My Brother Ian

My brother Ian was born when I was almost seven years old. A couple of years earlier, my mother gave birth to twin boys at six months on the double bed in the front bedroom.  Dr. Rouche delivered them into a bucket.  He never showed them to my mother, and told her ‘you do not want to see them’.  My mother went away to stay with my Aunty Bubbles and Uncle Frank for (what seemed) a long time, to recover.  Sarah, our nanny, looked after us.

So when my brother was born, it was a time for great rejoicing.   My fathers boss giving him an envelope, which my Dad still had when he died, which contained ten shillings, an enormous amount of money then, with a note “Your Son, Your Son – The Only One!”

I remember thinking that here was clearly something special about sons. 

My father left shortly after Ian’s birth for Northern Rhodesia, where there was copper – and if you were lucky and patient – a job.   And then Ian got ill, seriously ill.  The ships at that time were still passing through the Suez Canal, and it was believed that ‘the germs’ arrived on a ship destined for Cape Town.   Seven new born babies in Cape Town were stricken with encephalitis.  Six died.  My brother survived.

I cannot imagine how my mother survived.   She had a rebellious 13 year old daughter, a needy seven year old daughter (me) – both Daddy’s Girls, who missed their father terribly, and a new born bub who was likely to die.   And no money.  Every week, my mother waited for money to arrive from my Dad at the copper mines of Northern Rhodesia.

She kept much of the seriousness of my brothers illness a secret from my Dad.   She told me later that she didn’t feel she ‘could burden him with it’ – whilst he was trying to find work.  She slept at the bedside in the hospital with my brother, and family friends and nanny Sarah took care of Susan and me.   Susan took advantage of this time to get up to all kinds of misbehaving, a teenage girl, testing her wings, and there were many arguments.  I was just miserable, with the absence of both my parents.

This was when I came to know the love of my Aunty Lydia and Uncle Les, and their three kids, who lived across the road from us.   They opened their hearts and their home, and they welcomed us into their lives. They were wealthy by our standards, and they lived in their own home, an inconceivable notion to our family.  Aunty Lydia was undeniably beautiful and glamorous, exquisitely groomed, and a dressmaker of renown, who dressed like Jackie Kennedy.  Our mothers had met at the Baby Health Clinic when Michelle and I were newborns.   This family were our bedrock, and our friendship continues today, nearly 70 years later.   Without them, I do not know how my mother – or us – would have survived.

One night I remember asking my mother for sixpence to take to school.   She exploded, absolutely not, where did I think the money was coming from?  As a mother myself and all these many years later, I can completely understand.  But I was 7 years old, not knowing of the hardship, the pain and sorrow, the lack of money and the terror of losing a child she was experiencing, and I went to bed sobbing.

The next morning, she kissed me awake and pressed a sixpence into my hand.

I came home with my prize, my sixpence worth of healing.   It was a three inch high tacky statue, but to me – The Most Beautiful Image of the Virgin Mary, The Mother – with her arms outstretched, it was a sickly green colour, fluorescent - it glowed in the dark - watching over my baby brother Ian, whilst we slept. 

I hung it over my brothers crib.   I believed that the Virgin Mary would save my Baby Brothers Life.

And She did.