Installment One ~~ Suzie Can Be the Poo
Story about my colourful life, my learning… overcoming challenges despite the odds!
(A few chapters of my autobiography will be posted in installments…)
Chapter One ~~ Suzie Can Be the Poo
‘We have this precious human body in order to serve other living beings’ ~ Lama Zopa Rinpoche
‘A good mind, a good heart, warm feelings ~ THESE ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS’ ~ The Dalai Lama
At 8.10 pm, February 5 1971, I landed in the world. Welcome little one… to a paradoxical world where you will be dog-paddling to find emotional grounding; putting your neck out trying to achieve equality; and digging your heals in to stand your ground. Yes, it’s a battle… worth all fight when in the company of understanding.
My battle began with my siblings, the common ground for many of us to develop the thick-skinned armour required to enter the playing field of life. I was lucky to have a family to practice with… but, as the youngest by many years, I felt hard done by, dismissed, and unilluminated. A feeling I allow to seep in my bones over the years, to inhabit in my heart and mind.
My siblings were Louise 10, David 9, and Julie 6. Because of the six year gap between Julie and me, I asked mum whether they had planned to have me, but she said I was the only one they did plan. Whether I was the ‘right’ gender for my brother and sisters became an issue for me over time… especially on reading a little note mum had written the day after my birth, attached to the back page of my Baby Book:
‘My Darling Louise, David, and Julie,
Well I bet you’re all
relieved at long, long last Mummy
has at last had our baby.
She is the most dear and
tiny little thing, just like you
I know Louise and you
Julie must think it wonderful to
have a baby sister and I know
David you must be terribly disap-
pointed not getting your baby
brother, it looks like darling, God
wants you to be our special boy
… A second page must be missing as not even a full stop follows ‘special boy’. From this, I surmised that another sister was a surprise package, and a gift not always appreciated when it came to being the fourth born, and third in female ranking!
For two and half years of my life our family lived in St Mary’s, a country suburb west of Sydney. I really don’t have much recollection of that period except—playing in the neighbour’s backyard, a vague layout of our house and backyard—and a subconscious memory of my brother’s love, who would stand at my bassinet staring at me in amazement as described by Mum. During my childhood, David and I shared a special bond of the heart, probably seeded back then.
My family then moved approximately two hours’ drive north to Woy Woy on The Central Coast. Woy Woy, meaning ‘deep water’ in Australian Aboriginal language, is located on coastal beaches north of Sydney. Having come from inland suburbs with no beaches in proximity, we found ourselves in paradise.
Our home was a four bedroom split-level design, and being upstairs downstairs, it was a live-in playhouse to me. I loved it straight away, a mansion in my innocent eyes. As a bonus, it was situated across from a big park—green, lush, and inviting!
This time round I shared a room with Julie, as Louise and David were fortunate to have a room of their own. Mum and Dad purchased new red bunk beds for us. I unhappily agreed to take the bottom bunk, on Julie’s condition that we would swap when I was eight, which didn’t eventuate. Perhaps Julie’s intuition eliminated the potential of me having an accident, falling at such a young age. As the saying goes, ‘Your bad luck could be saving you from your worst luck’.
A year after we moved in Mum and Dad arrived home with a beautiful black and white Old English Sheep Dog puppy! A living cuddly toy! We named her Daisy and she fast became an important member of the family. Our other animals were our fat cat named Ginger who we had before I was born, and another cat named Top Cat that Mum saved from our previous neighbour who didn’t feed him, bringing him too to greener pastures!
IT WASN’T LONG before I went to pre-school in East Gosford because I couldn’t wait to go to school like my siblings. The journey to pre-school comprised of a bus, train and bus taking approximately an hour and a half each way and Louise was allocated the joyous responsibility of bringing me to and fro, as she attended high school directly across the road. This was the cause of many an eventful and emotional trip, incidences Louise and her friends openly admit to! Because I was so young—10 years their junior, I symbolised quite an annoyance to them, and I guess understandably so at such a ‘cool’ time in a teenager’s life.
As a result, I would sometimes be the subject of many a joke and the victim of stunts. For example, I would ask for Juicy Fruit chewing gum as a treat in the afternoons at the station, but instead, they’d buy PK Orange, which is hot and especially for a young tongue. Other types of things included making me the target in water fights on hot summer days or throwing oranges at me! They would never physically hurt me; only psyche me out, hiding from me and then returning to reassure me just as I was beginning to drown in tears!
Oh fun and games, but it wasn’t all trickery. Some afternoons before the train left, I remember walking around Gosford—a busy town centre and Louise and one of her friends would hold my hands and lift me high up and over each curb. I just loved that!
Louise also represented my loving saviour when collecting me from pre-school. In accordance with the nature of many a young child, I would fear permanent desertion from family ties when saying goodbye in the mornings, so seeing her arrive at the end of the day was pure joy to me.
I still have a four-year-old birthday card from Louise saying, ‘Love from your little Mother’.
* * *
No one could know how an incident that occurred around this time could help shape my future.
My Poppa Fred Howe, Mum’s father had a dreadful car accident driving home from work after a long day, heavily fatigued. Only two minutes from home, he fell asleep at the wheel and his car flew over an embankment, rolled three times, landing upside-down. Fearing the engine would explode, Pop elbowed the heavy side window until it smashed, and eventually he managed to free his body from the car, dragging himself up an embankment to the roadside, where he was visible to passers by. A man called an ambulance soon after.
Nanna heard the siren from home, and after taking a phone call no one ever wants, she arrived at the hospital and was shocked to see Poppa’s arm covered in blood, neither of them aware the nerves in his spine were dying. Soon Pop couldn’t move at all and he was diagnosed as a full quadriplegic, his neck having withstood the worst of the rolling car. He would have been better if he had remained in the car after crashing: instead of full quadriplegic, he may have simply been paraplegic!
Being so young, I was shielded from the intense repercussions of such sadness. I have a vague recollection of seeing Pop in Prince Henry hospital in a spinal unit ward. Beyond initial expectations of hospital staff, Pop survived his injuries and was able to breathe unassisted. Nanna sought entitlement to care for him from home. After a thorough investigation, Nanna was among the first ever to be granted approval by the Neurologists Board enabling her solid 24-hour attention normally designated to trained nurses in a hospital. Our garage fast became a ‘granny flat’, and Nan and Pop moved in behind us. There, Pop spent most the time in his waterbed, due to his broken body and failing health… never complaining and always optimistic he would walk again.
During the remaining eight years Pop lived, despite not being able to move a limb, he was always a source of fearless inspiration! Regardless of his inability to perform physically, he continued to be the powerful force within the family. All members held him in high esteem, and went to him for wisdom and guidance. He possessed a great sense of humour and awesome courage; one could only be drawn to him.
I was too young to appreciate his incredible mind. My duty was to supply copious amounts of kid talk and cuddles, as well as provide entertainment as he could see me play in the backyard through his bedroom window! Certainly a shame I was not old enough to get to know him. We were astrologically suited being air signs: he was Liberian, and me an Aquarian. Those signs are said to be deep thinkers, conversationalist and philosophers. We may have had so much fun!
On hearing of the accident a friend of Poppa’s said it was like felling two men, for Pop was such a great worker. He was so good with his hands and loved building furniture for the home; he maintained a garage and tools with a polished finish. He could also cook, sew and knit. His passions included trout fishing, cards, darts, and especially camping in the bush. He had tales to tell about UFO sightings!
Poppa was born in London in 1917 and served in World War II for the Allies, The Brits. Due to a fortuitous accident in the early stages of the War, in which he lost his index finger, he was unable to serve on the battlefields using firearms. This resulted in him being located within an office involved in classified work for which he signed a pledge of confidentiality. A pledge he forever maintained… even after moving to Australia with his family in 1950.
In Australia, with four children growing up in calmer times, Nan and Pop found their feet and were able to dance. Mum said to watch them dancing together was pure joy, they were in perfect unison. Music itself on the dance floor!
LIFE IS A MYSTERY and I have tried to make some sense of what happened to Poppa. On a karmic level I believe it was necessary for Pop to be in a position of vulnerability, for although Pop was a loving father, he was also a strict, hard and formidable man, which caused Mum and her siblings to fear him intensely at times. Mum actually received the brunt of his force, as she was the oldest!
Pop benefited from being placed in a position of vulnerability as he needed to learn how to receive, be humbled, and grow power out of meekness. By successfully doing this he showed his greatness…
His wife and children also had an opportunity to see the head of the family in a new and sacred light. They were able to overcome their perception of his domineering presence, and see him as the beautiful, loving and gentle soul he truly was. When they were growing up, Poppa’s gentleness came out mostly when one of his children was sick; he was a real carer and when ill they had the opportunity to feel how much he really loved them. Mum looked forward to getting sick so she could experience his tender side. Poppa was also a true animal lover, teaching and showing my Mum lifelong treasures on how to treat, love and respect our innocent, furry friends.
I remember Poppa’s affection and vaguely recall being enfolded in his arms; however, photos are the only memories I have of him standing. I have one bad memory when I was eight. By this time, Pop had been lying in a waterbed for four years and seeing him like this became quite normal to me. Of course, nothing about it was normal to Poppa, and one day, I walked into his room without giving him immediate eye contact and he snapped: ‘You are the most ignorant little girl I’ve ever known!’ I was instantly sorry for not giving him the respect he dearly deserved, and although he didn’t immediately show it, he was sorry too. A Palomino horse figurine was standing on my desk the next day when I returned home from school as an expression of his love, bought by Pop through Nanna!
I still have it to this day; however, Poppa’s real gift to me came later in my life. And the memory of his strength of spirit, despite living inside a broken body for eight years, continues to inspire us all!
I was twelve when Poppa left the earth. He went peacefully in his sleep on a sunny Saturday morning, during the time Nan had left to drive down the street to run some errands. On the way, her car got a puncture so she walked back home to tell Poppa and ring for assistance. He was gone when she returned. My brother David was the last person to see him alive having popped in within the short bracket Nanna was out, to say hello before going to golf. Poppa had been sleeping more and more over his last few months, so it seems he fell back to sleep after shaking Dave’s hand with his thumb and saying a deeper goodbye than usual, (David later reflects). Poppa never woke again.
Discovering that Pop had died when I returned home from being out that day was so surreal. After hearing the news, I remember running into the granny flat and seeing Pop’s empty single waterbed and crying while hugging Nanna to comfort her. As I cried, the guilt of not seeing him enough flooded over me. I thought Pop would always be there. Something special happened then… my tears soon stopped and didn’t really return. It felt as if Pop was telling me not to be sad that he was better off now. Even his funeral was peaceful to me… I remember feeling guilty for not crying when Pop’s coffin lay before us, thinking my lack of tears equated to a lack of love! I was probably too young to notice that most of my family were relieved Poppa was now free.
My Nanna deserves and gains High Spiritual Merits for the selfless, loving care she gave to her husband during those challenging years of 24-hour care. Her strength, durability, courage, dedication, endurance, patience, optimism and support have truly served to inspire us all as another true example of greatness, like Poppa!
* * *
AT FIVE-YEARS of age I went to kindergarten and began travelling to primary school with Julie who was in sixth class! Our school was St John the Baptist, a Catholic school in Woy Woy. Although this time, I had only ten minutes to school by bus, I still feared permanent desertion from family ties and would hold onto poles when it came to bidding farewell Julie for the day! Some days Mum drove us, which was my favourite approach!
One lovely day Mum brought our Old English Sheep, Daisy, in for all the class to see and pat. Oh how adorable she was running up and down the aisles saying hello to everyone in the puppy dog way! Mum always groomed her so caringly; she looked like a much-loved pet.
I loved school so much by the time I was in first class, that when I developed Chicken Pox, I was upset at staying home! Until Mum reminded me that the Humphrey B Bear show was coming on, as well as the other fun things one could do at home. I then had such a great time being home, not sick just itchy, it caused the tendency during the remainder of my school life, to wish I’d befall the same problem again: to be home but not sick if a test was on that day for example! As the saying goes, ‘Be careful what you wish for!’
Home wasn’t always what my imagination wanted it to be. One afternoon at this age, my friend Debbie and I were sitting on the floor playing in my bedroom feeling bored. Boredom is rare in the minds of six-year-olds, but we were bored before my sister Julie walked through the door. Twelve-year-old Julie was a quick-witted wordsmith, and her words frequently cut through me… ‘Too sensitive,’ I was often called. Julie was someone who could make me mad, and then have this magical ability to spread sunshine over me, charming me with sudden, loving, lighted-heartedness and friendliness, melting all resentment. I couldn’t stay angry with her for long. However on this day, when I looked up with a face full of hope for Julie to release us from our monotony with a cool twelve-year-old suggestion, she lifted me then deflated me instantly.
‘I know what you can play!’ she stated excitedly, promisingly.
‘Debbie can be the mother and Suzie can be the poo.’
The elevated tones in the first few syllables of her first sentence sent my heart skyrocketing, thinking Julie was really going to help us play, but I was left visualising her idea of me being an actual poo as the words sunk in. I then saw red and rushed towards her, quickly biting her right breast! Time stood still before she ran downstairs screaming to Dad. On seeing two little teeth marks, Dad raced upstairs and after asking Debbie to leave, gave me my first and last belting!
No one could know how that episode would affect me. How it taught me that I could be punished for standing up for myself even by someone who loved me and knew my essential nature was not to bite. There were no questions as to the emotional reasons behind why I retaliated so strongly, just a penalty imposed because of the physical bite marks on Julie’s skin. I learnt that emotional duress doesn’t matter, and on some level decided to become non-reactive as it gets you into trouble and in essence the experience taught me to become somewhat spineless.
But, I seemed to be developing a strong, robust spine. In second class (age seven), I was the only girl invited to another boy’s birthday party. I was a little tomboy, and didn’t think there was any difference between boys and girls. I got along with boys as well as girls and didn’t play the ‘girl’s germs/boy’s germs’ game. That particular boy was also the only boy I invited to my birthday party at the same age! I remember him standing at the kitchen table during my party asking Dad if he could marry me! I also remember kissing him in the cupboard! I obviously wasn’t shy!
Because I wasn’t shy, I would often have lengthy conversations with strangers when I was on outings: fishermen, bus drivers, policemen, old people, and the butcher man etc. Since I was little, I have had an implicit trust in people and perfect strangers; my nature was instinctive of friendliness and goodwill to all people, with no real thoughts of fear. I loved every opportunity to share love with people and felt seen and respected by others, especially as I was often dismissed as boring by older siblings. One of the best times for me was when encountering a complete stranger. I have come to call them ‘stranger blasts’ and am deeply grateful to many people who unknowingly helped shape my heart and mind into believing in such magnificent good in the world.
My confidence and tomboy antics were in full swing when I was in the confines of a great cubby house in a large vacant and bushy block just up from my house. It was a fantastic tree house cubby that sometimes required defending from the kids living on the other side of the block. My friends Naomi, Angela and Peter, a little family living next door to me, and later Lindy when she moved next door to them, were the cubby house crew. We’d stand our ground, protecting our tree house by building barricades and deriving all sorts of cowboys and Indian activities to keep them away. Imagination sufficed for fires, gunpowder, and smoke. ‘Sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt me’, we would call to our assailants, as they’d call me, ‘Susan Brusin’ as well as more callous names to all of us that fuelled our bold spirits.
Yes, my spirit was bold. Without even realising, I operated as if I had a strong spine, and was never going to be the poo!
Chapter Two ~~ A Life Changing Change
‘There are two aspects of life: the first is that man is tuned by his surrounding, and the second is that man can tune himself in spite of his surroundings.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan
The news of our life changing change came on a warmish evening, when Mum took Julie and me to Terrigal. Before it came, I was too young to sense anything out of sorts in my home.
While Mum bought fish n’ chips, I rode the twenty-cent duck machine, and shortly after, the three of us sat in the kitchen of an old, little home, behind an old, bigger home.
With sadness on her face, Mum said she would no longer be living with us. It was very surreal. I don’t remember any dialogue, but recall laughing and crying simultaneously with Julie.
I’d spent all of my life mostly with Mum, as Dad was often absent working long hours and umpiring AFL (Australian Football League), or cricket. His absence unsurprisingly caused a big strain on their relationship, but Dad’s dedication to work was unceasing, and his passion for ball sports, relentless. This, ultimately, caused the uncultivated terrain of their eighteen-year marriage to run its course. Mum naturally created experience elsewhere, finding work in fashion, which her soul seemed to recognise and flourish within. She would have stayed at home, but Dad refused to leave the house, and said Mum could go if she wished.
They’d been friends before and during their relationship—that’s why we didn’t sense any problems. But, ‘everything happens for a reason’, and me being the youngest child was one of those, because Dad was now to be the primary figure to cast love and light onto me! His easygoing temperament, optimistic outlook, and boundless affections, were an immense influence!
But I couldn’t understand what was happening being nearly eight-years-old, and I cried and laughed along with Julie’s emotional responses.
After we’d settled down, I walked into the lounge room of this little home and said, ‘We’d better go now otherwise the people who live here might come back’. Those innocent words would have broken Mum’s heart!
We did go home, and we did say goodbye to Mum from our house. It felt empty without her; but her love was still there. Not understanding the situation, the beauty of innocence must have shrugged it away, and I looked forward to Dad coming home from work, and the promise of Mum’s visit the following day.
That was probably the first time Mum said: ‘I’ll make it up to you one day, I promise’. And even then, I didn’t want her to, insisting she wouldn’t need to…
EMOTIONAL COMPENSATION came almost immediately. No sooner had Mum left home, Lindy my eternal best friend-to-be moved into the street, just two houses away from our house… Naomi and Angela lived only a house away; an empty block separated our homes and we used to explore Lindy’s two-story house as it was being built right up to lock up stage. My fat cat Ginger used to explore it too; we’d often find him fast asleep in a sunny corner of the building.
When we saw that a young girl was moving in we were so happy! Lindy was a beautiful brunette, with sky-blue eyes and olive skin. I was drawn to her while playing in the street one sunny afternoon after school. She was in her front yard and this is her humours account of our meeting, ‘Suzie was a tiny little dot who seemed so tough and sure of herself. She walked straight up to me, and with a hand on her hip, asked if I wanted to play?’ … She said she was almost too scared to say no!
Lindy and I soon became an electric combination! Not having Mum at home when I arrived from school provided me with ample opportunity to do as I pleased. That meant gorging on yummy foods like biscuits and then going straight outside to play! Lindy and I played together so happily. We continued to play with Naomi and Angela; but, Lindy and I could stay out until the street lights came on, and in particular we had a natural affinity between us, never arguing, always getting along. She was such a gentle and loving soul; Lindy in Greek means ‘gentle and mild’ and she lived up to those qualities.
We did the kid thing and loved playing Barbie’s, Lindy’s Barbie was called Jenny and mine was Jennifer (a little bit of individuality there). We had snail farms, silkworm farms, and loved playing down the road in the swamp adjoining Everglades Country Club’s golf course. We hunted for mulberries, climbed trees, played hopscotch, rode our bikes, and best of all cared for our guinea pigs! Lindy was the first to get hers which naturally had me asking Dad for one, David on overhearing said, ‘If Lindy got a camel you’d want one too wouldn’t you?’
‘Yes!’ I responded, slightly upset by his condescending tone.
Our guinea pigs taught us so much about life and death. I experienced a myriad of emotions through my two furry friends. I owned Kinky, my sweet, little brown and black guinea pig with a Mohawk along her back from about nine to 11, and then Frisky from 11 to 14, and both met with unnatural endings that taught me so much about the fragility of little bodies and frightful consequence of neglect when children ‘outgrow’ their pets.
I accidentally trod on dear Kinky when I was encouraging her to canter in our lounge room in front of my cousin Melissa who was a few years younger than me. She didn’t die as a direct result because my foot only just caught her. She even ate grass in the front yard afterwards and was moving about okay. But in case she had internal bruising, Nan and I took her to the veterinarian clinic where it all happened. Kinky panicked when the vet picked her up to examine her, and accidentally dropped her as she tried to jump towards me! I’ll never forget seeing her head tilting back in front of me and blood flowing from her mouth! I was distraught, but still held some hope as Nan led me out of the surgery.
A short time later he came out to say she was dead, which was so devastating I told him that he killed her, forgetting for a moment the part I played in accidentally treading on her. Nanna felt so sorry for the vet, she later told me, and I knew deep down it wasn’t his fault, but of course I wouldn’t have it at the time! I remember his last words, ‘That won’t be any charge,’ I don’t know what I would have said if he had asked for us to pay for losing my Kinky.
That was my first touch of the power of death. I can still remember afterwards lying on the kitchen bench in my singlet, howling, when Julie arrived home! She was so loving and sympathetic toward me; I can clearly recall her love.
Poppa died the year following, and I felt the experience of losing her prepared me in some way.
My tortoiseshell-coloured guinea pig named Frisky then became my beloved friend for the next few years. During the years we came to be photographed together in a German magazine. I loved her dearly until my time with her began to wane as other interests came into my life, causing me not to care for her as thoroughly as I used too. Fortunately, Nanna lived in close proximity to her and would whistle to her, feed her when I was neglectful and give her the attention she so dearly deserved! She outlived the average years of a guinea pig’s life, but hers sadly ended when she cut herself on the chicken wire of her cage door and her wound became fly blown! She survived the subsequent visit to the veterinarian clinic; but, the antiseptic was too strong for her precious, little body. Devastated again, I knew my time of owning guinea pigs was over.
* * *
At the same we got our guinea pigs we also fell in love with KISS…the painted-faced, ‘Hottest band in the world’! We danced and rocked to their music with all our hearts. We both were deeply in love with Paul Stanley (Star Child) and took turns singing his lines and/or full songs, holding a hair brush, performing and feeling wild to the music! Gene Simmons (The Devil) was my next best; Lindy’s was Ace Frehley (The Space Cadet). Poor old Peter Chris (The Cat) always came last, although we adored his crossed-sticked drumming skills!
I even went to the KISS concert when they came to Australia in 1980, with Dad and my cousin Vicky, and Lindy went on another night with her family. It was held in a huge, open stadium at the Sydney Showgrounds. The atmosphere at the gates and beyond was unforgettable! We were amongst the many KISS fans with painted faces dressed-up impersonating the KISS men! Vicky had painted my face white with a huge black star (a little too huge) and red lips like Paul Stanley’s and designed hers like Ace Frehley’s, white-faced, silver lipped and silver diamond eyes. As we were going in, a news reporter filmed Dad and me, his comments being, ‘Ages range from this young to this old!’ Poor Dad, he didn’t even look like an old man, certainly didn’t act like one, for when we entered the open ground of the arena we walked and walked and walked stepping over people lying in sleeping bags, moving by people sitting in circles drinking—getting as close as we could until we were within 10-metres of the stage. And then when KISS came on I sat propped on his shoulders where I stayed the entire show wriggling with joy not believing my idols were immediately before me, breathing the same air.
When they say at the beginning of each concert, ‘You want the best you got the best…we’re the Hottest Band in The World – KISS,’ they mean it—putting on the most spectacular performance playing, singing and rocking in their 10-inch high-heeled boots all over the stage. Gene Simmons, blew fire from his mouth, spat blood all over his face, clothes and immediate audience (not real blood), as well as flying over the stage from a rope! An event which was his trademark and a huge crowd pleaser, for the audience clapped and shouted for more!
Paul Stanley the lead singer was my favourite, he was far more amorous with the audience than thrilling Gene and I cried with adoration through a lot of the show. I heard a KISS interview a couple of decades later and stopped short when I heard Paul respond to the question on why they disbanded in the early eighties. He said they felt inclined too when looking out on the audiences at their concerts and seeing ten-year-old girls bawling their eyes out. They knew they were attracting the wrong age range for their liking, Paul told them. I thought yep include me as one of those ten-year-olds, for they would have indeed seen me, sitting so close to the stage on my beloved Dad’s back! Dad had a ball too regardless of his battered chest from my feet thrusting all about! He’d even jest that he almost had an even better time than me! Vicky, fives years my senior also received the kind shoulders of a stranger to sit upon! Oh what a night!
A year later, we fell in love with Adam and the Ants. The lead singer wore a painted stripe across his face, and oh Lindy and I were in love again! Unique and colourful, this band also supplied us with endless fun: singing, dancing, acting, and laughing! We were two lucky girls! My cousin Vicky took us both to their concert at The Sydney Showground in the Hordern Pavilion, and oh what a treat! Lindy and I got so excited when they came on stage; we jumped up on our seats causing the whole line of seats to fall, with people on them. We were in stitches. The whole concert was amazing; Adam even delighted his audience in his last song by exposing his chest to, ‘Let’s get Physical’! We ran down the aisle towards the stage finding that so thrilling and not really knowing why!
Lindy and I were addicted to riding our roller skates too! We would whiz up and down, up and down our road many afternoons and weekends. We had a ball and the highlight of those wheels came when Lindy and I started going to ‘Froggies’ roller staking rink in Gosford. As was always the case, when I asked Dad if I could go his immediately reply would be, ‘Will Lindy be with you?’ He had great trust in Lindy, as she was two years my senior, comforted I was in mature company!
At first we started going in the afternoons, and then happily Saturday nights, as Dad so lovingly picked us up at 11 pm! This is where we had our first direct experiences with boys outside of school, for we had to have a partner to hold hands with during the couple’s stake. ‘She’s got Betty Davis Eyes’ was the hit song of the time! I guess it was at this time that Lindy and I shared our first cigarette…
We also tasted our first drops of alcohol together for the adventure of it all. Being younger than Lindy, I still didn’t possess a curious interest in trying alcohol. So when Lindy and I decided to try the bottle of Johnny Walker (scotch) in our little bar cabinet at home, I admit my desire was fragmented. And, justly so! Scotch tasted like poison and I would take a sip and instantly spit it out, or empty my glass in the sink. We experimented like this only a couple times, and I feel that that activity alone helped me become a minimal drinker needing only a small amount of alcohol on social occasions, if any at all!
Lindy truly was my emotional compensation when Mum was gone. Whenever I was having troubles at home with my brother and sister, who often fought verbally, I’d escape to Lindy’s house as soon as the scene settled and she’d quickly have me laughing again! All I needed was someone to listen to me and understand. She was my antidote, and I was hers when boys eventually began entering her life. We were born advisers and experts on the subject—or so we thought, even when I was just 10 and she, 12!
Chapter Three ~~ On the Home Front
‘Happiness and Suffering are dependent
upon your mind, upon your interpretation.
They do not come from outside, from others.
All of your happiness, and all of your suffering
are created by you by your own mind.’
~ Transforming problems into Happiness – Lama Zopa Rinpoche
With Mum away from the home and Dad working most afternoons and early evenings, my house was an open ground for raw instincts to let loose. Although, Nan and Pop were living out the back, their presence couldn’t tame and curb ‘wildly’ natures!
Louise was the oldest and most mature sibling, the sensible one, a pillar of placidity to be around, but she spent a lot of time out. In contrast, David and Julie were two matches near a fire, capable of sparking flames when the situation arose! They have some similar characteristics, especially the gift of comedy, but comedy wasn’t involved when David had too much to drink.
I instinctively adopted the role of referee and mediator when dissension occurred, and managed to stay neutral over the years, most of the time, despite being tempted to take sides with one, and then the other. I had my own disagreements with Julie or David, but our disputes never involved yelling and aggression. During those fiery instances, I would first call Nanna for help, and then Dad at work if Nanna failed. He would come home if the matter couldn’t be settled by phone! Once this was over, I would run up to Lindy’s for her healing tonic.
Alas, the problem was a vicious circle…
Mum visited regularly, but when she wasn’t at the house, Louise took over the general chores and Nanna attended to our clothes. Julie became the chef and main cleaner when she began cooking during Home Science at school, and supplied all nightly meals, which worked well because Louise was home less and less, with work and a post school social life.
Dinnertime was when the problems would start, albeit not every night. David would arrive home from the Everglades Country Golf Club, having been there all afternoon playing golf, and drinking afterwards. The Everglades was across the park from our house, so he only had a short distance home.
He’d often stagger through the door from too many beers, and receive vibrations of disdain from Julie and me. Dave would sit on the chair nearest to the television, and sometimes fall asleep. Such display was often too much for Julie, who had just prepared and cooked his dinner. She’d steam up in anger; feeling disrespected and would call him names to express her dissatisfaction. Dave would huff up. He’d been happy before he came home, without a care in the world; the old men at the Everglades respected his A-grade golfing skills and encouraged his drinking. Now, at home in stark reality, he’d contort his face into formidable expressions, and retaliate with words of rage!
David spoke way out of line one night, so Julie picked up a butter knife and threw it short of his feet! Louise was home and exclaimed, ‘That’s it I’m telling Dad!’ Those threats never mended the situation. A permanent adult figure in the home would have been the only way; but it seemed we needed these experiences for the experience!
Around this time, I heard a report on the evening news, stating that many murders take place by family members within the home! Those statistics weren’t comforting, and I worried that David’s and Julie’s wrath may one-day cause physical wounds or worse! My attempts to referee the situation increased, ‘Oh Julie’s right David’, or ‘That’s not fair Julie’!
If David did become physical, which was rare, he would take it out on the walls or wardrobe, instead of his sisters. The worst incident involving me was when my friends were at my house. David arrived home from the Everglades and came downstairs. He cuddled me, which was sweet, but then he wanted to keep hugging me with gusto, love bursting from his heart. I was embarrassed in front of my friends and started to protest. He was disgusted, taking it as rejection, and angrily walked up the stairs, slamming the door shut behind him!
‘I hate him, I hate him, I hate him when he is drunk!’ I exclaimed to my friends.
David heard my voice and thought I’d called him a name. He came back and tried to open the door he had just slammed shut! I rushed to assist from the inside, but the door wouldn’t budge, stuck in defiance of the situation. I couldn’t do anything and as I went downstairs, David’s fist came smashing through the stained-glass window beside the door! Through the hole, he gave me a fearsome look, but he retreated and quietly walked away!
Immediately, I called Dad for guidance.
‘Keep Julie away from the house. I’ll be home as soon as I find a replacement!’
Great, but how do I keep Julie away from the house, due home in ten minutes. I rang her work to delay her. She was already on the way. The only thing I could do was wait out the front, worried further because David was back inside the house. Nanna was also on the scene by then, talking to David, attempting to calm him.
I met Julie at the car door, when she soon arrived, and had no luck heeding her steps, trying to explain the unexplainable. It didn’t matter. Words were of no use when she saw the shattered glass. ‘Where is the bastard?’
‘I’m here,’ David said and looked sternly through the glass! Then it was on, David tearing after Julie threatening all things in response to what she was saying. Good old Nanna was the forced referee and courageously moved between them when possible.
I quickly left and walked with my worried friends across the park. We had almost reached the other side when Dave started calling after us, having shifted his frame of mind. ‘Pooey, Pooey come back!’ I didn’t at that time, preferring to stay with my friends to re-establish normality, embarrassed about the ordeal! What they had just witnessed wasn’t the common way I spent my afternoons, and was my worst experience with David.
AS YOU KNOW, Julie and I had a colourful kinship too, so it was great we all had a break from each other every second weekend, when I visited Mum’s house in the first few years of their separation. I loved going. We’d go to fun parks, beaches, nature reserves, a holiday to the snow, and New Caledonia, or meet up with her new friends in the fashion world. I loved receiving her sole attention.
Even though I’d see her through the week, before she picked me up for these weekends, I would be so excited imagining her arriving with her shining blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and red lipstick on top of a great big smile, smelling fantastic! She would arrive just like that, welcoming me with a huge hug and kisses! As I ran to her, I can still hear her calling: ‘Suzie’.
My weekends visiting Mum lessened when Dad bought me a horse when I was nearly 12, something I never imagined owning. On many weekends over the last year and a half, I had also been going to Aunty Freckles and Nanna’s house—Dad’s sister and mother, because Aunty Freckles and I went horse riding on Saturday mornings. We went to horse riding ranges when we first started together, then we took horse riding lessons from a professional instructor. During those wonderful times, I felt the magical seed of horsemanship sprouting within, but didn’t expect this seed to blossom and harvest. Not until Aunty Freckles spoke to Dad, and said, ‘Susan would definitely prosper from a horse of her own’!
~~ To be continued…