Far from wonderful

By Frederick M. Rossiter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Frederick M. Rossiter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Just after school began in September, the scarlet fever epidemic started and a good number of children caught it in varying degrees. Unfortunately, I was one of them and I was quite unwell having had the bronchial trouble as well. The Doctor told Mum that I would grow out of that by the time I was seven and, true enough, after I had the fever I seldom was troubled, although I still got chesty colds and coughs for many years. Mum would have liked to nurse me at home, which was an option, but it wasn’t thought wise. Baby was too young to risk her catching it.

It was all explained to me and I remember the day well. The ambulance came and I wanted to take Big Teddy, who was my bed-mate, but the man said if I took him I would have to leave him behind when I came home. It was an easy decision but a sad one. I couldn’t even get close to Annabel to say bye-bye. They bundled me up in a big red blanket and that was the last time I saw my family until sometime after my birthday on Trafalgar Day. I don’t remember crying then, it all happened so quickly, but I was confused and unhappy. The first night was dreadful and I cried myself to sleep. At home we had a routine. After we had Baby, Mum would feed her soon after 5 o’clock and I would read my school reader or do some sums. Mum would get her bathed, changed and ready for bed, helped by me of course. Then she prepared the evening meal, which we had when Dad came home. While Mum was busy I would be on the couch looking after Baby. She was put to bed, and after we dined it was my turn to be washed and made ready for bed. Dad usually told me a story which he often made up himself. Sometimes it was Three Bears or Red Riding Hood, though he might be in trouble for making it too exciting. It was mostly Mum who saw me into bed where I said my prayers. At first it was God bless me, Amen, night-night all in one breath. Gradually, I added Bless Mummy and Daddy, but by 1931 it included all the grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends and the world. Quite a lengthy affair!

That first night I was like a wee boat cast adrift in an ocean. No hug or kisses goodnight – the nurse gave a general goodnight to us all, but I wanted my Mum. I wasn’t allowed out of bed for a time. When I was, there were other children and there were some toys and books so I had something to read. A girl called Dorothy Hatrick, who was some years older, became my hospital friend and we stuck together. The hospital asked Mum for some clothes to be brought for me, so I had the pretty cotton dresses she made to wear and Dorothy wore them too. She was like a big sister to me. Auntie Annie sent me a Mabel Lucie Atwell postcard almost every day, and when 21st October came round, I got cards from all the Aunties and other family and a parcel from Mum and Dad and Baby with a game and lots of wee odds and ends.

A lot of the time I didn’t think about home, and looking back as an adult I realise what institutionalised means. The present circumstance became home. Dorothy and I were both sent to the convalescent home at the same time and were there for about two weeks. I had a secret worry that my Mum and Dad wouldn’t know where I now was to come and get me – all this time, none of us had seen our parents. Later, Mum told me she and Dad had seen me from the hillside and watched me in the ward along with other parents. Nobody told us they were there! It now seems a barbaric way to treat young children, and must have left many emotionally wounded.

When we knew we were going home, Dorothy and I parted sadly and forever. On the day itself I was put into a very big bath tub of dark coloured water with a nice disinfectant smell, then dressed and presented to Mum and Auntie Kate. It was so strange. The taxi was outside and we went home. I had been looking forward to the Christening but it had already happened: I was disappointed. Annabel had grown bigger and was nearly 12 weeks old: I must have seemed like a stranger to her, but very soon she was holding her arms out to me and I was so glad. It took me a wee while to get used to home life again after all the days cut off from all the people who loved me. Although I was a shy child, I had always been out-going in the family circle and liked being hugged and kissed and teased by the aunties, but I found it all a bit overwhelming. However, once I got back to school and into the familiar routines, I gradually ‘thawed out’ but I always felt cheated that they had the Christening without the Big Sister present! It had happened at the Toll, the minister of the Old Kirk had come and given Annabel her name with everybody there, except me.

I forgave them. Eventually.

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