The “maybes” grew less positive each day. I couldn’t understand why my mother married Frank. He was a pain, but in those early days I didn’t realise just how much of a pain he would become or how much of an effect he would have on my life. It wasn’t long before I discovered just how totally evil he was.
Frank obtained work and so did Pam, and I started school. If I had been older and realised the implications, I would have refused to use Frank’s surname. My mother’s insistence that we all had the same name made sense, but being older, Pam refused. In a way, using his name gave me a sense of belonging. I didn’t belong to my father but maybe if I used Frank’s name, he would accept me? Because Pam refused it became necessary for my mother to say she had “lost” her husband and let everyone think he had been killed in the war. Divorce was a disgrace in those days.
We’d never had any money but everyone in England had seemed about the same and there was never much to buy anyway. Now the difference was obvious. I suppose most of their money had been spent on the fares, the time in Sydney and the deposit on the house, but it seemed as though we had nothing. My mother had an abhorrence of debt, gained from her life with my father. All bills worried her and she paid cash for everything. As soon as gas, electricity or rates bills came in, she immediately walked to town to pay them, regardless of weather or anything else. The mortgage on the house was like a noose around her neck and every penny was used to make extra payments. Her only thought was to finish paying for the house. She started knitting and gained orders quickly. It seemed as though knitting needles were glued to her fingers. This brought in extra money, but bread and dripping was the usual fare, along with a case of partly rotten fruit bought for a few pence. She’d walk miles to save a penny on a pound of carrots.
I felt so embarrassed at school because I didn’t have any proper writing pads. My mother cut up wrapping paper, envelopes etc and stitched them together down the sides to make pads. My clothes were so different and dowdy that I was the odd ball. I was thrilled when I was given a length of material for Christmas and told to make myself a dress. A shop had closed down and the material was cheap. I had no pattern, no machine, no experience and no help. I had blunt scissors, a needle, a few pins and a reel of cotton. I was eleven years old but I made myself a pattern by measuring an existing dress and I made what I thought was a masterpiece. I begged for some lace to put round the hem and thanks to the closing down sale I got some. I was so proud of that dress! As soon as I arrived at school I was humiliated to find the “lace” was actually a trim for the top of a mosquito net. I think I hated those kids and I hated green dresses and most of all, I hated myself.
I guess being English had made me somewhat of a novelty at first, but it was soon obvious I was different. I just didn’t fit. At first they wanted to hear about the war but didn’t believe the accounts of the bombings and dead or maimed bodies. Why did they call me a liar? I had lived through it and it was real. I couldn’t make friends. I hadn’t had a friend in England, but that was different. Here, everyone had friends. I blamed my clothes. I blamed our poverty. I blamed many things, but I believe it was much deeper. It was mental conditioning over the years of my life.
I expected rejection. I expected people to dislike me and my consequent actions brought about that response. When I saw a group of kids talking I KNEW they were talking about ME and laughing at me. I often lay in bed, trying to sleep and imagining what they were saying about me and how they were plotting against me. It was so real in my thinking that I had trouble separating fact from fantasy. I soon learned that the only people who could hurt me were ones I really liked, so the answer was easy: even though I was crying out for acceptance, I refused to allow myself to like anyone. No one would ever touch my emotions!
I did well at school. I was always top of the class, being especially good at mathematics and English and I won the district spelling bee. I did the headings for my homework in Old English printing in scrolls, and while the teachers praised it the kids accused me of cheating. I loved school during class times but hated play times and would mostly stay inside reading a library book.
I continued to make my own clothes with only a needle and thread and oddments of materials. I made my mother some kitchen cupboards from packing cases and tea chests which were still in use fifty years later. Looking back, I would have to say I excelled at many things but I never felt so at the time. I considered myself a useless failure. Was that because Frank constantly told me so? He laughed at everything I did. He said I was no good. I was ugly. I was fat. I was stupid. I was totally evil. I was a misfit and a failure. I was a nuisance to him and everyone else and I didn’t deserve to live.
My uncle visited us most Saturdays and was always greeted by Frank with “What, you again! Haven’t you got a home of your own?” My uncle secretly gave me two shillings every week and I used that for entrance to the local swimming pool (or baths as they were called then). I needed a new swimming suit so my mother KNITTED me one. Can you imagine a knitted swimsuit in a sub-tropical climate? As soon as possible I made myself one from an old dress.
The local radio station conducted a children’s club with talent quests, games and competitions. I entered most quizzes and competitions, especially for drawing and painting, and won several prizes including a new bicycle. After winning the bike I was hardly ever at home in daylight hours. After winning a number of art competitions the judge, a well known artist, offered me free art lessons. The first lesson was great. He said I had a great talent. I never returned for more lessons because I was asked to bring my own paper and pencils and my mother said we couldn’t afford it. That put an end to my entering competitions because I wouldn’t be able to face the judge if I won again.
Because of my wins in that club, the radio announcers asked me to audition for a pantomime they were presenting. I gained a speaking part and after that I was used in many adult roles in radio dramas with the announcers. They thought I was great but Frank said I sounded dreadful and that the men he worked with laughed at me. Why did I believe him? I didn’t realise it at the time, but I drove myself to achieve. I needed to achieve but I always felt I had failed. I found fault with everything I did. Agnes was right. Frank was right. I was useless.
Frank’s behaviour towards me became increasingly worse. He never missed an opportunity of telling me I was ugly. I was no good. I was evil. No one would ever want me. I was useless. I had no right to live. I avoided him as much as possible. My mother had health problems. She often walked to the hospital to see a doctor and for treatment and would be away for most of the day.
One day when my mother was at the hospital is a day which haunted me for many years to come, giving me countless nightmares when I would wake screaming, with a big hairy ugly huntsman spider coming down onto my face.
That dreadful day under the house governed my life for many years . . . . .