Kay, put your hand out, I have something for you. As I was unwrapping the tiny package wrapped in pink tissue Kerryn said, "Take care. It's something special."
Those words suddenly brought back a flood of memories of my childhood. I was two years old when I lost my dad and my mum placed my brother Garry, my sister Vicki and I in the care of our maternal grandparent's.
Mum had to work in another town, we only seen her one night a fortnight for 8 years. She would come home on a Tuesday night and leave early the next morning.
Granny and Grandpa lived on a
sheep property in the mountains, a very small, remote community
of sheep farmers and timber workers. There was no running
water.... except in the sixteen miles of river running through
our property. No electricity; we used a kero fridge, a Tilley
lamp, candles, open wood fire and a wood combustion stove. We had
the phone on, but didn't have a vehicle.
The community was tight knit and everyone was there for each other through good times and bad. The love of my grand parents was unconditional. I was particularly close to Granny and loved her cuddles. It was like living in a cosy and safe cocoon. We would sit around the open fire at night and grandpa would tell us stories.He taught us everything about hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting.
I loved Grannys golden syrup dumplings, blackberry pies and vegetable soups. Granny had a heart condition and couldnt get upset or physically exert herself. Often we had to put a tablet under her tongue and she always got better.
On the nights mum came to see us, I heard her and granny arguing about my escape artist tendencies. I was just over two years old and attracted to the river, mum was worried I might fall in and drown. There was a creeper growing on the side fence, it was easy to climb over without Granny seeing me. She couldnt keep me in and frequently I climbed over the fence and wandered down to the river. I never went near the water; I loved lying on the bank with my eyes closed, feeling the cool grass and the warmth of the sun on my body. I could hear the birds in the pussy willow trees and listen to the water rippling. It was like being in another world.
Our life was very much like
that of Daniel Boone; by the time each of us turned 6 we owned
our own pocket knives, fishing rod, tomahawk, twenty rabbit
traps, a box of matches and a daisy air rifle. We got up each
morning at 6am; we checked our traps and reset them so that we
could check them again after school. After skinning the rabbits
we would put the skins out to dry and later they were sold to pay
for our ammunition.
We lived on rabbit, chicken, lamb and trout. I remember my grand father teaching me to fish for trout and I caught my first one, it was 2 pound!.
We walked to and from school each day, it was 5 miles each way: The road was narrow, unsealed and used primarily by log trucks.
When I was 7, I came home from
school and was struggling for breath. Granny took me to see a
heart specialist in a nearby city. I had never been to a city
before. As we walked along the footpath to the building where I
was to see the doctor I saw so many people, there were people and
cars everywhere and long rows of shops. I discovered it was a big
I saw a mother pushing a little boy in a wheel chair, his legs There was nothing below each knee! I'd never seen anyone like that before. I was looking at him and thinking about how difficult his life would be: I thought of the things he wouldn't be able to do and the effects it would have on those around him. I was startled when Granny nudged me and told me not to stare.
I said, "But Granny, the boy has no legs!"
She replied, "He is a Blue Rose."
Then I said "But Granny, theres no such thing as a blue rose." (40 yrs ago there wasn't) Granny said she would explain it to Garry, Vicki and I when we got home.
Later that night, just after tea, we were sitting on the floor in front of the fire and Granny told us about blue roses.
Our property seemed large, a larger proportion of it was uncleared, often Garry, Vicki and I would go exploring, hunting, fishing and burning off. Granny asked us what would we do if we found a rare flower, a blue rose, you know its the only one in the world, what would you do with it? Would you pick it? We came up with lots of ideas on how to keep the precious Rose safe: No one would be able to pick it, there would have a rabbit proof fence around it, would be watered regularly, looked after and protected.
Granny then told us that one day when we grow up and leave here we would meet people who are blue roses: she said some people will be crippled, blind, disabled, disadvantaged, terminally ill. "These are blue roses, no two are the same and you are very fortunate if you are given the opportunity to be a caring friend to one."
The heart specialist told granny that I would need to get urgent treatment. Because we lived so far from the help I needed it meant that I would have to go to an institution in Sydney. Granny put me on the train; I had a label with my name on it pinned to my jumper. Granny said Stay in your seat, dont talk to strangers, a nurse will be waiting for you at the station when you arrive in Sydney. It was an over-night trip.
When I got to the institution,
I was told the rules and shown the ward I would be sleeping,
sixteen beds were lined up. I was then taken out into the
courtyard and I was surprised to see so many blue roses. Kids
with arms and legs missing, wearing callipers, blind, deaf etc.
There were so many people there but I felt so lonely. The
courtyard fronted the street and I could see people walking by.
Sharing a room with 16 other girls, at times it wasnt easy. I made lots of new friends; one of the girls in my dormitory was always getting punished for peeing her bed. I knew Debbie couldnt help it; punishment made things worse and I hated to see her cry so one night I told her to sleep in my bed till she peed it. We swapped back our beds; I put my coat over the wet patch and slept on top of it. Next morning when the nurse checked our beds she didnt punish Debbie and she never peed her bed after that.
Over the next couple of months I was taken from the institution to see specialists, I was put on a special diet and I wasnt allowed to run or play any sport. In the courtyard I played with my friends on the monkey bars, the swing and the rocking boat, often though I sat cross-legged on the ground and watched the kids running around. I could see people walking along the footpath. One day a man smiled and waved at me. After that day as he walked past, hed always smile and wave, he was the only contact I had with the outside world and I began to look forward to seeing him each day. I never had visitors as I was too far from everyone. Granny had told me never to talk to strangers, but I felt drawn to him, he seemed friendly and I liked his smile.
I contracted chicken pox and was put into isolation for two weeks. I couldnt play with the kids in the courtyard and I couldnt see the smiley man. A nurse told me that Granny was sick and I wouldnt be able to go home for a while. I was upset and couldnt sleep or eat. I was worried I would never see mum, my grandparents, Garry or Vicki again. I was writing letters and doing drawings for them but never got a reply or any news and they forgot my 8th birthday.
Finally I got better and I was allowed to go back to my dormitory, I rushed out to the courtyard to play with the kids. It was a few days before I seen the smiley man again, he smiled and waved, but this time he stood there watching me. I went over to the fence and started talking to him. I told him where I had been and he said he was glad I was better. From that day onwards we met at the fence and he would hold my hand through the wire. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, I shouldnt be talking to strangers but it felt right. His hand was soft and warm. I told him about my life with Granny and Grandpa and said that everyone has forgotten about me.
One day the smiley man asked me if I ever wish for anything and could I tell him what I wish for. I said Yes, I make a wish when Granny gives me the wishbone off a chicken, but I am not going to tell you what I wish for because then my wish wont come true. He said, Sometimes if you tell a special person what your wish is, they can make it come true. I told him that I always wished for a heart shaped signet ring, like what a princess would wear. A few days later I was out playing in the courtyard and smiley man called me over to the fence, we talked for a little while, then he asked me to put my hand through the fence, he said Kay, put your hand out, I have something for you. He gave me a little parcel; wrapped in pink tissue paper and said, Take care. It's something special." I opened it up and inside was a pretty little signet ring, heart shaped and exactly what a princess would wear. I wished I could cuddle the smiley man; he made me so happy. Later that day, a nurse seen me wearing the ring and took it off me, she said she would put it into my property and I would get it back when I was going home.
I spent 16 months in the institution, one morning a nurse came into the dormitory and told me I was going home. I never had a chance to say goodbye to smiley man. It happened so fast and I was on the train with my belongings before I could say goodbye to anyone. On the way home I wondered what I was coming home to. Is granny still alive? Did she have a real bad heart turn?
Everyone in the community was there to greet me when I got home and I was so happy to see that Granny was all right. There were lots of tears and everyone was pleased to see me home. The local CWA president arrived with a large tea chest. She said that everyone in the community put something in the box for me. In it were a lot of dolls, cardboard cut out dolls, colouring books, toys and birthday presents. I loved a black mama doll; she had a little baby with a bottle and I loved her. So, I got the mama doll out of the box, a couple of colouring books and some of the cardboard cut out dolls and walked into the bedroom. The CWA lady was sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of tea with Granny, she called after me and said, Kay, there are so many other things in that box and you havent opened any of the presents that have been wrapped yet. I poked my head around the door and said, There are lots of kids who have no toys and there is too much in that box for me. Garry and Vicki can have what they like and I want the rest of the things to go to kids who have nothing. Granny and the CWA lady started to cry so I said, If you want me to, I will keep them, so please dont cry. Granny said, We arent crying tears of sadness and of course we will help you give those things to the kids who have nothing.
I was tired, it had been a long trip and I wanted to sleep in my own feather bed again. I loved being home and Granny was all right. The next morning after breakfast Granny helped me unpack my belongings, my clothes were put away and we found a large pile of unopened letters tied together with string. Granny picked them up and said, These are the letters we sent you, and they havent been opened. Why didnt you read them? I told her the nurses never gave them to me and I didnt know about them, it was so unfair. I told Granny I thought she was dead because I never got a reply to my letters and pictures. The ring wasnt there and I wondered what happened to it. I couldnt tell Granny about it because I didnt want to get into trouble for accepting a gift from a stranger. It had to be my secret.
Just before my 10th birthday mum came home and said we are going to live with her now. We moved 90 miles to a larger town and started a new life with mum. It took some getting used to being able to get water from a tap, boil it by flicking a switch and we had a flush toilet! Mum remarried and we moved again. I enjoyed being in a family with a mum, dad and kids, but I missed everything about life with Granny. It wasnt long before my grandparents moved into a caravan in our back yard and my life was complete. I spent a lot of time with Granny in the caravan.
A few years later mum asked me to get something out of her document drawer, as I was going through the paperwork a letter caught my eye; it was from the institute and addressed to mum. I read it and in part it said your daughter left behind a couple of items, a signet ring and a coat, would you please advise what you want done with these items. I went into the kitchen with the letter and asked mum what happened to the ring and coat. She said, I wrote back to them and said they could keep the coat as it would be too small for you now, and I told them you dont own a signet ring. It was an awful secret to keep, but I still couldnt find it in myself to tell the truth about the ring. I wanted to go and lie on that riverbank again, feel the sun, hear the river and birds. Instead I went and asked Granny for a cuddle.
I was 17 when Granny died of a stroke and other complications, I married 2 months later, then mum died 2 months after that. The next few years I had more downs than ups; health problems, separation and divorce, then to top everything off I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was like all the problems accumulated and I was going to erupt, I was fearful of ending up in padded cell wearing a hug-me-jacket, I sought counselling from a psychologist. With Kerryn there was an immediate connection, I felt at ease with her. I had seen others during the course of my life and I didnt feel any progress, it seemed to make the depression worse. Kerryn listened to me and didnt write prescriptions. We did problem solving, evaluated my attitudes and acknowledged the pain and suffering I had experienced.
During the course of the sessions I had with Kerryn, I told her about a lot of my life experiences, about my time in the institution and the smiley man with the signet ring. It was the first time I told anyone, I had kept the secret for 38 years and it was good to share it. Kerryn was really interested and asked questions, where, when etc and listened to my story. There was going to be one more session and the appointment was made for the following week.
Its amazing how much better the world looks when you finally get to resolve issues, a freedom not unlike the freedom I felt when I laid on the river bank all those years ago. I had mixed emotions about having my last appointment with Kerryn. There was mutual respect and we had become friends. We got through the session and as we were about to wind up, Kerryn handed me the gift wrapped in pink tissue and uttered those familiar words Kay, put your hand out, I have something for you. And "Take care. It's something special." I opened it up and what I seen made my whole body tingle. It was my signet ring! It was exactly how I remembered it, but how did Kerryn get it? She was from Melbourne, how did she get it from Sydney?
Kerryn said, Kay, when I was a child I spent school holidays with my great aunt in Sydney, she was a nurse at the institution you stayed at. She retired and now lives in Melbourne Kerryn explained that as a child she played dress ups and used her aunts costume jewellery. One day she found a small signet ring and asked her aunt about it. Her aunt told her that the ring was in the unclaimed property at the institute. Some little girl had left it there over 30 years ago.
Kerryn went on to say that she
rang her aunt, confirmed the ring could be mine. She said,
Kay the ring is yours, I want you to wear it and always
remember you are loved and lovable.
I couldnt believe it, I had my princess ring back!
copyright kaydidit 5/4/02 Panabaa Release