… saw me scrunched up in the front of a white Ford panel-van, sporting a self-inflicted head-ache, better suited to the skull of an African elephant! I was in the final stages of my sparky’s (electrician’s) apprenticeship and was on my way to a country town an hour outside of Geraldton, WA. I was to assist the Regional electrician on a couple of jobs at the hospital there, but at that time of the morning – what with my fragile condition – all I wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep!
The odd thing about this particular day though, is that I’d actually been born in this town – on the same grounds – in the old hospital, that had once been there. Not too long after I was born, the old hospital was knocked down and the community got themselves a new one. For some silly reason, I shared this fact with Bryan as we pulled up at the petrol station (I badly needed a pie and sauce, washed down with some choc milk). It had finally filtered into my hung-over brain that this was going to be an unusual day.
A little surprised by my news – he wished me a happy birthday and said he’d see what they could do for morning tea. This perked me up somewhat – the one thing that hospital cooks were excellent at in country towns was spoiling young blokes like me, with fresh, home-made tucker!
No sooner had we gotten through the double access doors out the back, that Bryan was telling the head cook that he had a surprise for them. He introduced me to the half a dozen ladies that had gathered on this announcement and proceeded to tell them the importance of this day to me: “G’day ladies! It’s this young lad’s 21st birthday today and guess what? He was born here!”
The old cook in charge walked up to me – pushed up her glasses and looked me up and down – landing on my name tag. She turned away without a sound and gestured with her chin to another older woman in the room – her ‘number two’ – standing over near the scullery point, looking on. This lady stepped over and, after a quick scan she too read my name tag and said over her shoulder:
“Can’t be… look at the size of him!”
With that exclamation, the remaining ladies moved in and Bryan was bumped unceremoniously out of the way. Before I knew it I was bombarded with a swag of follow-up questions:”Who’s your mum?”, “What’s your dad’s name?”, “Do you know Aaaa?”, “Do you know Bbbb?”, “Where did you grow up?” and on it went. 20 minutes later, it had settled down some – but the questions were still coming!
I tried to answer the gaggle – honest I did, but it didn’t matter – they already knew the answer: I was exactly who they’d thought I was.
21 years ago I had been born one of the smallest, premature babies they had ever seen in that town. So bad was the trauma associated with my birth that my mother had been administered her last rites, as it wasn’t expected that she (or I) would survive my birth.
When my father finally found out about this turn of events he found my mother had been stabilised and that I had been placed in a humidicrib (incubator) – too fragile to nurse. It has been said that I was so small on my birth that I fitted into the cupped palm of the doctor’s hand.
4 of the 6 ladies present in that kitchen on my arrival – had been working in the hospital on the day that I was born. In fact – they were some of the first people who nursed me after I had been stabilised and grown into my skin some. These ladies remembered exactly who I was! Those who weren’t there at the time of my birth knew of me and what had happened to my mum. We were part of that town’s folklore.
Eventually Bryan was able to get me out of the kitchen. It was no small feat – there were still really important questions that need to be answered: “How was my mum?”, “What’s your dad doing now?”, “How’s your brother?” all of it sending my head into a spin. I couldn’t believe this group of ladies had held me when I was that little. I also couldn’t believe their excitement! I spent the first four years of my life in that town and many subsequent years too – as I often returned to stay there with friends of our family – but I had no real idea of the circumstances that actually led to us being so closely connected to the community of that town.
I was encouraged to work through morning tea. I could see Bryan had something up his sleeve – he had one of those smiles on his face – but I just couldn’t imagine it to be, what it would soon become. When I got called in just before lunch, I was led to the staff dining room. As the door’s swung open – I was completely shocked to find the room full of people – in uniform and out of it – smiling and laughing – singing out: SURPRISE!
The ladies in the kitchen had made one of the biggest cakes I had ever seen. They’d also put the word out. They’d managed – in the course of two hours – to gather up nearly all the people in town that had been in the old hospital when I had been born. They’d found old students of my father’s – who’d actually gotten to hold me well before he did! They’d gotten the matron who was on duty at the time – as she’d retired and still lived in town. They’d pulled them all in – and here they all were – looking at me!
I won’t keep on about it, except to say I’ve never experienced a birthday like it since. Whenever I stop in that town, I feel warm inside. Most of those older ladies have gone now – but they live on in my memories in a way I can’t completely describe. It was nothing for this community to mobilise in this way – my birthday was a celebration of so many things on that day and most of it completely unknown to me. It makes for a really amazing story – and it’s taken me this long to realise it.
I hope you realise it too and, that this little yarn jogs memories for you, of your own little slices of life you’ve left floating around behind you. They’re often just as amazing and it’s amazing too, how they reach out and grab you sometimes – just to remind you that they’re still there – still with you.
I kind of like that…
Belongum – Out!