Australian conversations: Remembrance and remembering

“I’m sorry we keep walking past in front of you,” I say to the old woman sharing the ward, while standing outside the bathroom door right alongside her bed, “but my grandmother takes tablets that make her wee – she’s 98 and doesn’t mean to be rude.”

“Oh that’s okay, I’m 80 … 80 something …. I think. I’m pretty sure I’m in my eighties,” she says with an nervous chuckle. She’s had no visitors since her grandson left two days ago, soon after she’d come in after a fall at home, and I had arrived. She’s been mainly cold, continually disoriented and occasionally anxious since.

“I think all this war stuff with the thing in town last week is what’s got me down. My friend said he’d take me down, you know, to the Forts, because I didn’t have any family. But it was so crowded.

I lost three brothers in the war, you know. One was killed by the Americans. He was on a Japanese POW ship but the Japanese didn’t have the flag up and it was bombed. So he drowned, but we got him back because he was one of those men that could never stay down under the water. So we got Walter back, but we didn’t get Alan and the other one back.

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And then my husband signed up – had his sixteenth birthday on the Queen Mary on the way to the Middle East. We weren’t married then of course. They all thought it was such a game. And he came home silly as a wet weak. He was an idiot by the time he came back. A 16-year-old boy. They had no right.”

“I’m sorry,” I say sheepishly, “but I really have to check on my grandmother.”

“That’s okay,” she smiles, “thank you for listening. You’re a lovely nurse.”

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