Remembering Childhood by Susie Johnston
Susie is nearing retirement and she feels that after journaling for many years she’s starting to see the bright spots in her past. She is keen to find these pockets of joy that are emerging through the clouds, and to savour the remembering.
They say it’s the dash in between the dates of birth and death that matters but it’s hard to squeeze all the happenings, good and bad, into the story of my life. Some things, the dark things, the mistakes and the disasters stand out loudly, shouting to be noticed. But I am purposefully choosing to ignore them.
I have to focus hard to capture the rare moments of light in an otherwise muddied picture, to see which colours they are; soft pink, brown and white, the colours of our eiderdowns. My sister and I used to enter a world of make-believe in bed at night-time when we would play game shows. Selwyn Toogood was a favourite, “The money or the bag?’” we would shout excitedly, and the Jack Maybury Show when we would clap loudly pretending we knew the answers. Dad would hear us and come in with frowning eyebrows to tell us to ‘get to sleep, or else.’
When the neighbours, Mr and Mrs McBride, got the first tv in the street we were so envious. I could barely understand their broad Scottish accents, but I knew when they said I could watch Mr Ed the Talking Horse. I came home one evening to say I’d watched ‘the witheringnoos’ and it took Dad ages to work out. It was the weather and news. I distinctly remember that moment because Dad laughed out loud which was unusual for my quiet, serious father. It made me feel warm and soft inside.
I was born by Susie Johnston
Susie has spent time in reflection and contemplation as she trains to become a Spiritual Director. She has only ever journalled thoughts and tried writing a bit of poetry. This piece was written during a writing exercise at a Memoir workshop facilitated by Deborah.
“The head is too small! Quickly into the hospital.’ My Mother was panicked. What was wrong? I felt responsible somehow, grieved that I had given my Mother those anxious days.
“How can I remember what happened. We were knocked out. You were round the wrong way – a breech birth.” Again a sense of being a nuisance, causing worry when my older sister was needing the care and attention – born with a cleft palate.
Then a blank. No memories only, “You were a bonny baby,” and photos of me - bouncy black curls and deep dark eyes that already held secrets – and fat! As though my wrists had rubber rings around them.
“My, what a beautiful baby,” I heard someone say. At least I think I heard them while I was being pushed in my pram.
Actually the facts were that I was born at Narrow Neck Naval Hospital but none of that mattered.
I remember catching the sound of ‘Robert,’ the name of the boy much wanted after two older sisters and thinking I was meant to be a boy. Maybe I was a crying baby, maybe I slept well? It was never shared. Perhaps I was tucked up content, or perhaps I was restless? I wondered about these things when I had my own children but the memories seemed to have been erased from my Mother’s mind, whether on purpose or not I don’t know. I do know I was spoilt and loved, but I can’t remember the words said. No cooing, mushy words, and I always remember words, usually the hurtful ones, but I long to remember hearing something specific from my Mother, something unsuitably mushy.
“Don’t spoil them,” she would say to me about my gorgeous new babies as I fussed and loved them loudly and longingly. “Don’t look in the mirror so much,” she would say as I became older and looked long and hard into those dark eyes trying to understand who I was and what was I really thinking.
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