Food was scarce in wartime Britain, so my father dug up half the back lawn to grow vegetables. As a small boy I loved watching him skilfully prepare and rake the soil. Then I would help pop the pea and bean seeds into the holes he’d made with his dibber. He even let me have a little plot all to myself, where I grew radishes and lettuce. I got very impatient and used to pull the tiny seedlings up to see if there was anything there.
We also kept chickens and I delighted in lifting the nesting box lids to see if there were any eggs. If there were, I would rush back to the house clutching my precious prizes. Hopefully they arrived unbroken. For a real treat we would have one of the birds for Christmas dinner. My father was surprisingly squeamish, so asked the milkman to do the dirty deed. I helped with the plucking. I remember the fluffy under-feathers floating around and filling the air in our small lean-to greenhouse. We fed the hens on something called balancer meal, which was mixed into a mash with cooked vegetable waste.
One day, the peelings were boiling merrily on the kitchen range, while I reclined in comfort on the floor just below. I don’t quite know how it happened; I think my sister must have caught the saucepan handle. But the next thing I knew, the contents of the pan were cascading over me. I had the presence of mind to shield my face. My bare arm took the brunt and was plastered with scalding-hot potato peelings. I shrieked and my mother panicked and rushed out carrying me. The only available car in the road was pressed into service and we were rushed to the children’s hospital on the edge of town.
There I lay on a trolley in the corridor for hours, shaking all over with terror. Eventually I was wheeled into a ward and my mother had to leave. They placed a kind of metal arch over me. It had electric light bulbs inside to keep me warm, I presumed because of the shock. I felt very shut in and scared. A nurse came and asked if I wanted a bottle. I declined, thinking it was a strange thing to offer me. The truth was, I was dying for a pee!
Life in a children’s hospital in those days was totally different to the child-friendly wards of today, where parents can even stay with their children. Everywhere had to be tidy and spotless and every morning matron would do her inspection rounds. She headed the military procession dressed in her stiff starched uniform, followed by a retinue of nurses and doctors. The staff were terrified of her, let alone the patients. We had to remain in bed all tucked up and on our best behaviour. Once she’d gone we would lark about. The one bright spark of the day was the hospital porter. He seemed to be the only normal person around. He would breeze in with a joke and a quip to try and make us smile.
I don’t remember much about the food, except we had dried bananas – fresh ones were unobtainable – which were dark brown, shrivelled and tasted terrible. I won’t tell you what they reminded me of! After dark, the lights had to be kept low because of the air raid restrictions. It was difficult to sleep because of children crying, especially the girl in the next bed. She had burns over the whole of her back. I felt like I was in prison and was so lonely and scared. I wanted to go home to my mummy and daddy.
Limited visiting was allowed in the afternoons. My mother would come, or both parents at weekends, and bring me some delicacy, like segments of orange with sugar in a Sunny Spread jam jar. It tasted nice, but what I really wanted was a hug and to be told I was going to be all right! I couldn’t ask, because I thought that ‘big boys don’t cry!’ Our vicar came one day. I couldn’t have been very friendly towards him, because I was told off later. I hadn’t made him very welcome. Poor little mite!
After three weeks the time came to be taken home. I remember being given a purse full of coins from well-wishers. I thought to myself “who are all these people and where are they?” I soon developed a nervous tic and kept flexing my left arm. I was taken back to the doctor, but he didn’t know what to say, except that it would subside in time. What I really wanted was a hug and to be helped to express how I was feeling inside. But my parents couldn’t do that and children’s counselling was unheard of then. So I pushed the hurt deep down and shelled it over and got on with life.
It was many years later as an adult, when I was introduced to a God of love, that I allowed the feelings to come to the surface. I learned that painful memories can be transformed. A man called Jesus walked through that ward with me. He had really been with me all the time and had cried for me. Bit by bit the fear and anxiety was lifted off and I was hugged and told it was all right. We then walked hand in hand, out of that prison, into the light of day and freedom.
I still have a scarred arm to remind me, but the scar on the inside has been healed and made better. Another thing I learnt; it’s all right for men to cry.
Childhood trauma has the potential to have an adverse, even disabling affect upon our adult lives. Thankfully Jesus can put this right if we are prepared to bring out the hurt to Him. This is my story of one such time as a small boy.