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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monday-memoir-badge

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

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