Lachlan remembered clapping hands when his Dad made an announcement they’d be heading for the coast to join cousins on their traditional Christmas family get together. He remembered the excitement of that announcement. Ever since he could remember it was a custom for family to enjoy Easter on the coast, but to share this holiday home with Aunt Beth and Uncle Liam at Christmas.
Their holiday home stood on a hill overlooking the ocean. On the horizon was a large island sheltering a bay which funnelled coastal shipping to the capital city. Lachlan looked forward to this visit with mixed emotions. On the plus side was morning on the beach with cousins building sand castles and inspecting strange sea creatures occupying pools left behind whenever tide receded. Warm afternoons were spent jostling with cousins for the choicest bunk beds, where kid’s books from the loan library attached to a small coastal settlement store at the hill top near a lighthouse were devoured quickly so they could be replaced. They’d run to the store evenings to replace their books and spend pocket money on a sixpenny ice cream.
But there was a down side to the twice a year migration to the coast. Much of the country road system away from the capital in 1940’s was graded and pressed dirt creating a dust haze for much of the journey in the dry, and mud bath in the wet. Journeys was gifted with occasional welcome breaks when passing through country towns with sealed roads, but returning to heat discomfort of those dirt tracks when windows were sealed to keep out dust.
It was a comfort to all when an eventual sign was reached pointing down a sealed narrow road with white sand at the sides announcing soon appearance on top of a long winding hill of a breathtaking view over ocean. A white sandy cape on an island in far distance contrasted against shipping passing to and from the capital city in a deep-water channel close to shore.
It had been the usual pleasant vacation at the coast until that fateful afternoon when kids had troubled their parents to take them swimming at the Still Water. So their families accompanied them the half mile journey to what had become known at that time as the Still Water. It was a stretch of water between a smaller island and the mainland which sported the only jetty in the area from which boats were launched, people fished and best of all, from which kids could jump and wade ashore returning countless times to enjoy their game until the novelty wore off.
Lachlan had been convalescing from an ear infection so was strictly warned by Mom not to play the jumping game but be content to wade in that tranquil water until he was completely better. However, shouts of joy and taunts of his cousins soon had him enjoying the game while adults sat temporarily distracted feeding sea birds. But Moms have a built in sixth sense alerting when their children are into mischief, so Lachlan’s game was soon put to an end. But the damage was done, his recovering ear now filled with sandy water.
That was just before vacation end, and next day cousins had their final departing game of tag before Lachlan’s family headed north. The following evening Lachlan’s infection returned giving sufficient alarm for the doctor to be called in the middle of the night. The doctor did what he could but when treatment didn’t produce results, and the town hospital had exhausted skills of that era it was advised necessary to get specialist help at the capital city. As the matter was urgent Lachlan’s family packed their bags and made their way as quickly as they could south to hospital specialist care in the big city with their son in excruciating pain.
Worried doctors laid facts before Lachlan’s parents. The infection had found its way into bone and this would have to be removed. It was a major operation in those days but they had new medications recently available and there was hope they could arrest the infection progress and bring about an eventual cure. But it was only a hope and not certainty.
Lachlan was too sick to be concerned as they wheeled him into the operating theatre. But it was a different matter when a mask was fitted over his face and gas pumped into nostrils and mouth. Lachlan fought to be free of that unwanted device preventing him from breathing. He fought desperately but blackness overcame him and he lay limp as doctors prepared for their emergency session.
When he awoke, he became aware of a cold feeling on his head and gingerly raised his hand to feel what was happening. His head was bandaged and taped to prevent slippage. He felt a strange sensation at the side of his head but was still too anaesthetized to understand what was happening. Later he came to know, the left side of his head had been shaved, and out of an incision behind his left ear a tube protruded through bandages into which nurses did something he could feel at intervals. Days passed as he alternatively dozed and awoke to find worried parents beside his bed. But eventually those waking periods increased, the bandage and tube were removed. He gingerly felt where the tube had been and sensed a cavity from which bone had been taken.
He remembered being released from hospital and overjoyed at the thought of going home, only to find that would not be for some time. He was to remain at Aunt’s home with Mother and siblings while Father returned home to manage business affairs. He’d return to accompany them to the specialist doctor who’d make a final decision as to when they could all return home together. Lachlan recalled his humiliation being permitted to accompany Aunt shopping on the understanding he’d wear his aunt’s headscarf. His cousins would laugh and point when Aunt fitted him with her scarf to keep breeze and dust from irritating the wound.
The specialist doctor was a stern man who asked a lot of questions to review the case. He was angry knowing Lachlan’s foolishness in not following Mom’s instructions and Lachlan shivered as the doctor lectured him on obedience. But the worst was yet to come!
Eventually it was cleared for the family to take Lachlan home with them. He was overjoyed. Even dusty roads would be tolerable as he thought of returning to normal life. But he soon learned his humiliation was not yet complete. One side of his head had a normal growth of hair, but the side of his head operated on had reached a stage where there was only moderate growth. He learned on returning to school not only was he far behind in classwork but children at school treated him as something out of a freak show until eventually hair growth caught up and barbers cleverly evened things up.
How many times he reflected during these humiliating months on the few splashes of disobedience which had led him into pain and misery. He resolved through this experience to pay more attention to Mom’s instructions in future.
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