Chapter 30 BACK HOME
Returning from our trip overseas it was a relief to get on board ship. No more hassle about where to get meals, where to feed the baby, how to occupy Peter. The relief of having a fixed address of sorts, unpacking properly, having a cabin where I could retire when the baby demanded, a place intended for washing and drying clothes and a play area for the children. The tension of trying to cope with two small children and their requirements while travelling had been so great and now at last I could relax. I wanted to do nothing, absolutely nothing more than the essentials and even that was difficult. Bill as usual was insisting on joining in everything and would not let me be. A new dance craze the "Twist" was in. Bill did not want to try to do it, but he wanted us to watch. I tried to accommodate to his wishes but it was getting more and more hopeless.
Oh to be able to stay in bed and sleep and sleep and forget everything - the eternal arguments and the fears that the future might not be any better than the past.
In the morning when I was struggling to wake myself to attend to David, I found I had no milk, yesterday ample, today nothing. He was seven months old now, eating a variety of food, so it seemed logical to wean him. The ship provided bottles, so I queued up for one and tried to induce him to drink. He was having none of it. (You can lead a horse to water). Nourishment came from mothers and not from bottles.
While feeding Peter at the children's sittings for meals I had met Pat, feeding her small daughter Ann, and Pat took on the care of Peter and weaning David and finally persuaded him to drink from a cup, while I crawled back to bed and slept and slept. The ship's doctor came to see me. He could find no particular reason for me to have such low blood pressure. He gave me an injection and recommended rest. I could do nothing else. I should visit my GP when I got home.
Eventually I was aware that we had docked at Fremantle and passengers were disembarking or at least visiting Perth for the day. Not I.
Thank heavens Pat was so good with the children. She and her husband Neville were planning to build in the Blue Mountains and, as soon as they were established, to send back to England for her parents. They knew exactly what they wanted and this is exactly what they did.
Our plans did not go so well. As our tenants had departed prematurely, the electricity had been disconnected. This meant that the float switch in the septic tank was submerged and no longer worked and the fridge was completely "gunked up" with food left by the tenants over a year earlier. Friends lent me another cot which I crammed into the bedroom for David. My GP could not find any health problem with me, but I should be careful and not overdo things.
Dad came down from Mudgee to help me get the garage habitable again. He helped clean out the septic tank and reconnect the electricity. I cleaned out the fridge and sweetened it with a few drops of vanilla to remove the smell. Hot water for washing up and showers came from an instantaneous and expensive heater which Dad installed under the sink. While he was there he could take me to Unanderra to do the shopping at a small supermarket. There was not the variety of packaged and canned food I had seen in Germany but I was glad to get back to fresh fruit and vegetables, cheaper meat and familiar food. After Dad went back to Mudgee I had to walk the mile, balance a box of food on the roof of the stroller and push it up the hill. It was strenuous and not what the doctor ordered.
Because Bill had been off work on compo, the steelworks would not re-employ him and he did not get work for some time. We had to go on the dole. The dole was only enough for food so I applied for casual work at the local school, the only one within walking distance. It was a small school with a large grassy playground and just five classes in the Infants' Department, but perhaps luckily there was no vacancy at the time.
Washing for all of us was done by boiling a copper, lifting out the clothes into the tubs and scrubbing if necessary. There were short lengths of clothes line between the house and the domestic power pole. David's nappies had to be rinsed and scraped before boiling and due to his continuing diarrhoea, the number of nappies was quite a problem. The wash tub was the only place to bath the boys, which was at least more than I had had in Bonndorf.
It was midsummer and the garage, a "concrete box" with small unshaded windows all on the north side and no through breeze was unbearably hot and stuffy, the atmosphere was stale and damp. Where the ground had been excavated, the walls leaked badly and books and articles which we had packed in boxes were mildewed and many fell to pieces. Photos of my childhood were unrecognisable. The cement floors were impossible to keep clean and did not appeal to my crawling baby, who in protest tried to walk.
David cried a lot especially at night and had constant diarrhoea. He woke often at night with gastric pains and I got into the habit of jumping out of bed quickly to attend to him before he woke Bill and Peter.
The clinic sister suggested a few possible remedies, then sent me to the doctor, who gave me a prescription, and when it was not successful, sent me to a specialist.
"Probably coeliac. We'll have to send a sample of his motion to pathology for analysis. If it is positive, he will need a rigid diet. He has the symptoms, enlarged abdomen and thin arms and legs and irritability. You said it began when he was about six months old? About the time he began to have cereal? This disease is an allergy to gluten. The child may eat well, but it passes through before he can get nourishment from it. In the past they died. They called it wasting disease."
The test was positive and the specialist gave me a long list of items he could not eat, including all wheat products, rusks, bread, biscuits, cakes, pies, most canned food, spaghetti, macaroni, gravy - What could he eat? Corn, rice, meat, fish, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables.
"No wonder he has been difficult to handle," I said. "He has been suffering constant gastric pains, and has not been getting the nourishment from what he eats. He still wakes five or six times every night, I walk the floor with him rather than let him wake my husband or Peter. My husband thinks he is just spoiled."
"It will take many months of careful organisation and diligent watching before there will be any noticeable improvement," warned the doctor.
Soon after we came back from Germany David began to walk and by the time he was ten months old he could run, but was still bald. A soft snowy down began to appear on his head and people in buses and shops were unable to resist the temptation to pat him. The birthmark ("stork bite") on his forehead had gradually faded and was only noticeable to us who knew about it. He was a difficult baby and I often wondered if the pressure from the birth had any significance.
Bill was very impatient with him. Once when he did not settle readily in his cot for his sleep, Bill was hitting him so fiercely the baby could hardly catch his breath. I hit Bill and screamed at him to stop and picked up the baby to soothe him. Bill was shocked at my reaction and the result was that the care of the boys was left entirely to me - in many ways a relief. He didn't even yell at them, only at me.
When I got a vegetable garden growing I often had to get up in the night to chase cows who had no regard for it. Cow manure made it very productive and there were soon beans and spinach and kohl rabi when I found the seeds. I picked blackberries from the paddock and made lots of pies and jam. Bill bought a packet of tomato seeds and planted the whole packet which meant we had boxes and boxes of tomatoes when they ripened. I started a compost heap in a corner, also put aside cans to be taken to a depot at the steel works where they would be recycled.
Our neighbour's grandson, aged about three who lived next door with his parents, was not one I thought of as a suitable playmate for my boys. This child ran around "shooting" and shouting defiantly "No No No" to everything. He called Peter's fair curls "holes in his head". For me not buying guns was easy. To discourage the use of "No" I deliberately used other expressions when I wanted the boys to stop doing something. "That's not good" or "This is a better way" or "Let's do this over here".
Bill had said the remote-controlled fire engine would be put away until Peter was old enough to play with it properly in about ten years. However he could not resist getting it out to test it himself and show it to visitors. There was nowhere to put it out of reach of the boys. It was inevitable that the boys wanted to play with it, trying to raise and lower the ladder, switch on and off the flashing lights, make it go forward and backward, long before they had the skill. Parts were getting broken. When the batteries ran out the boys pushed it around like their other toys. I made sure they did not take it out to the sand heap.
Finally Bill took a nearby job as a bricklayer for a few months. One day in autumn when he came home from work because of continual rain, he found me bailing water into a bucket and out of the window. It flowed in through gaps and cracks in the wall next to the excavation.
"Bloody rain. It does nothing but rain in this country," he said lighting a cigarette, in a frame of mind threatening internal combustion.
I pointed out that the water in the garage was three inches deep at the front against the tilt-a-door. A heap of sand outside was preventing it from flowing out. I had moved everything possible above water level. The boys were barricaded in the back room, in the only area left dry. I continued to bail.
"I get sent home from work early because of rain and as soon as I get in the door you are nagging me to do something."
"Well if you could let the water out I could make a cup of coffee. Otherwise I have to keep bailing. I have scraped some sand away but not enough."
David was an unusually active baby. A chair across a doorway was no serious deterrent to him. He decided it was time for a change of scenery, and came paddling out from the bedroom, so I gave both boys some fruit and a drink of milk and a few different things to play with and put them back in the dry area.
With comments as black as the sky to express a lack of appreciation of the weather, Bill shovelled away some sand and the water level began to drop immediately.
"Good. That will soon make a difference. Coffee's ready."
"But you don't really care about it. I just can't understand you. It doesn't bother you." He lit another cigarette.
"Of course it does, but there's no sense getting worked up. That achieves nothing and gets everyone upset."
"Now you're saying I've got no sense. That's really lovely that is. You care about the kids and work but not me. You will never buy a black dress even though you know I like black."
"Well you know I haven't any money to buy any clothes for myself of any colour. I didn't ask to live in a garage. I try to make the best of things but I've had about enough."
"You are unreasonable. There's no pleasing you."
This kind of situation arose frequently. He told me frequently how disappointed he was in our marriage, I was no longer attractive, spent all my time looking after the children and doing housework. If he felt he was not winning an argument he changed the subject or got defensive. He blamed the weather, finances but mainly me.
"There is no point getting angry about the weather. You could have done that yesterday when it was fine."
"I wasn't in the mood yesterday. You don't care how I feel."
I resolved that my children would learn how to discuss things properly without continually changing the subject or bringing up unconnected things. Black clothes reminded me of my French teacher who invariably wore black, also of school uniforms. I liked colours.
My only neighbour called in briefly every day for a twenty minute chat and a cigarette. I took the chance to have a cup of coffee which I had got a taste for in Germany. Her husband, an ex-serviceman was on a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pension and they were happy with their steady income and modest house. To economise I bought cheaper coffee, but it made me feel unwell so I in time I reverted to tea drinking.
In May David was a year old. For his birthday I got an ice-cream cake, made meringues and other goodies without wheat. He was slowly improving. Getting meals was not easy on the little cooker, which could not accommodate more than one dish at a time in the tiny oven. I used cornflour to thicken sauces so that I did not have to make special meals for David, and also avoided pasta and other things containing wheat. Gelatine was useful to make attractive and healthy food combining fruit, milk and eggs.
When the baker delivered the bread, he gave it to David to bring to me. David did so in due course, after he had removed and eaten all of the soft middle.It was necessary to enlist the co-operation of the baker so that David did not get sick and so that we would have more than crusts for our daily bread.
David also became partial to snails of which we had a plentiful supply and although they were not on the forbidden list, I was not too sure of the nutritional value or the hygiene of raw snails, garden variety.
A telegram arrived to say that there was a vacancy for me to start work at the local school and I began to suspect that I might be pregnant again! Bill insisted that I get an abortion, and I refused, but he persisted until finally I discussed it with my doctor, suggesting that my health was not as good as normal, that our financial situation could not stand the strain (we were £1000 in debt). Our doctor refused and I was relieved. Having made the effort to do as Bill wanted, I hoped he would accept the doctor's decision and his suggestion that we would have to start wanting another baby. This time it could be a girl.
But the prospect of yet another dependant, boy or girl, was to him yet another chain around his neck. Of course it was all my fault, conventional methods of contraception had proved to be inadequate for me and the pill was then very new and expensive and condoms were out of the question for Bill.
"You don't care," he complained.
"Of course I do but I don't have time to sit around fuming about it. I start work next week."
No answer. And the silence continued for weeks.
On my next visit I told the doctor "Bill is in a state of depression and hasn't spoken a word to me for weeks".
"If you can get him to come to see me I'll talk to him." I had no success there.
My days were now a routine of continual work, work. I advertised for a baby-sitter and interviewed a stream of prospectives from among whom I chose a very good woman who came each day to care for the two toddlers. She was reliable and very patient. Without her competent assistance it would have been impossible for me to continue teaching as long as I did, two terms, walking to and from school, bringing home small items from the little shop half way up the hill, juggling washing, ironing, mending, sewing, cleaning, school preparation in the evenings, falling into bed exhausted, my back aching, getting up every night, walking the floor with a heavy baby until his diet began to take effect. I stopped losing weight.
The only things at home that interested Bill were his plans to construct the front steps to the house which he wanted to have suspended and curved, and the fireplace and chimney which presented a design challenge, no expense spared. He spent a lot of time planning, measuring and doing detailed drawings. And whenever he had some spare money, he bought materials to begin to set out the steps.
My morning sickness was less severe, but as we were again sharing a double bed, I was again bothered by Bill's smoking and dressing while sitting on the bed.
A second-hand washing machine from cousin Margaret was delivered by Dad one day just as I finished washing by hand. It had a mangle which was a big help and saved my hands which were raw with rubbing and wringing every item.
My pay, after baby-sitting expenses went to paying off the bank, the land and Uncle Perce.
My baby-sitter helped with little jobs I didn't finish, but I wanted her to concentrate on the children and not feel she should be doing housework. She spent most of her time watching David as there were no serious fences and he was an expert at disappearing. He had already shown signs of being accident-prone. At twelve months he had climbed up and pulled a jug of hot water on himself, smashing my jug in the process. He had jammed his fingers in the door of a little cupboard by pulling it over on top of himself. (The pedestal which Dad had made 38 years earlier, a part of the bedroom suite. Mum's Glory Box was also still with us).
I felt David needed more time and attention and it was impossible for me to meet his needs.
We were given an old lounge which someone was throwing out, and Peter sat in it, facing the blank cement wall and announced "This is to watch the telebision." He would be waiting a long time! The cuckoo clock given to me in Germany hung on our wall and it fascinated David. When it struck he stood in front nodding his head like the bird. One day he tried to wind it up by pulling the weights by the chains, but pulled the whole thing down. It was never quite the same again. One of his first words was "cuckoo". He tended to run words together and invent a new word. "Milkycup" meant "a cup of milk". In August for Peter's third birthday I got a robust cement truck (Tonka Toys? which David immediately christened "men tuck".
I did my tax return as I had previously done, and after a lot of prompting from me and resistance from Bill, he tolerated me doing his as well, in order to get the refund that was due to us, a very welcome cheque which soon disappeared in "bricks and mortar".
I had written to my brother and Clare to tell them that I was expecting my third baby. They were living in a caravan on their land in the Blue Mountains and intended to wait to have any children until they had a house. They had the idea of building the house without borrowing from the bank. Clare, I thought, had a better picture than Bill of how long it would take and how much it would govern their lives.
One day I received a telegram "Hello Auntie and Uncle. Arrived early. Love from Roderick." I was mystified for a while until I remembered Clare's letter telling me how she was putting on weight and having to let out her zippers and realised it was an oblique way of telling me she was pregnant. They had planned to come down to surprise us on a visit and say "Well you aren't the only ones who can do it." However various things prevented them coming from one week to the next and Roderick forestalled them.
At six months Clare found that she had the first signs of labour, so Bill took her to the Women's Hospital in Sydney where, an hour later, she had a tiny, two pound twelve ounce baby boy (just over a kilogram).
As soon as I had deciphered the telegram, I decided I must go and see them, especially as the baby was so premature. The boys and I went by train to Sydney and stayed overnight at the Peoples' Palace. At the hospital I met Dad who minded the boys while I went to see Clare, sitting up as if nothing had happened and the baby in his humidicrib like a skinned rabbit. He was due in January at the same time as my baby. He would have to stay in hospital for some months until he had gained some body weight and Clare intended to express her milk so as to be able to feed him when he came home.
By the end of the year after all her effort, he was so used to bottles, had not learnt to suck vigorously and could not be induced to change. My brother made a custom-built cot for him in the corner of the caravan. He was not convinced about the comforts and convenience of a house, so Clare battled on with inadequate space, planning not to have any more children until they had a proper house. Roderick has remained an only child.