Courage and Cowardice

My brother was three years older than me. I had twin sisters who were two years younger. My mother was a small, gentle woman. She had read widely, travelled, lived in New York, and written poetry. My father received brutal treatment as a child and had lived in a war-torn land before coming to Canada. He had worked for farmers in the West.

We lived on a farm which had a magical feature that charmed and consoled us—a brook which entered our property back in our woods, and gave us fishing holes, swimming and bathing spots, and an ever running spring of pure sweet water. There were flood plains, reedy in summer, but in winter thaws they froze over and gave us sheets of ice where we learned to skate and play hockey.

This was during the Great Depression, when life was very hard for most people but especially for a couple on a new farm. They had lost their first baby, then had four children, with miscarriages in between causing grief and stresses for both. Conflict in my world. I was becoming aware of shouting and arguing. I saw my father strike and kick at my mother. She was my source of love and security. As my brother got older he became the object of my father’s anger as well. He was my protector and friend. A winter day after a storm, our father was going to drive us to school. Farmers took turns breaking the winter road. My brother was late and when he got into the sleigh, my father started kicking him. I screamed at him “Stop that”. “You are not fit to be a father”. He stopped. Later I wondered where did ever get the gall!!!

I learned to always be on my guard around my father. To talk about intellectual things. To lie whenever my brother might be involved. I learned to never innocently flirt. I saw my brother go through a phase of not talking for three weeks as he sat and thought. I know now that during that time he was absorbing the “I’m not okay” image of himself but also accepting that he had to get through this place until he was old enough.

Another War came, D.D.T. for farmers, better crops, more money, paid off mortgage. Life goes on. I left home to study and work. My brother had educated himself via correspondence courses in radio and TV repair. He left home to work. He married a girl who was a fiddler, and their lives were involved in making country music. They moved to Ontario. I married and had children. Occasional visits at different times. The obligatory Christmas cards exchanged with names but no news.

One day my sister phoned me from Ontario to say our brother was in hospital in Oshawa. For me arrangements needed for air flight, and for my family. For my sister, to find someone to drive us to Oshawa Hospital. My brother had complications of different problems, but the most obvious was Psoriasis, visible over his head, face and hands. I get a chair by his bedside and speak of how sorry I am for him. His wife is sitting there also. Our sister also wants to talk with him. it is impossible to establish any meaningful connection with him. After some time his wife says that the doctors and nurses have been asking: “what did someone do to him that would cause such a condition?” I knew the roots of many health problems are due to trauma in childhood.

I knew immediately what I should do. I had seen what happened in our family. There was a brief window of opportunity. I could see white coated doctors and nurses in the corridor. But there were two strong women I had to face down. My alpha-female sister and my ego-driven sister-in-law.

I chose the coward’s way–my sister was concerned about our driver getting annoyed. I accepted that for reason to go. I said goodbye to my brother, and left the room and left the hospital.

June Maginley, 2012

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