by Willie Southgate
I woke to hear the house filled with a terrible noise – like somebody in agony. What was happening?
My siblings and I had been away from home for forty days whilst Father was in hospital. We had stayed with “Auntie”, who wasn’t really our aunt, and counted the days. We couldn’t wait for him to get well so we could all go home.
We lived in a small country town in Denmark where I attended Bækby Public School. Our house, on the main street, was a white two-storey building with a shop front where our tenant had a dairy. She had a flat upstairs where also my sister and I shared a bedroom. My sister had not returned home yet and I had the room to myself.
Whilst staying with Auntie, I had been wearing winter clothes , but now it was summer – the second of June, and the sun was shining. I found a light cotton dress. It was reasonably clean and I dressed quickly to go downstairs to find out what was going on.
I met the district nurse coming from Father’s bedroom. “There’s porridge in the kitchen,” she said. “And could you get your little brother up and dressed – send him outside to his brothers. You can then go to school. Your father has been taken ill during the night.”
I went to Father’s bedroom. He was making that noise. He must have been in shocking pain. I lifted my little brother out of his cot and dressed him, gave him breakfast and sent him outside to play as the nurse had told me. I then headed off to school, but with forebodings. This was only Father’s second day at home.
I was nine years old and in fourth grade. We were in the gym building for PE. It was there I received a message to come back to the school. Here the pastor’s wife and another woman waited in a taxi for me. We drove to where my older sister was staying. She was in bed with a cold.
We went to her bedroom. The pastor’s wife put me on her knees. It was then we received the devastating news that Father had suffered a heart attack and died. As mother had died barely three years before, we knew what death meant.
Later in the day, the pastor’s wife took me to see Father. He was lying on his bed with a sheet pulled right up over his head. She removed it enough to let me see his face. He was a bad colour, all yellowish and pale and there was cottonwool stuffed up his nostrils.
“He had a nosebleed,” she explained and pulled the sheet up to cover him again. “He’s with God now.”
After this she brought me across the street to our neighbours. I was to stay with them, I was told.
It was evening now but not dark. The suppertable was laid with the most delicious food such as I’d not seen in a long time. There was rationing due to the war, but our neighbours had a deli and were better off. I was hungry, had not eaten anything since breakfast, and stuffed myself. It was not good, for combined with the stress and emotions of the day it made me feel sick. A bucket was placed beside my bed into which I brought up my entire meal.
I didn’t go back to the public school again. It was now holiday time, and after that I was transferred to the Grammar School. We had become wards of the state and the headmaster of the Grammar School had been made our legal guardian. He ensured we all received a free education there.
We were six children in all. We lost the parents we loved and the home we had shared. But, perhaps because of this, our love for each other grew even stronger and, though we later scattered to the four corners of the world, that love has never ceased.