaced by a higher one, still of wood and but with handrails on the sides. We’d stop in the middle and watch the ducks swimming in the water – how many would there be there today?
Mum and Dad would catch up with us at the other side of the creek and we’d climb the steep rise to the road above. This took us to the centre of Oak Flats village, where Mass was held in a small, community hall made of fibro.
Mass was still said in Latin then, but we would follow it with our Missal, that gave both the Latin and English words of the priest and altar boys. It was often boring on other days, but on Christmas morning there was a special joy and reverence that was missing on normal Sundays. I loved listening to the story of the birth of Jesus in the manger, the coming of the shepherds and the wise men.
The walk home included anticipation of breakfast, but also of what we would find under the Christmas tree we’d decorated with bits of tinsel, crepe paper streamers and a star made from cardboard covered with silver paper from Mum’s cigarette packet. With little money to buy presents, we usually received home-made gifts, or clothes we needed for going to church. There were no large items like bikes or doll’s prams.
However, one Christmas, Dad made wooden scooters, one for me and one for my younger sister. Another year, she got a cowgirl outfit and I, being a tomboy, received a cowboy outfit. Apart from the scooter and the cowboy outfit, the best present I ever received as a child was two children’s books of adventure stories. They were the first books I ever owned and I treasured them for many years.
Those years, from age six to ten, were the happiest of my childhood, and the best Christmases that I can remember.
Best wishes from me in Australia to all you lovely blog visitors for a wonderful Christmas, wherever you may be in the world.
© Linda Visman
Tags: Bernardette of Lourdes, Confirmation, First Communion, Oil of Chrism, Soldiers of Christ, taking photos in 1950s
Confirmation was once a part of the baptismal ritual; it took place immediately after baptism, sealing in the Holy Spirit and anointing the new Christian with a threefold ministry as priest, prophet, and king.
Long ago, Confirmation became a separate sacramental rite. For much of history, any priest could baptise and celebrate Mass, but only the bishop administered the sacrament of Confirmation. That was still the case when I was confirmed.
Confirmation is a ritual that involves bishop, priest and congregation bringing someone into a full membership of the Catholic Church. Postulants can be any age of course, but in most cases where a child has attended a Catholic school as we did, or received adequate instruction, they are aged around ten or eleven.
My older sister and I were confirmed towards the end of 1958. She was eleven and I was ten years old. The other children confirmed with us on that day were of a similar age. As with our First Communion, we wore white dresses and veils for the ceremony and sat together at the front of the church.
The ceremony is a short one for each individual, but many children in the parish could be ‘done’ on the same day, making a long morning in church; I don’t remember how many we had. It involves the bishop anointing each person with the Oil of Chrism while saying, “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit”. The person responds with, “Amen”. The bishop then shakes their hand while saying, “Peace be with you”, and the person responds, “And also with you”. Then you sit and he goes to the next person.
We were taught that being sealed with the Holy Spirit turned us into “Soldiers of Christ”. In fact, I think Bishop McCabe actually said the words, “You are a soldier of Christ”, at our ceremony. This was to make us strong, as we may have to suffer hardship, torture and even death in defence of the Faith.
We were also given a Confirmation medal. I was proud to become a Soldier of Christ and from then on, one of my favourite hymns was “Faith of Our Fathers”.
We all had to choose a Confirmation Name, that of a patron saint, a friend in heaven, to model ourselves after and rely on for prayers. I chose the name Bernadette, as I loved the story of Bernadette Soubiros of Lourdes. For some time, I added Bernadette as a second middle name. I can’t remember who my sister chose, though it may have been St Agnes.
I received a book about St Bernadette as a Confirmation present from my parents. When we got home after the ceremony and Mass, Mum got out the camera and took three precious photos (they were expensive to buy rolls of film and then to get developed, so they were rationed out for important occasions).
Two photos were of my sister, then me, by ourselves, taken at the front corner of the house, then of all the children. Mum’s brother’s family lived with us then. On that day, they attended a different Mass because ours took longer. As a result our two cousins were not dressed up. However, they were included in the photo anyway. The motorbike (with a side-car) that we are clustered around was Dad’s work vehicle and, as the photo also shows, he was still building extensions onto the house.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Albion Park Rail, Dapto, Illawarra, Illawarra Images, milk co-operatives, school, transport in 1950s, Wollongong, working
I thought I would show you a few photos of three places in Albion Park Rail where I grew up – two of which led to the growth of our little village.
Albion Park Rail Post Office & Moane’s shop
This is just how the shop looked when we first lived in Albion Park Rail about 1955/6. Moane’s shop was a small business, situated on the main highway (the Princes Highway) that runs all the way from Sydney down into Victoria. Although the road was tarred, it was just a narrow, two-lane thoroughfare. You can see it at the front of the photo. Apart from the highway, all the streets of the village were dirt, with lots of potholes.
The shop sold basic necessities like bread, milk, canned and packaged goods, some fruit and vegetables, newspapers – and lollies.
The Illawarra Co-operative Dairy Association Milk and Butter Factory
This factory was on Creamery Rd Albion Park Rail, situated next to the railway line crossing in the early 1950s. As a dairying area, plenty of milk was delivered to the factory. At that time, farmers poured their milk into steel cans and took them to the farm gate. From there, they were picked up and carried to the factory on the back of flatbed trucks. Each cans had an identification stamp for the farm it came from.
You can see a truck there, and some of the unloaded cans of milk. The factory workers wore white, and you can see two of them on the rail platform.
At the milk factory, the milk was pasteurised (not homogenised then) and then much of it sent in tankers by rail to Sydney for bottling. From there, it would be sent to milkmen and shops all over the state. The rest of the milk made into butter at the factory and sold under the trade name Allowrie.
The railway gates next to the factory were always supposed to be kept shut in case a train came. Whenever anyone who lived between the line and the lake (that included us) wanted to go through, they had to get out of their car, open the gates, drive through, and then get out to close them again.
The neighbourhood kids would sometimes open and close the gates for the drivers, hoping the drivers would be generous and give us a penny for doing it. We weren’t supposed to, but most kids didn’t get pocket money in those days, and it was a source of a few pennies that would be eagerly spent on lollies at Moane’s shop.
Albion Park Railway station
Albion Park Railway station is located at Albion Park Rail (which is how the village got its name), just off the Princes Highway. Although the photo dates from a few decades before we lived there, it is almost identical to how it still was then.
The trains ran mainly for the workers, a large number of whom worked at the Steel Works and other supporting industries in and around Port Kembla. The timetable was geared to take them to and from their three daily shifts. You could pretty well set your watch by them.
Others, office workers, shop assistants and so on who worked in Wollongong, our nearest city, caught trains that ran to another timetable. As there was no local high school, students also had to catch the train to either Dapto or Wollongong. In 1961, I caught the train to Wollongong to attend St Mary’s Catholic College. After the polio epidemic, when I had to change schools in 1962, I had a shorter train ride to Dapto High school.
(c) Linda Visman
Photos from Wollongong City Council’s collection, Illawarra Images.
Tags: 1950s shops Brownie camera, Avondale, Huntley Colliery, Illawarra, Tallawarra
When we lived in Dapto, we went to the local Catholic school, St John’s, where Sister Cecilia ruled with an iron rod. Then Dad got a job working on a new concrete bridge for Huntley colliery at Avondale, a few miles from Dapto. They needed a watchman to keep an eye on supplies, so Dad moved our caravan out there.
It was dairy country between wide swathes of forest, in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, below the Illawarra escarpment. We camped next to a creek, from which we drew our water. The grocer in Dapto would bring a regular order out to us each week, and we would also go to town on Saturday mornings when the shops were open. Dad bought Mum a Baby Brownie camera from McGovern’s Chemist shop.
I loved the general store run by JG Fairley. They had a wonderful contraption for dealing with money. The shopkeeper would put the docket for purchases and the customer’s money into a brass container. He would pull a cord and the container would zoom along a wire up to the cashier’s office on a mezzanine floor. The cashier dealt with the money and gave change, which he sent back in the container to the shop assistant. No money was thus kept in the public area of shop. This process never failed to enthral me. Waters in Wollongong also had these contraptions.
My older brother was nine when we moved out to Avondale, and he loved nothing more than going into the bush with his mongrel terrier, Patch. On their rambles, they would find snakes and kill them. It wasn’t unusual for Mum to come back to the van to find a four-foot red-bellied black snake stretched out in front of the door. She was never amused. Peter led us three younger girls astray too.
We were several miles away from town, with no chance of getting a bus to school and Dad couldn’t take us. But we were right near the road that led down from the coal mine in the steep hills above. Some of the trucks took their coal to Tallawarra power station to the south east, but others went north, through Dapto. Dad arranged with one of the truck drivers, Charlie Keys (who only recently died: RIP), to pick us up on one of his morning runs from the mine and bring us back on an afternoon return run. It was a great adventure for all of us, sitting high up next to Charlie on the huge wide leather seat.
Peter decided one day that he didn’t want to go to school. Obviously, he couldn’t wag while we three girls went and possibly got him into trouble. So he persuaded us that playing in the town park was a much better option than school. We had quite a few days off school before Mr Shipp, the newsagent, noticed us hanging around the streets and dobbed us in to our parents. I remember that green leather belt Mum used as punishment for major crimes, and she doled it out in good measure that day. I never could accept though that Sister Cecelia also gave us a hiding in front of the school. Two punishments for the same crime seemed unfair. But I never wagged school again.
When the job on the bridge was finished, we went back to Reed Park in Dapto. Not long after, the unwelcome attentions of the farmer from Avondale on my very attractive mother led to Dad looking for an alternative place to live. He bought a block of land on the shore of Lake Illawarra at Albion Park Rail, and moved us and the caravan onto it We loved life there, but I have never forgotten the wonderful time we had living out in the bush at Avondale.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Australian bush trip, from snow to summer, helpfulness of strangers, scary roads, Wombeyan caves
I am going back a little bit with this story, to when we first arrived in Australia.
We had left a cold, damp and soot-grimed Lancashire cotton town in January 1954, amid the snow of a cold winter. We arrived in east coast Australia, after a six-week sea voyage, in early March at the end of a warm summer. The last few weeks of that trip had given us an idea of the huge difference in climate we would be living in from then on.
At first, we lived with Dad’s sister, Mary, and her husband, Uncle Eric was eager to show us a bit of the country. We would all pile into his big black Buick – four adults, the four of us kids aged almost 4 to 8 years and our cousin, a toddler. There were no seat belts to keep us secure, and we could kneel on the seats to look through the windows.
On one occasion, he took us to the Wombeyan Caves, situated in the Blue Mountains that rose to the west of the coast area in which we were living. Much of the drive was along a rocky, winding, dirt, sometimes steep mountain road, through eucalyptus forest – country we had never even imagined.
In places, cliffs rose up just a foot or two from one side of the car, while on the other, great forested valleys swept down so close that you couldn’t even see the edge of the road beside you. In most places cars going in opposite directions could not even pass each other. If two cars did meet, one had to back up to a wider bit that had been cut into the hillside and allow the other to go by.
Mum was petrified the whole time – she had hardly ever been in a car before, and she didn’t have much confidence in my uncle’s driving anyway. She vowed never to go there again.
We had a flat tyre that day too, on the way home. Uncle Eric had no spare. Once he and Dad had taken the wheel off, removed the tube and repaired it, they had nothing to pump it up with. A man driving past stopped to see if he could help. As pumping up a large tyre to a decent pressure would take a long time, he left us his pump. All he asked was that my uncle get it back to him at his home near Wollongong the next day. That was one of the wonderful aspects of life in rural Australia at that time – the helpfulness, trust, honesty and helpfulness of strangers.
Have you had frightening new experiences that you don’t wish to repeat?
Have you been helped by the kindness of strangers?
© Linda Visman.
Tags: 1950s, Australia, children, horse and cart, milk deliveries, milkman
My dear Grandchildren,
Remember when you’ve been to the museum, where you saw old carts and other old things. You thought that it was very old, and that those days were very long ago. Well, we used to have our milk in one of those old carts
My Mum and Dad and us kids had come out from England when I was five. We didn’t have much money, even though my Dad worked very hard. He did manage to put a deposit on a block of land. Back then, not like it is now, the area was all bush, and our land was on the shore of the lake. There were five or six houses within a few hundred metres of us, and a little store over on the highway. Dad rented a caravan, and we lived in it on our block of land. There was no electricity, but the water was connected to a tap at the front of our block of land.
I remember how we all helped Dad to clear the land, and how we played in the bush around our house and on the lake shore. The only thing we had to watch out for was snakes.
Anyway, back to the cart – well, in a roundabout sort of way! How do you get your milk? In plastic bottles from the supermarket I’ll bet! Well, we didn’t. There were no supermarkets then. There were no plastic bottles either. And, where we lived, there weren’t even any glass milk bottles yet!
Our milk was brought around early every day by a man called Max. Max had a trusty old horse named Fred (now, isn’t that an original name for a horse!). Old Fred was very well trained. Max and Fred and the cart would come along the rough dirt road with a big tank of milk sitting on the back of the cart. As they went along, the people would come out of their houses with their billycans. Max would give a whistle, and Fred would stop, right outside the house – or caravan in our case.
Each of us kids always wanted to be the one to take out the billycan to have it filled up from the tank. At first, we were all a bit wary of Fred the horse, because we weren’t used to such big animals, but we soon got to know that he wouldn’t hurt anyone. It was exciting to give Max our shilling and see the creamy milk splash into our billycan. When our can was full, and we had exchanged a word or two with Max, he would give another whistle, and off Fred would plod to the next house. We had to be really careful carrying the billycan of milk back down to Mum, so that we wouldn’t spill it.
Now, don’t you think that’s a more interesting way of buying your milk?
Mum would put the milk into an icebox because we didn’t have a refrigerator – or even electricity. But that’s another story!
With love from
This started off as a letter to my young grandchildren– written over ten years ago when the first of them was only a year old, even though I pretended that he was a lot older. I wrote it to describe how we got our milk when I was a child,
I wanted to show that it wasn’t really so long ago that things were so different. But perhaps I’m having myself on. Even a child of seven or eight would think fifty years (as it was when I wrote it) WAS a heck of a long time ago. It just doesn’t seem that way to me, and now it is sixty years ago!
Anyway, it’s interesting to look back on those changes.
Would you like to share an example that illustrates the changes from when you were a child to now?
© Linda Visman
This day in August 1956, was one of excitement and promise, the culmination of months of preparation at the hands of the Sisters of St Joseph. I would be eight in a few days time, but this day was even more important than that. Birthdays happened every year, but this day came only once in a lifetime. It was the day of my First Holy Communion.
The stress of making our First Confession was over. That had happened the week before. We had sat in the pews at the back of the old stone church – St Paul’s – waiting our turn to go into the dark, wood-panelled confessional box. We’d practiced, but that didn’t make it any easier. There was a central priest’s box, with a confessional box on each side. The shiny wood was dark with age, and the designs carved into the door frames were almost black. The wooden kneeler was worn smooth by thousands of knees, but it was still hard. When the person in one of the confessionals had finished, the priest slid the little door over the grille on that side shut, and opened the one on your side.
The real thing was even stricter than the practice had been. We had to kneel and pray while we waited our turn. There was to be no fidgeting whilst we Examined our Conscience. Even though we were used to kneeling, it was hard to keep still. However, Sister Mamertus was there, so we did. I was both glad and scared when my turn came. At practice, when the priest slid the little door open on my side, I’d jumped, even though I’d been waiting for it. I jumped this time too.
We’d been well drilled in what we had to say, but I was flustered at first. Then Father Greely’s voice spoke quietly through the grille.
“Take your time, my child.”
Then I was all right and I started the routine, first making the sign of the cross.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession, Father.”
Then I had to list my sins – how many times I disobeyed my parents, how many times I quarrelled with my brother and sisters, or didn’t pay attention in class – I don’t recall what I said. I was so relieved when I could finally say the Act of Contrition. Then Father Greely gave me absolution, told me to say three Hail Marys for my penance, and blessed me, telling me to go and sin no more.
“Thank you, Father.”
Then, his little grille closed and I could leave the confessional box, go to the pews on the other side of the church and say my penance. After that, I could go outside, feeling a great sense of relief that the ordeal was over, and that my soul was pure and white. I had made my First Confession. Now that I was pure, I could make my First Communion.
© Linda Visman
Tags: Catholic sodalities, Children of Mary, fasting before Communion, Our Lady, Rosary
The Church had sodalities (clubs I suppose they were) for different groups of the parish. Men joined the Holy Name Society; women the Sacred Heart Society; girls the Children of Mary; and the boys could become altar boys, serving the priest during Mass. We three girls joined the Children of Mary after our Confirmation. Sodalities had their own Sunday each month, so, on the Children of Mary’s Sunday, the girls would attend as a group, all wearing our blue cloaks, white veils and medal, and carrying our Missal (Mass book).
Sometimes, our parents decided not to go to the main church at Albion Park for Sunday Mass, and instead, we walked the two miles or so each way to Oak Flats. There, an early Mass was held for the people of that area in the community hall. I know I loved that early morning walk, especially when we went on Christmas mornings. Then, there was the added joy of knowing that, on our return, as well as being able to eat at last, there were presents under the tree for us to unwrap. No matter that they were almost always gifts made for us in the shed out the back by our father in his rare spare time. The wooden scooters he made for my younger sister and me one year were prized as much as any bought ones – even if they didn’t last as long.
I was an avid reader as a child, devouring Enid Blyton and other adventure books as fast as I was allowed to borrow them from the local library. But I also loved to read the lives of the saints that were written for children. I often imagined myself in a perilous situation, being asked whether I would die for my faith – I always believed that I would. I absolutely loved the movie “The Miracle of Fatima”, and cried through it. I wanted to be Jacinta – she was the one with spirit. I believe it was the first movie I ever saw.
Our family, like many other Catholics, were devoted to Our Lady – Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Every evening after the dinner dishes had been washed, dried and put away, we knelt as a family to pray the Rosary. It meant a great deal to us, especially to my mother, and I particularly remember saying the Rosary on my own in the lounge room when my father came down with polio in the epidemic of 1961. It was the only thing I could think of to do in that time of powerlessness.
We would never consider eating meat on a Friday. Eggs were the closest we ever got. But anyway, for me at least, Friday meant a break from those awfully tough mutton chops that Mum fried so often, and which usually took me so long to chew that I was the last one to leave the table. Instead, we could buy fish from the local fisherman – usually mullet from the lake because that was the cheapest. But, best of all, we were sometimes allowed to go to the local fish and chip shop to buy cooked fish in batter and chips. That was a real treat.
Religion permeated every part of our lives as we were growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s. Those were the days when the Church was at its height in the Australian community. For the first time, Catholics were no longer persecuted and discriminated against. It was a period when we felt safe and secure in the practice of our ancient traditions. Our religious upbringing certainly helped to keep us kids on the straight and narrow. It provided us with a basis for living a moral life, but in the process lumbered us with an overwhelming sense of guilt and inadequacy that many people were never able to overcome.
(c) Linda Visman