Monday, June 14, 2010

An occasional series in which Badger bares all

Betsy Marriott Wallace - my mother

When I walked past a building site in Beirut there was a mattress burning. There are many building sites in Beirut - the whole city is a building site. It is coming to life after poisonous war which was mainly religious. My god is better than your god so I will have to kill you stuff. I don’t get any of this so don’t try anymore. Religion poisons everything.

I got a whiff of the the burning mattress. It is a pungent smell - different - something about the stuffing. It stopped me in my tracks as it always does and conjured up those moments from so long ago.

My mother was always ill. It was ulcers which they thought in those days you cured with diet and milk. The cure for ulcers was later found to be so astonishing that no one believed it - despite the evidence.

I would often come upon my mother - doubled up in pain on her bed or on the floor. This was in the house that we were allowed to live in by my ‘Aunt’ where I slept on the outside verandah.

My father gave her the ulcers and they could have been so easily cured - but science then was not up to the task.

My father gave me a longing for parental love that can never be fulfilled.

I forgive my Aunt for hating me. She was saddled with this woman and child who were distant relatives - because we had nowhere else to go.

Her name was Strickland and in the Somme last month we visited the grave of John James Strickland who was killed in 1918. I am not sure how they were related But I made a point of telling JJ ( and this was my second visit) that I loved him, appreciated what he did for me and would see him on the other side. (except there is no other side but and I did not tell him that - because he already knows)

Maybe I was the problem for my Aunt. I was alive and he died.

After that my brothers and I then lived with my mother in a house in Fairlight in Sydney. She smoked - a lot - I think they were Turf cigarettes. I would smoke too if I was that sick all the time.

In fact I was just starting to smoke. Big time - and drink beer. Tough guy. Cool guy. So I thought. Basic skinny dick head more like it - but if the average skinny dick head thought like that where would we be ?

My mother smoked all the time - and in bed. This drove my brother Geoffrey crazy - I am not sure why - but he was religious at the time. Once he grabbed her cigarettes and shredded them. She wrote to him explaining why she needed to smoke. I saw it but do not remember what is said. I understand.

I remember the shout from Geoffrey - Fire! Fire! Burne and Phil Fire! We tumbled out of bed.

I have no idea what time it was - probably very early morning. I understood instinctively what was happening and rushed outside to get the hose.

I say instinctively because it was a regular occurrence for me to waken in the middle of the night and find my mother incapacitated and usually bleeding.

Geoffrey shouted to me that the hose would not reach the bedroom so I grabbed a pot or a pan or a bucket - or some fucking thing - I am not sure what and filled it and threw it on my mothers’ s funeral pyre.

I remember the smoke. I will never forget the smell. It may be the last thing I smell on this earth.

My mother died a few days later in intensive care. She was a lovely woman and deserved better. I was not there - to my eternal regret. Sometimes my heart breaks when I think about her.

What I wish? I wish I knew what I know now. Now I could comfort and support my mother. Then I was just a kid.

Do I miss her?

I never really knew her but I think about her often. I used to think about her every day of my life. I still think about her and I dream about her. But not so much these days. My life is winding down - memories are not quite so intense. They are vivid but do not hurt so much.

Time is passing. Memories are fading.


  1. I'm sorry you lost your mother in such a horrible way and when you were still so young. That's a lot to carry with you through your life. Your mother was very beautiful.

  2. Wow. This is haunting, heartbreaking. I can't even imagine. What a life you have had Badger. But look where you've ended up. That says something.

  3. A beautifully written, emotionally devastating post. Thank you.

    My mother died of cancer a few years ago. I wasn't by her bedside even though I was less than a hundred miles away and I could easily have got on the train to be with her. I think I just didn't want to believe that she was dying. Anyway I'm saying this only to tell you that I feel the same regret as you do.

  4. Thank you for your kind words. I had to write this for my mother as much as for me.

  5. I agree badger, sometimes things have to be put down in words. A good looking sheila, by any standard.

  6. I'm not sure how I missed this entry. Thankfully Kristin pointed me in this direction. I am absolutely taken aback and don't have words. When I hear stories like these, I fit my own young son into the situation and my heart breaks. I can't imagine how resilient you must have been to make it through.
    Thank you for sharing this Badger.

  7. Thanks folks. This stuff rattles around inside a person and it is good to let it out - even if my poor suffering readers have to deal with it.