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Stephen Bentley - Writer

Six Years Old Do You Remember?

At the tender age of six,  I was terrified.

I am now sixty-eight years young  and I still recall what happened. I only have vague memories of my life before I turned six.

Indeed, I recall nothing before I was six.

Possibly, if something or someone prompted me then I may  summon up recall. I do recall my mother leaving me one day when I was six. I was so upset at the time.  I did not understand that she was pregnant with my sister. The ambulance took her away and I didn’t know what was going on. I was bewildered.

I have put my thoughts about my relationship with my father into posts on this blog before. I mention him in the draft of my new book.

It was tonight I got to think about the “soft” side of my father. I could ask what happens to men that makes them cynical but I know the answer to that from my own life experience.  In fact, it was mentioned in an earlier article I wrote today. Part of it struck a chord with me and  I reproduce the excerpt here:

Throughout his career, John McGahern wrote only six novels, and they’re said to document his own life as proven in his autobiography entitled All Will Be Well: a Memoir. McGahern was at first a  primary schoolteacher, but was fired due to the controversy over his novel The Dark. The book was banned in Ireland due to the implication of incest and overall pornographic content.  His first novel, The Barracks, took place in the same place where McGahern grew up and The Dark is said to document the author’s relationship with his own father. His best known novel, Amongst Women, tells the story of an IRA veteran and the influence that his changed, now hardened personality has on his family, as is said to be a good example of the changes in personality of any veteran. McGahern also was a writer of short stories, in addition to finishing his career as a processor at various universities across the world.

For “hardened IRA veteran” read veteran of policing in a tough post-WW2 Liverpool. My father was hardened by the rough side of life. You would never have guessed that when I was six.

Bathing me one evening before my bed time, he noticed a large swelling  on my left buttock.

Concerned, he took me to the family doctor the next day. Within a few hours, I was in a hospital.

It was no ordinary hospital. It was an isolation hospital in Liverpool. It was rightly suspected that I had contracted tuberculosis , it later to be confirmed.

six

TB Clinic 1927 – a Death Sentence?

I can vividly recall six years of age.

A glass screen stood between me and my hospital bed and the outside world. My mother and father were not allowed into my room which antiseptically stunk of hospital.

Not understanding what was happening, I grew more panicky when I looked at my parents. My mother was in shock. I could see it  etched in her face. She was close to tears.

My father was ashen faced and quiet.

My memory of that isolation period is still present. I was wrapped in a  bubble, a cocoon.

None of that was helped by doctors prodding me and pushing me whilst wearing masks. The nurses too wore masks and they were scary!

The food was disgusting and I still retch at the thought of the cold fish smothered in a cold white sauce with green bits in it. It looked and tasted like snot!

My transfer to an open ward soon came. I spent six months in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.Two surgical procedures removed affected gland tissue from my throat and bone scrapings were taken from my left buttock. The scars are still visible in both places.

Streptomycin   was injected into my buttock every day, three times a day, I was a pin cushion. Forced to lay on my stomach for three months, I had only the support of an inflated rubber ring to avoid bed sores.

I didn’t complain. Simon (funny that I remember his name) was in the bed next to me and I recall that he was worse off than me. Simon didn’t have TB. He was brain damaged. Thomas (again, strange that I remember that name too) was a Welsh male nurse and made me laugh.

He wheeled me to my many X-Ray appointments on the gurney. He would build up speed and let go shouting, “Wheeee!” or something like that. It made me happy.

There were other happy moments. I was “parked” on an outdoor  verandah during dry, warm weather. From there. I would watch all the traffic on the main road from Liverpool to Huyton.

That is when I must have developed a love of trucks or lorries as we called them in Liverpool. I wanted to be a lorry driver when I grew up and many years later my dream was fulfilled, at least for a few years.

My grandmother and other relatives would visit. Oh! How I loved my Grandma visiting. She never had much money but a Dinky Toy  truck she would bring for me. She knew what made me happy!

[Pause here. I can’t see the keyboard for tears]

Okay, I’m back.

The numerous visits to X-Ray probably left its mark. My buttock area was scrutinized regularly. There was no rubberized shield of lead around my genitals. In later life, I was informed that I had a low sperm count. That came as no surprise!

My discharge from hospital left me immobile. I had laid on my stomach in bed for so long that I had lost muscle power in my legs. I was unable to walk. With the aid of a chair in front of me, I was able to shuffle a few yards to the corner of Coppice Crescent. Eddie Keen, one of the neighbours’ kids assisted me. Thank you, Eddie.

For years after my parents forced a thick dark brown malt concoction down my throat. I hated it!

I paid regular annual visits to the TB Clinic and was fully discharged when I was twelve. Even fully discharged with a clean bill of health, I vividly recall people freezing when I told them I had TB as a child.

My sister also had cause to complain. She had the vaccine injection for TB while at school and complained that it left a mark on her arm and it hurt!

That was me at six. I have reason to remember it.

Do you recall anything traumatic during your early years?

Were you affected by TB in your youth?

Share it with me, please.

TB in my lifetime had been thought to be eradicated;  not so it is alive and ‘unwell’ today,

 

10 Comments

  1. I was in tears reading it. What a tough experience and at that time children weren’t prepared for the things that happened to them. I and my twin brother were left at the hospital fro two months when we were born with very few visits from our mother. Fathers were not welcome at all. I am still battling with the consequences of that in different ways

    • Hello Maria, I am touched that my writing made you cry. I guess that’s what we writers do – put emotions down on paper. Thank you so much for dropping in and taking the time to leave your comment.

  2. Hey Steve,

    I have three very strong bits of trauma as a child (1 funny and 2 not). I’ll keep them short.

    First, when I was 5 I was excited that it was my first day at school. I remember the school was a trailer in rural Indiana. We lived on an isolated farm. My parents took me in, and I was overjoyed seeing so many kids to play with. The teacher said that we would be taking a trip later on the bus to visit some newborn calves.

    We were on the bus, and I looked out my window to see below my parents in their car. I knocked on the bus window, but they didn’t see me. I panicked. I thought they were abandoning me. I was inconsolable.

    The second when I was 12. My mom was cheating on my dad. I heard her one night call him a worthless son-of-a-bitch because he wouldn’t fight the guy she was cheating with. I hated my dad for not beating the shit out of the guy. Several weeks had passed, and I got up the courage and asked him why. What he said has stayed with me. “When a man and woman get married they are husband and wife. When they have children they are no longer just two people married. They become a mommy and a daddy. They are now a family and their responsibilities are now to the kids more than to each other.” He saw that my mom was a troubled woman. “Your mom has problems, divorcing her or fighting someone won’t change that. I stay here because I love you kids and mom.”

    3rd – I was 16 ready for the prom. I hadn’t yet received my driving license, and my dad said he’d take my date and I. I stood there in my tux, corsage in hand, and said, “Ready, Daddy.” My mom came out and said to dad, “We need to go shopping.” My dad said, “When I come back we can.” My mom said, “NO! NOW!” My dad re-explained he was taking me to the prom. My mother took the keys and left in the car. He was more shocked then I was. His look of horror, is still embedded in my mind. It was too late to call a friend. So I called my date and did the best I could to explain. Next school day I was a piece of shit to many.

    • Jerry, I was moved by your stories. Your father was a wise man. It never ceases to amaze me what some adults are capable of in the context of f***ing up their kids! It reminds me of the cliche, that you need a license to drive a car but nothing to become a parent!

      • Thanks, Steve

        In sort of fairness to my mom she had a very f**ked up life as a child. Her mother passed when she was 12, and she dropped out of school to become mother to her two younger brothers. She also became her fathers ‘wife’. I say sort of because she knew she was doing wrong, yet she continued it. I think she did achieve some kind of peace before she died. She tried on several occasions to heal with her father, but he wanted no part of it. Her catharsis came when he died. She was called by her brother he was dead. I remember mom saying, “That f**king son-a-bitch is dead? Thank God it’s over. May he burn in hell!” I truly believe the only evil in he world is from those that know they are doing wrong, yet they continue to do so.

        • Jerry, I understand. That topic- incest, is maybe one of our society’s last taboos. It’s only in recent years that it has become more widely discussed, and of course, a number of people have written books detailing their own experiences.
          I can fully understand the feelings behind your Mom’s words on hearing of the death of her father.

  3. Stephen,
    I was moved by your experience with such a terrible illness at such a young age. my Mom has two siblings that suffered polio when they were 5 and 6 years old. Although they recovered , they both have issues connected to polio today.
    But I relate most to your point in the memory carried with you in such detail. My Mother, Aunt & Uncle all have detailed memories of this time in their lives. I remember vividly getting very ill while on a family camping trip to the Arches National Park and an unfortunate ice bath and enema in an RV to get my 106 d egree fever to break. :/ I was 7, and yes, my siblings will never let me forget it. But I will not forget the look on my Mom’s face as she tried to figure out what to do for her child in the middle of no where in 1972.
    These memories are the priceless jewels we carry with us, for as long as we can, and making more everyday. Thank you.

    • Dee, Thank you for sharing your own experiences. As children, the look of fear on a parent’s face seems etched indelibly in our own memory. A child normally thinks that a parent always knows best and has all the answers. It comes as a shock to learn that they are not ‘super-human’.

      • Agreed. More over, nothing makes you more keenly aware of your limits as a parent than the moment you realize your child needs your help and you don’t know just what to do .

  4. Six years old huh? Well, your story Steve is enthralled with much history. Yes. I enjoyed reading that story.
    As for me, well, my six year old self… I never suffered from TB as far as I can remember. I do recall having multiple accounts of ringworm though! Terribly itchy and contagious.
    Still, most of my six year old memories are gone. They might resurface if triggered but I can’t recall them. Regardless, it was a pleasure reading your material. Thanks!

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