Cross posted from Robyn Murray’s gohomeubb ~ life in Oz blog.
My adoptive family was a quirky, mixed bunch from various backgrounds – four adopted kids with working class parents and one much older, natural daughter to my mother. We went through a series of foster kids, pets, renovations, above ground pools and complete re-purposing of everything in the backyard with the exception of dad’s shed in our early years. My mum had such a generous heart; she was capable, gregarious and very often found to be the life of the party. When she was angry, boy, did we cop it! My mum was passionate and she cared. My dad was a motor mechanic and he drank Carlton Draught; we used to stack the empty beer bottles by the side of the red-brick housing commission place we called home for the first 15 years of my life. I don’t know where mum and dad lived before that, but they moved into our house around about the time they got me from the adoption agency.
Apparently I was only nine days old when they took me home from the hospital and as lazy as I was I never put any effort into making sure I was fed or changed, rarely crying out to get attention. Apparently, I just lay there peacefully, waiting.
The most delightful thing I remember from my early years was my nana on my mother’s side. I thought she was the best thing since sliced bread! She lived with us for a few years and she was blind as a result of diabetes. Once I actually saw her getting her insulin shot – put me off needles for life. Anyway, I learnt to read just as soon as my sister went off to school. I would listen in as she practised her ABC’s, plus my favourite pre-school TV show was University Challenge (which must have scared my mum a bit) and it didn’t take me long to figure out how it all worked. You see, I was determined to learn to read as soon as possible so that I could read the paper to my nana. Years ago, when she was younger she ran a boarding house for jockeys and she still loved to bet on the horses.
My favourite memories of nana involve me sitting on her lap reading the form guide out loud, she would place her bets over the telephone just minutes before we listened to the races being called on the radio; sometimes cheering, sometimes disappointed. The thing is, she had this bee in her bonnet about Harry White – who turned out to be a great jockey – but my nana, oh she had it in for him. Every time I found myself looking at the name H. White on the form guide for the next race, I would giggle and squirm and eventually get myself under control and announce, “And the jockey is….H. White!” At this point my nana would put on a very high-pitched voice and say “that bloody Harry White he couldn’t lie straight in his bed!” Too funny. It was like pressing a button – it played out pretty much the same way every time.
For many years I held this bizarre image in my mind of this small man in brightly coloured riding silks who couldn’t straighten out his crooked body because he spent too much time riding horses. The memories became so much more heart-warming after I finally figured out what she was really saying about him What a funny lady!
My nana was my protector and for the most part I loved and respected her deeply. Although, occasionally I would try out something quite naughty and I can remember just how ashamed I was at those times to have disappointed her; how afraid I was that we might not end up being close anymore. Eventually though, her health was failing and we were getting too many kids for the house, so she moved to the Blind Institute. We used to go there and visit on the odd weekend. My little brother and I were intrigued by the pedestrian crossing with the tick- tick-tick sound to alert the blind people as to when it was safe to cross the street. The last time we visited nana she told mum that she could actually see us, she looked at each of us and made a personal comment and she was so happy and shining that I am glad to remember her that way. My nana passed away a very short time after that last visit. My mum was devastated. I still miss her.
Around this time, my mum and I had to spend a lot of time together due to the demands of my dance training. My older sister was focussed on swimming so my dad would take her along to training. Whenever possible, mum would arrange to spend time with my sister and I would attempt to help dad with whatever he was doing; such as servicing cars at the workshop, cleaning banks, reading the paper (I never could get it through my head that the newspaper wasn’t mine), watching the motor racing on TV, etc.
I would have been around seven or eight years old when he called me into the bathroom that first time and locked the doors and showed me what I had to do. It was completely surreal, I said no a lot and cried, but I was so scared of how different he was that I tried my hardest not to make him any angrier. To try and understand what he wanted so it could end quickly. But I couldn’t understand; why was he shaking so much? Why is he squeezing my hand so tightly? I seriously had no clue what was going on as he tried so many different things, then he would say “no, no good” or something like that and try some new configuration of our bodies always centred around some part of my body in contact with his penis – none of which seemed to make him happy. The tiled floor was cold and it hurt so much and I was so angry and heartbroken – I did not know why this happened. When he finally said that I could go, he pulled my arm in tight and said in a low voice “if you tell anyone about this, ever, I will kill you”.