The backdoor of our family home, where Christine and I grew up, was open. I knocked on the door, Christine did the same. As there was no answer we tentatively walked in – uninvited guests! As I stepped into the small porch childhood memories came flooding back. I then walked into the adjoining room, the laundry. There I saw the same concrete tubs. They had been there for 65 years! Back then there was a small table in the corner. This is where my sister Susan and I sat while our mother washed our face and hands, grubby from playing outside.
One day, during the ritual of face and hand washing, my mother told me to run for towels. In the seconds that followed my mother lowered her gaze and my eyes followed. Blood was running down her legs forming a pool of blood on the floor. My mother who was pregnant with her third child phoned my father at work. Shortly, he arrived home. Soon after, I saw my mother disappear on a stretcher, down the concrete pathway, and into the ambulance. On the same day, my brother Kenneth John was born. He was two months premature and died six hours later.
My father carried his first-born son in a small white coffin on his lap to his burial place. His only support was Poppa (my maternal grandfather) who drove the car. My mother lay alone in her hospital bed, she was twenty-seven years old. She was never given a moment to look at Kenneth’s small and perfect face or hold his tiny hands or cradle him in her arms. My memories on that day as we walked through our family home, all those years later, bought back the loss of Kenneth. Although I never met my brother, he has a special place in my heart of memories.
Almost fifty years after Kenneth’s death I saw his unmarked gravesite for the first time. It was at the Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery in the Catholic Section. It was a dry and parched piece of earth. Weeds were everywhere. Strong fresh weeds and also dried remnants of weeds, once green and flourishing. Like life, flourishing until death. Anyone walking by this plot of barren earth would not have given Kenneth’s burial place a second glance.
Subsequently, my husband Bill and I arranged a plaque for his gravesite. On the anniversary of Kenneth’s fiftieth birthday, the same day he died, we went to see the plaque for the first time. We had a moment of silence and remembered his short life. I was overwhelmed with emotion.
My mother never visited Kenneth’s gravesite. I offered to take her to look at his plaque, the small memorial of his life, but she never visited. She could not manage returning to her memories of that day. The day she lost her first-born son, Kenneth.
In April 2019 my mother, aged 92 years, joined Kenneth in heavenly places. My image of them is different today. I see them hand in hand running through lush green fields, dense with flowers, and through forests, and streams. Their joy is indescribable.
But for now, I return to the visit to our family home. My sister Christine and I continued to soak up the memories while we walked through the house. The rooms looked so small. How did my mother manage in such a tiny kitchen?
Squatters had been living in the house. There was a broken sofa, empty bottles, and rubbish lying around. It was not the well-kept, tidy, and comfortable home I remembered.
On leaving the back-patio Christine and I remembered our handprints, imprinted in the concrete. Those of our parents, mine, Christine’s and our siblings Susan, and Patricia. We took photographs. We both knew this would be our only opportunity.
Within several weeks of our visit to Tor Street, our once loved family home was demolished. The land was now inconspicuous and unloved, only dry earth and weeds. It sat alone, waiting for a developer to breathe new life into the barren space.
Like our days on earth, they are like grass, for a while they flourish like flowers in the field. But then the wind blows over them and they are gone, and its place remembers it no more.