Extract from Chapter 13: Paul is transferred to another institution and builds shallow and uncertain hope of a somewhat better life.
The black car came again in the early summer of 1960, just after my twelfth birthday. I was to travel alone this time. No farewells were allowed. My sister knew boys didn’t stay, but she was not told where I was to go. Children in the playground stopped their games to stare and wave, but were not permitted past the fence line. Had they asked, they would not have been told where I was being sent, nor permitted to maintain any contact with me. But we had all been so thoroughly conditioned none would dare to ask, and so thoroughly desensitized none of us knew how to care.
The black sedan rolled down the long drive, through the huge iron gate, round to the right, onto the highway, past the high school, and out of the town. Leafy liquid amber soldiers formed a guard of honour, standing smartly to attention, one every twenty feet, motionless, silent, bidding me a solemn goodbye. I shivered in the back seat, but not from cold, for the sun poured through the windows of the big sedan making it quite hot inside. A massive hand squeezed my chest until I struggled to breathe. My gut churned and my heart pounded and thumped and occasionally gave a little flutter like a moth caught in a web.
Perhaps I made the wrong decision? I might have been travelling with a group of boys my age to a Catholic boys’ home far away. The nuns said it was a nice place.
But I didn’t trust the nuns and I didn’t want to be a Catholic.
I focused on the grassy brown paddocks littered with sheep. The occasional clump of trees stretched as far as the eye could see. Here and there, a homestead chimney peeped from behind a cluster of trees. Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of a horseman and his dog, urging sheep across a paddock and I was reminded of my father.
Ducks danced over a large expanse of water in one paddock quite close to the road. Here and there a muddy little creek, edged in green, sliced pastures. The scenery reminded me of home and I longed to run on the sand and swing on willows and lie in the grass with Rusty licking me all over. For a little while I pretended I was going home. Fear was replaced by excitement, but I couldn’t keep the fear at bay for long.
The paddocks were greener now. The trees were mostly gums, but here and there a cluster of stately green pines reached for the clouds or willows wept into a muddy dam. The black sedan crossed a grid onto a narrow dirt road, and I read the sign “Ohio Station”.
A sheep station! Am I going to live here? Don’t get your hopes up.
I caught sight of a big mud brick rendered homestead, with several smaller timber outbuildings scattered around it. It was a sort of mucky yellow colour and it looked much more cheerful than the dark brick of the orphanage.
The sedan drew to a halt between the homestead and a small timber cottage with a long veranda. A woman emerged from the homestead wearing a garish floral dress. A colourful apron was tied approximately where her waist ought to have been. She wore flat, lace up shoes and thick stockings. Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks shone and there was a welcoming warmth about her that probably ought to have eased my fears, but I had learned to distrust even the most pleasant looking stranger. I’d been cautioned to fear this place and those who ran it.
“Welcome to Ohio,” she called. “I’m Mrs. Tuck, Matron, Mum ─ whichever you feel comfortable calling me. My husband and I take care of all the boys here. You’ll make twenty-two now, counting our son, Peter, who lives here with us. You’ll meet him soon ─ when they finish their game.”
She nodded toward a group of boys kicking a soccer ball about in a nearby paddock. The driver opened the rear door and summoned me. I stood there shivering, despite the summer heat. The driver set my little suitcase down beside us and handed the woman a large brown envelope. She wrote something on a page attached to a clipboard. Then the driver walked slowly around the sedan. The door slammed and the motor whirred. Gravel crunched under spinning tyres as the now dusty brown sedan slid down the long driveway and out of sight.
Still trembling, I followed the woman through a large institutional-style dining room furnished with several long tables, through into a dim hallway and up a narrow flight of stairs to another hallway that led to a large room with two neat rows of metal framed beds.
Oh God! Those all too familiar tightly pulled covers and sharp mitred corners. Small metal cabinets separating the beds. Tiny spaces between the beds, barely wide enough to provide space to dress. Polished linoleum floors. The air rank with that acidic disinfectant odour. The smell of fear!
I was surprised to notice books resting on top of several of the personal tables. There was even a little bag of marbles on one. A single dormer window looked down over a vast green lawn that rolled past a post and wire fence to a tree-lined creek. Boys sat on the banks holding fishing rods, or waded in the shallows. Cows and their calves grazed serenely under smiling little summer clouds. The sun polished tree leaves and the water surface and trickled through the dormer glass to toast my chill limbs. Mrs Tuck was still smiling.
For the next three years, this will be home.
Author Lorraine Cobcroft: Bio
Lorraine Cobcroft always dreamed of being a writer, but somehow the necessity to survive and feed children got in the way... until a series of coincidences spurred her to write a set of software training courses. Her courseware sold globally, and catapulted her into a heady world as CEO of a global information technology corporation.
After years of writing instructional and technical material, Lorraine turned to freelance business and ghost writing, producing investment invitations, business plans, marketing copy, and informational books on a vast range of topics.
In 2008, she published ''Melanie's Easter Gift'', a children's picture book written for her grandchildren and to support a favourite charity. (See http://www.melanieseastergift.com
The following year, she heard the words that spurred her to join her husband on a cathartic journey through his painful past, and she began writing ''The Pencil Case'', a story described by readers as "Shocking...Confronting...A story that must be heard."
A slightly fictionalized biography of a stolen Australian white child, it's a story you will read between tears and fits of rage. But it's a story that exposes the strength and beauty of the human spirit, and the extraordinary power of family love.
Lorraine and her husband are now happily semi-retired and live in beautiful seaside Pottsville, NSW, Australia. They spend their time caravanning around Australia, bush and beach walking, reading, and enjoying the five delightful grandchildren who are the light of their lives.
Pottsville Beach, NSW, Australia