It did not take us long to unpack but for days we were arranging and re-arranging the furniture. Every time I came home I patted the house. I thought everything was simply fantastic; even Zyg’s home-made couch (made from the ceiling of an old house in Eildon) which had on it an old mattress covered with an old bedspread looked beautiful to me. I loved it all.
Once again I was touched by the attitude of the Australians. When we arrived, our stove was not yet connected, and one neighbour (a Mrs Hopkins) brought us hot water and some cakes, and another neighbour brought us a stew – and we all felt so happy in our OWN home. * Within a few days the children were enrolled at school.
I liked Jurek’s school but did not like the headmaster of Roman’s school who was of German origin although he could speak no German and who made it quite plain that we (being Poles) were inferior to the Germanic race. Zyg and I were working; Zyg as a welder and I in an office, but I did not like my work which was very boring and where only men were allowed to smoke, so I spent a lot of time in the toilet having my smoke.
Zyg’s health was not good. He began to show the old thyroid symptoms and Dr Hurley told us that an operation would definitely be needed, the sooner the better, as Zyg might otherwise go downhill rapidly. He consulted a Mr Syme and Zyg would be operated on at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. We both had implicit trust in Mr Hurley who was not only a good doctor but also a compassionate human being. He seemed rough but was extremely kind and understanding. Just to quote one conversation:
That Thursday was a long day. I was not allowed to go with Zyg but had to wait for visiting hours and, anyway, it was pay day and the pay had to be done. I remember looking at the big army revolver on my desk and I thought that should robbers come, I would not defend the pay as it was insured, and I had to go to the hospital. The telephone was not much help as I was told that he was not yet in the theatre or that he was still in the theatre. At last when I came to see Zyg he looked very pink and not white as I had expected. He was in a small room next to the sister in charge and in another room was a man – also recovering from the same operation. Zyg was not conscious but seemed thirsty and the sister wetted his lips; then time was up and I had to go home. Zyg recovered but the patient in the next room to Zyg died the next day.
I saw his wife when she came to visit her husband and was told that her husband had “passed away”. Oh, my God. When I was certain that Zyg would survive, the boys and I started to repaint the grass-green woodwork which we changed into a pink to match the remaining colours. We didn’t think that it looked too bad, but when Zyg came home, his first comment was that the colours were very wrong, and his second remark was that the house was very small. I felt disappointed but repainted the woodwork with white paint as I still had a lot of white left. Before Zygmunt was able to start thinking about work, we were once again flat broke.
I went to an agent and asked him to sell our block in Stockdale Avenue as soon as possible – even if the money should be less than what we had paid – as we needed cash desperately. We were behind with the payments to the Co-op., to Milton, to “Easy terms” at Myers. The block was sold the next day and we even made a few pounds profit. After a few weeks, Zyg started to work again as a welder. His pay was good but he looked tired and I thought he was somehow different.
I waited a few weeks but he still remained different and it was not only his eye which was drooping and which gave him double-vision, he was a different person. He was slower; without his previous drive, without jokes, and a lot slower with his replies. After a few months when he was still not my darling Zyg, I became so worried that I rang Dr Hurley for an appointment. He greeted me in a friendly way and asked what my trouble was.
“Zygmunt has changed although he is strong and healthy, but he is different.”
The doctor asked me what I knew about the thyroid. I said that I knew only that it is a gland which can be over or under-active, and nothing more. Dr Hurley explained that a surgeon who had to operate can never be one hundred percent certain how much would have to be removed. Zyg’s gland had been neglected for a very long time and had grown out of all proportion. Mr Syme did a marvellous job and Zyg would be able to live a normal life, his double-vision would probably stay for always, but Zyg would be able to live normally. That he was not as spontaneous, that he now had less drive, should not matter as long as he lives and is not a moron. He had the same reactions but slower. Zyg would have gotten slower with age in a few more years’ time – even without the thyroid. Dr Hurley told me to stop complaining as my man and the father of the children had only slowed down and I should be happy that he was alive, could think reasonably, could give advice and could work.
Dr Hurley advised very strongly that Zyg should stop doing hard manual work and should try to obtain work where he could use his brain and that by doing light work or office work, Zyg would be able to work for many years to come. He should stop doing overtime, do no hard work at all and avoid getting tired. I should look after my man and we would both be all right.
He gave me an odd smile and told me that the children would never notice any difference as they had a decent father and probably now they would be too busy with their own problems and would never even notice any difference.
He gave me what he called his “private advice” – never speak about the different Zyg with the children; try to forget it; don’t think about it. Think that your man is alive and basically is the same man, only slower. Stop complaining, be sensible. A few months later when I became adjusted to the new Zyg, I realized that Dr Hurley had never sent me a bill for the last visit. I rang him but he told me to forget it as he was not going to charge me for giving his private opinion and advice. That was Dr Hurley and I still think that he was one in a million.
We became adjusted; the boys never noticed any difference, and we managed. Zyg had a choice of two jobs – one with the MMBW as a clerk – the other as a draftsman with SR & WSC. Zyg chose the second, maybe because Milton was working there too. We though it was funny that Zyg qualified for the draftsman’s job. After matriculation (when he ran away from home because he did not want to study law and work for his father) he went to Warsaw to study architecture. By chance he had the necessary papers from the Warsaw University to prove that he had completed the first year of architecture. That he had his law degree did not matter. Now, because of this one year of architecture, he was able to earn money working in pleasant surroundings with nice people.
I worked too but changed my jobs frequently as I got bored easily. Once I got a job as a paymaster for over one hundred people (what a cheek on my part). The day I was due to start work, I had a high temperature and a bad head cold so rang the boss asking to start a few days later but, as it was pay day (and the boss did not know how to do the pay) I had to start work. At the end of the day my head was very sore and so was my earache; next day it was even worse and I went to the doctor who told me that I had permanently lost part of my hearing due to exposure to the piercing noise of cutting metal. I liked this work but the firm was in financial difficulties and unable to pay our wages, so I had to look for a new job. I liked the work with Robert Bosch but also not for long as the transport by bus was unreliable (especially in the evenings) but going to work was all right as the boss picked me up. I liked to hear the German language and furthermore, both boys were able to work there during the Xmas holidays.
My next job I liked really very much as it was something quite new – with a Customs and Shipping Agent and I became fascinated with all the duty tariff items. But after a few years it became routine again, including the profit and loss accounts. Zyg spent all his free time working in the garden. When we had enough money, we paid off our loan to Milton and decided to build a third bedroom and to convert the garage into a bungalow. It was time that each son had his own bedroom and their characters were very different. I also wanted to bring my parents over from Poland and we needed an additional bedroom. There was no end to improvements. Zyg built a workshop where he could make all the additional furniture; we were able to have an inside toilet although it was very expensive because the road was being made and we had to borrow extra money for the road. Although we were both earning, I remember those years as always being short of money. Maybe we wanted too many improvements in too short a time? Maybe we were spending too much? We had season tickets to the Town Hall concerts, yearly tickets to the Art Gallery; we were spending a lot on the garden and every two weeks we (that is, Zyg and I) went out, even if only somewhere cheap but we liked to go out. We always made it a point to pay the telephone and gas bills on time as otherwise they would be cut off.
I was perpetually tired and feeling that I was too old for everything I wanted to do. My heart (which had not been too good since the rheumatic fever at Modlin) played up constantly. I had pains and would faint without any reason, sometimes when even sitting at the table. The housework seemed too much but, because I really loved our home, I wanted to keep it nice. Each day when I came back from work I had to rush and cook the dinner because afterwards I used to do some homework with the boys, especially with Roman who started to fall back at school. The summer seemed easier as every weekend we went to the beach, but winter got me down and I went once again to Dr Hurley.
After he examined me, he told me that not only would I have to stop earning money but I should also stop doing the housework as my heart was not good and, if I continued to work the way I was, I would be a complete invalid in a very short time. This time Dr Hurley made a mistake. Zyg told me to follow Dr Hurley’s advice. Ruth and Milton were quite definite that I should stop work immediately. Elizabeth, however, asked me: “You are tired? And who is not? How will you manage on one small pay envelope? Think about all your debts, your new bedroom. If you are really unable to work you should stop, but are you really unable to work?” Jurek (George) would begin his Matriculation year next year.
One evening I had a talk with him and asked if he would be game to take a gamble. Should I stop earning now, he would have to go and earn money during the next couple of years whilst doing his Matriculation at night school. I would do the housework. Should I continue with earning and housework, he could do his Matriculation year at University High. I might become an invalid, maybe even during the second term when he would have to leave school, start earning money, help around the house and also help Roman. I thought that there was a chance that I might be able to continue working at least until this third term, maybe even until the exams. We could afford extra tuition for his English at Taylors College. I thought I could do it but the doctor though I could not, therefore it was a gamble. I asked Jurek to think it over and to let me know his decision.
The next day Jurek told me that he was ready to take the gamble if I wanted him to. I certainly wanted it and it worked out all right, and I kept working for many more years and later on my heart started to improve. Love for the children and determination does go a long way. A few years later I had my menopause. My periods stopped and I went to our GP. When I came back home I explained to Zyg and the boys, telling them that the doctor said that I might feel misunderstood and be depressed and everyone should be considerate and nice to me. Jurek looked at Roman, and Roman at Jurek, and then one of them said: “Don’t you think it sounds very much like blackmail, that we should behave ourselves?” This was the only time when I felt misunderstood during my change of life as I had no symptoms whatsoever. I guess I just had no time to have tantrums and had to keep going which was not much trouble as my heart started to improve and I had pain less often. Life seemed uncomplicated.
We had only to cope with everyday problems such as money matters, bills, etc., when trouble came from the most unexpected direction – Roman. He did not want to learn, not even to finish his Intermediate and, although he was not rude, he was different, not his usual self. Arguments with him got us nowhere. His attitude was simple: He knew everything there was to know and school could not teach him anything – only squares like us thought that learning had some benefits.
I began calling him “Mr Ignoramous”. He explained that if one wanted to become rich, one should not work but one should rob a bank or something.
With the little power of persuasion we had, I made him study every night after tea, sitting with him and coaching him. He did everything he could - not to take in what I was teaching but, not being a stupid boy, some things stayed and he passed his Intermediate. He was determined not to go back to school and to start earning. I tried to reason and I tried to bribe. His pay in an advertising office would leave him (after tax) approx. six pounds, and I told him that I would take one pound from him for his board, but should he stay at school I would pay him five pounds weekly during first term and six pounds the following term. He still decided to go to work and was very cross when he had to pay his board. Of course we could manage very well without his board money but I thought that it was time he learned that parents were not there to be taken advantage of.
He wanted to be a grown-up man, so let him try to be one. Later came the time when he started preparing to run away from home. We talked it over with Zyg and decided that we were unable to hold him; therefore (we told him) he did not have to run away, he could go any time he wanted. We asked him only to let us know when and where he intended to go and we also told him that at any time we would love to have him back if he wanted to come back home. I even helped to pack when (after his pay day) he was going away to Mildura for fruit picking. He went and Zyg and I stood and looked; I howled during the night and Zyg tried to cheer me up but he had tears in his eyes. We both calmed down when his first card arrived and he sounded cheerful. He wrote often and it became easier to bear and Jurek was very kind and seemed to understand how we felt.
But this was only the beginning. Later on came a letter from Adelaide and afterwards there were no letters, none at all. One day two policemen came. Roman had been arrested in Perth for attempted armed robbery. He would have to appear before the Children’s Court (he was not yet 16 yrs old). Through friends, and the Welfare Department, I was able to find out the name of the solicitor and flew to Perth. I saw Roman in jail. At first he was very much on the defensive but after a while he had a lost look – just like a kid in trouble. He told me that he ran out of money and had not even enough to ring us. He explained that he could not steal money from private people on the beach who left money in their pockets whilst swimming, so therefore decided on robbery. He was certain that the picture theatre was insured and would not suffer any loss. He hinted that somebody was helping him but would give no names. I was able to see Roman every day.
People were very kind to me – not only Judy and her family but also the solicitor and even policemen. One day when I was walking up and down Perth streets and not realizing that I was crying, a policeman stopped me, addressed me by name, took me to a café for a cup of tea, paid for it and tried to cheer me up. Roman was sentenced to one and a half years in a children’s reformatory school. Although Roman was writing regularly and his letters were even cheerful, it was a long year.
Jurek was a very great help. He was kind and understanding, doing well at school and in 1957 he passed his Matriculation with honours and enrolled at the University. He chose electrical engineering although he wanted to become a nuclear physicist he realized that jobs for nuclear physicists would be hard to find so he decided to be an engineer. His scholarship money was not much but he found a weekend job in a petrol station where he worked for the next few years.
Roman came home earlier as he had behaved himself well and seemed to settle down. He started to work and attended night classes at Taylors Coaching College. Life once again gave us a smile. Bama’s mental health did not change. She had good and bad periods. Zyg visited her regularly and, during her calm periods, she came to stay with us for a few days at a time. We managed to build a third bedroom which became Roman’s, and commenced procedures to bring my parents over but it had to be postponed as Father (then about 87) broke his collarbone and one leg and had to go to hospital. Jurek bought a car – an “old bomb” – for forty pounds and spent every free minute working on it. After a while the car was running, even free of many rattling noises. One day when Jurek came home from a day spent at Eildon, the smoke coming from the car frightened me, I thought the car was on fire. He fixed it again and sold it for forty-five pounds which was really good as he had learned on this car, used it and enjoyed it. Of course he bought another second-hand car immediately.
I tried to think back from the year of 1956 when we bought the house and, say, for the next 15 years or so. What were the really hard times? Roman – which I wrote about. Highlights? - Jurek. What had we done for our children? What was our so-called “style of life”? Jurek also caused me hard times although, probably, I felt too strongly. One day I caught Jurek reading Roman’s diary. To me it was Sin Number One as I remembered how I felt when firstly my mother and later, Bama, read some pages of my diary. I started to cry. Jurek, seeing how upset I was, became very upset too. He promised that he would always respect people’s privacy, that “never ever” would he read anyone’s diary or personal letters.
As far as I know, Jurek kept his promise. I only hope he still does. What was our so-called general “style of life”? We were permanently short of cash. Mismanagement of money? Most likely so as neither Zyg nor I were able to save money. The moment we had spare money, we spent it. We spent it on improvements to the home and garden, we spent it for pleasure as “one does not live by bread alone”, we spent it quite often so that we had some fun. Every year we went on holiday for two weeks, every pay day of Zyg’s we went out. If no urgent bills were pending, we went to a restaurant and afterwards to a show or concert. If we were short of money I would make some sandwiches, Zyg would buy a bottle of wine, and we would go by bus to the beach, sit on a bench and look out to sea. Sometimes we would do some window shopping and eat our home-made meal on a bench – and we were quite happy, the two of us having an evening out every fortnight. I treasured those outings; they were ours. We kept this habit for years. Often we had friends at our place but no parties, everything was very casual.
There were ordinary, uncomplicated years with small ups and downs. Zyg and I quarrelled very often but there was never a bad quarrel. Elizabeth called them “the Kruszewski’s dramas”. For example, when I wanted the wall in one room off-white and Zyg wanted it light grey - he got his way, but when he wanted the living room wall-papered and I wanted it painted - I got my way. He wanted a motor-bike and I did not want him to have one – he did not buy one. He wanted as many ornaments as possible around the home (which I did not like) - but we had them everywhere. Each of us wanted to show that we had a say.
The only thing we never had a quarrel about was money. Although Zyg always earned more than I did, there was never talk about “his” or “my” money – money was just “ours”. One day I decided to have my own personal savings account and he did not object at all. Elizabeth and I wanted to have one hundred pounds saved for emergency but neither of us was able to attain this dream because, every time we had some money in the account, some urgent bill would come and the money had to go.
In bringing up the children, we did what we thought was right but we certainly made many mistakes and Elizabeth and I agreed that, should we be given another chance, we would not repeat the old mistakes but we certainly would make new ones. I always took great interest in their school work and read all their books and homework so that I could ask intelligent questions. I never pushed them except when I wanted them to read more so I did (what I called) “applied psychology”. They were both in the habit of coming into our bedroom in the evening and sitting on our bed to look at books which were on the bedside table and would ask about the books I read. If I wanted them to read a particular book, I would tell them that it was an interesting book but that they were too young to appreciate it. Maybe in a few years’ time I would give it to them.
They would read this book on the sly when I was still at work. It always worked! We borrowed Jurek’s car and went for a holiday to Wilson’s Promontory which I liked very much although there were over 12,000 souls there, including yelling children. I always wanted to go back there after the school holidays but somehow we were never able to do so. Roman smashed up the car but it was not his fault. It just happened, but we were unable to scrape up enough money to buy another one. However, that was not very important.
Through the Polish newspaper and by other means, Zyg found some old friends such as Zosia nee Romer, Gregor, Milosz, Nika, etc. However, our closest friend through all these years was Elizabeth – and her girls and our boys liked each other too. There was only one disappointment – when Jurek failed his first year at the University. Zyg took it more to heart than I because I saw it coming and tried to warn them both. In the third term Jurek had no time to learn, belonging to different clubs (chess) and being out with friends.
However, Jurek made it up the following year at Caulfield Tech., taking more subjects than permitted and passed them all with very good marks. When he got his diploma, he told us that he wanted to take us for a drive but that we should dress up a bit as he intended to take us out. We should have taken him out but we had no money and instead, he took us. After a drive along the beach, he took us to the Troika. It was a lovely evening which will stay in our memory for always. We were so happy with our elder son.
He did even more for us. After working for a while with the SEC, he gave us a tremendous present. He bought out some shares from the Co-op. (6 shares at fifty pounds each) which meant that we had smaller repayments each month. Only parents can understand what that meant to us – not only in a financial sense but also that we were not always taken for granted, that Jurek thought about us and cared. Thank you, Jurek.
Early in 1960 the letters from my parents were frantic as there were many obstacles which had to be overcome before they could come to Australia. It was 1st October, 1960, when at last we went to meet them. There were masses of people on the boat and it took me a while to spot Mother – especially as she had aged very much during the past 12 years.
Father seemed unchanged although he was now 88 years old. When we were allowed on board, Zyg and the boys rushed to Mother and I to Father. After a few hugs and kisses, Father told me to go to Mother and to keep in mind that, without Mother’s perseverance, they would never have been allowed to come to Australia. He and I could talk later. Although Mother looked very old, I felt (within a few minutes) that she had not changed. She was still my darling “Little Mum”.
It was wonderful having them with us. They liked our house very much and called it a mansion as, for the last few years, they had lived in two small rooms in the attic. Mother was astonished that her “manly Juraczek i Romeczek” expected to be treated as grown-up men and not as little children. It was hard for her but she really tried to adjust to the big boys. In one way only could she not adjust – I was still her little “Malunka” and she treated me as her little girl. At the beginning I though it funny, later on I did not like it and even later still, I started to resent it.
During the next few years Mother helped with the housework, did some of the cooking and even some shopping. She joined the English classes for “New Australians” but her favourite teacher was Diane who had a way with old people – kind but firm, and her patience seemed never to run out. Elizabeth had it even harder than we did, financially, but somehow (I still don’t know how) she bought a building block in Blackburn and built a house there. We were all beside ourselves when she and the girls moved into their own house.
I applied for a position as a shipping clerk with Norma Tullo Pty Ltd. I was very anxious to get this particular job as the office was in the same building as the Athenaeum Library which I had joined many years ago. During lunch time the library had either exhibitions or concerts (records). I wanted this job very much although the pay was five pounds less than what I was earning at the time. However, Zyg thought that we could manage and he hoped I would get it. I had two interviews and when asked at home about my impressions, I was able to say that I liked Mrs Martin (who later on became Beryl) but was unable to explain Miss Tullo (whom I later called Norma). She was a young woman, small and delicately built, looked fragile like the so-called Dresden doll; however, when she looked at one with her large blue eyes there was no porcelain – it was more like steel. When I was hired, I mentioned at home that Norma seemed to be something exceptional, definitely not a standard boss. Time proved me right.
I stayed with the firm for over ten years. Norma was a dedicated woman who was able to get the most out of everyone who stayed with her for a lengthy period. We knew that we were being used but we did not mind. To me it was not “the boss” and “I” as I identified myself with the firm and it was “us”. We were there to help Norma Tullo become the Leading Fashion House of Australia and, despite setbacks, we made it, and I was proud to be one of the cogs who was privileged to help. The pay was not good. Overtime (plenty of it) was not paid and in addition, we were very often told off. I liked those years; I was never bored but Zyg grumbled occasionally saying that I was married to Norma Tullo Pty Ltd and not to him. Of course there were times when I threw my things down and left – intending never to go back – but I let myself be easily persuaded to return.
Although I never understood Norma, although most of the time I was really tired, I was happy there and never bored. It was fun; I loved it. When I joined Norma I was 46. After a few years, Mother became too frail to help around the house but my health improved. I hardly had any heart attacks now and was able to work outside the home for ten hours or more. In addition to this, I would do the cleaning, washing, ironing, darning, etc. on Saturdays, and would cook on Sundays for most of the week and freeze the food so that should friends of ours (or the boys) turn up unexpectedly, I would always have a meal ready.
I very much liked George’s friends from the Youth Club and the Sailing Club. They looked so happy and tired with their noses peeling, their hair full of sand, and they all had healthy appetites. They were nice kids. Zyg could not help much as he could not even do the daily shopping because there were no shops near his office, so I had to cart it home all myself. Every spare moment Zyg worked in the garden, he laid 4,000 bricks and his fingertips were peeling. He built a better workshop, made new furniture for all of us, and helped to wash the windows, walls and ceilings. We both painted the house inside and Zyg did all the outside painting. We were constantly on the go and enjoying it, but we still had time to go to concerts, etc. It was fun.
Father’s eyesight became worse and the doctor advised an operation which was performed at the Eye and Ear Hospital. It was not successful and Father lost his sight. Now he was unable to read, unable to play his game of Patience. His hearing worsened. However, he never complained. We tried to help him. We told him about the political news (in which he was still interested); we all tried to help but only now do I realize that our help was not enough. He lived a lonely life with only his thoughts. He was looked after by Mother and that became a full-time job. Zyg helped to bath and dress Father but we realized that something more had to be done. We could not afford a nurse, nor could I stay at home to look after Father as my pay was still badly needed. We started to think about old people’s homes but we did not know what they were like, where to look for them, or how expensive they might be. Father was not an Australian citizen and we had signed documents promising that Zyg and I would look after my parents without assistance.
Those were the sixties, not the seventies, and we knew nothing about drugs. It took us a while to realize that he was taking drugs. Our GP advised psychiatric treatment and we followed his advice. The psychiatrist advised that Roman should be admitted to a hospital. We admitted him to the Alfred Hospital. Although we were very depressed, we still did not know what drugs could do to a person. We hoped that, in a short time, Roman would be cured – but he was not.
At the Alfred, Zyg met Vivienne, a friend of Roman’s. She was a bit older than Roman, her marriage had broken up and she had suffered a nervous breakdown; her three children were looked after by her mother. When they were both released from the hospital, they still saw each other. They both loved sex and felt good in each other’s company. I did not see any improvement in Roman who became more secretive, more cunning, more reserved and, very often, quite unpleasant (although not rude). Zyg’s mother, Bama, was allowed to leave Larundel. It was impossible for her to live with us. It was not only the lack of space but Bama and my parents did not get on.
Every time Bama came to stay with us (during her good days) the old arguments and grievances started to flare up. Zyg was unable to control Bama and I was unable to keep my parents quiet – although they knew that Bama was a sick person. Those weekends were unpleasant for Zyg and me. With the help of a social worker, Bama found a place for herself. She loved it and was very happy to be independent – but that was not to last long – and once again she had to be admitted to the hospital. It was hard on Zyg, and I was unable to help him.
Jurek had saved up enough money and wanted to go overseas. The SEC gave him a holiday without pay and Mietek helped him pay his superannuation for the time he would be absent. He left in 1964 going through Japan and Siberia, USSR, Poland and Western Europe to London where he was to stay with our relatives, Wanda and Stach Kruszewski. He stayed with Wanda and her two children only as Stach had died of a heart attack during the time Jurek was travelling.
He was not senile, not until his dying day on 31st August, 1964. Father was always important to me and he lived on in my memory and even now in my thoughts I ask his advice. There is a saying that nothing important ever dies. I think that is true.
Roman became progressively worse; there were more hospitals, more psychiatrists, different treatments, but nothing helped. Jurek’s letters were, at that stage, the only nice things I could think of. Even our annual holiday was not relaxing as we were both too worried about Roman. It was so good when Jurek came back but the atmosphere at home was not a pleasant one, although we tried not to speak too much about Roman.
Jurek also became a trial with his love of car racing as I was very fearful of him being badly hurt. Mother asked me to plead with Jurek, to explain how hard it was on us when he took part in a race. I could not do it. I asked Jurek if he realized that he might be crippled for life. He did appreciate the possibility but still wanted to go racing. It was his life and, according to my way of thinking, it would just be blackmail if I did what Mother had asked me to do. Zygmunt and Mother began to have misunderstandings. She blamed him for all the bad things which happened to us, and he started to pick at her and I (caught in the middle) told them both off.
I was perpetually tired and there was not much sleep at night, waiting for Roman to come, as sometimes he had to be picked up and carried indoors, being in a stupor. I took more and more pep pills, even about twenty a day, and heavy doses of sleeping tablet at night after Roman came home.
It was a bad time for Zyg and me. We thought it the hardest time we had ever lived through and thought that we could not keep going much longer. Little did we know that we could keep going and that the worst was still to come.
Roman and Viv wanted to get married. We though they should not and Viv’s parents thought the same. Viv, with her three children, needed someone reliable who would help bring up her children – not a drug addict. Roman always spent too much on himself as he always wanted the best, and was even snobbish. They did not listen and got married. Their marriage was a happy one and survived throughout the hard times which were to come. Humans are unpredictable. After their marriage in 1969, Roman seemed to improve on a new treatment with LSD sessions during weekends.
However, it did not last long. On 9th July, 1969, Roman almost killed Jurek; not in anger, just for nothing – being too drugged to even pretend that he was able to think rationally. It could not get any worse … or could it?
Diane, who was now a fully qualified doctor, lived with us. She was not healthy; she was thin and looked very frail; her skin appeared to be transparent, but she still did more than others. Elizabeth was very worried and was also not too happy about Helen whom she had visited in New Zealand. Elizabeth and I were so close to each other that what worried one worried the other also. Not long afterwards Diane was to die tragically of pneumonia, as a result of being involved in a car accident in South Australia.
Mother, who had a stroke after Father’s death, could not get well and became more difficult, more interfering.
In August (or September) of 1970, the police came to our house and informed us that Roman had attempted an armed robbery and was caught. He was full of drugs and was awaiting trial. We had now reached rock-bottom and it had come unexpectedly as only a few hours earlier I had spoken with Roman over the phone when he sounded not too bad. Viv, Zyg and I visited him in the detention room and we tried to arrange legal advice. We were all frantic as we were told that he could face a long prison sentence. This seemed the end of our endurance. We were ready to collapse but we would not as there were still things to be done and we had to help Roman. I continued working as we were having a very busy time in the office, but I dreaded the phone calls advising about various legal procedures, etc.
One day there was a phone call from our local GP:
The girls in the office heard me saying “cancer” and thought that I had cancer, smoking constantly as I did, especially lately. When I repeated the conversation they were very nice and brought me the proverbial “cup of tea” which is supposed to calm nerves and cure everything. And it did. I went to Beryl, explained about Zyg and asked for Monday off. She was very good about it all, taking into account that I had already had a lot of time off to visit the welfare officer, police station, prisons, etc.
I did not tell Zyg or anyone at home about Zyg’s cancer. I wanted him to have a carefree weekend without additional worries. On Monday morning I told him and he took it extremely well. There was no fuss, no “my God” – he asked only that I repeat the conversation with the doctor. We were both ignorant about cancer – it only scared the hell out of us. The doctor explained as best he could and stressed the point that, as soon as a bed was available, Zyg had to have the operation. The earliest available bed would be within 10-14 days at the Bethlehem Hospital. Zyg had no chance at all without an operation so really he was not risking anything. Zyg was very controlled during the waiting period. We both went to work and nobody would have guessed what a shock it was for him. Of course I knew how he felt, and he knew that I knew, but that is how it should be. The waiting period was hard on Zyg but we both still cared about Roman and thought about him constantly, and we both went to visit him when permitted.
We spoke about Roman, about our future – if any.
The only sign an outsider could have noticed about Zyg’s tension was that he consumed an enormous quantity of alcohol without getting drunk. Viv took me to the hospital. The operation lasted a long time. One of the doctors came out and wanted to cheer me up, telling me that I should not be too worried as Zyg still had a 20 percent chance of pulling through! It did not cheer me up as 20 percent was not good odds. They wheeled him out and I saw that he was still breathing. He was still unconscious when I had to leave the hospital at midnight to catch the last bus home. The ensuing seven weeks were a nightmare. Zyg was fighting for his life. There was Roman’s trial; there was George’s tonsillectomy in a nearby hospital and, in addition, it was a very busy time at Norma’s.
I lived on pep pills, sleeping tablets, coffee and cigarettes. I got up at five, prepared food for Mother and later on for George, and went to work. After work the chemist next door gave me a lift to Bethlehem Hospital where I stayed until leaving for the last bus at midnight. Elizabeth used to pick me up quite often and take me home. Irene and next door neighbours came during the day and did something around the house, which I appreciated very much when I noticed it, but quite often I did not even notice at all. My thoughts were either with Zyg or with Roman. Work helped as I had to concentrate and was not allowed to make mistakes because we were preparing for the new season.
We arranged for Roman to see Zyg – of course, under escort of a policeman. Roman stayed only a few minutes with Zyg but was able to stay a lot longer with Viv who was waiting to see him. Zyg was on the critical list many times and was a raving man most of the time, and I had to arrange for additional nursing help which had to be paid each week in cash. Mietek came from Sydney to see Zyg and paid for two weeks of nursing as I ran out of money. Should I run out of money, no additional nursing would be given Zyg, even if desperately needed and advised by the doctor.
One bad moment I remember vividly. Whilst visiting Zyg, I was trying to adjust his sheet when suddenly I noticed that blood was spurting from inside his elbow joint. The mattress was covered with blood, the pillow was dripping wet and the needle in the joint was missing. I tried to staunch the flow but it was very slippery. I rang the bell but the sister was a long time in coming and I felt desperate. The sister came eventually, had a look and went out quickly. How should I have known that she went to call the doctor? The doctor came soon, stopped the flow of blood and told me that Zyg would require constant nursing (which I would have to pay for in cash as the hospital did not provide extra nursing).
Most of all I remember the decision I had to make. I am writing about it so that perhaps something could be done in the future to spare others faced with the same dilemma. The surgeon who operated on Zyg, the heart specialist who had treated Zyg previously and the doctor in charge of the hospital called me for a “conference”. The surgeon said that Zyg had to get up and start walking as otherwise he would not be responsible for the outcome of the operation. The heart specialist said that walking at this stage might kill Zyg.
Somebody said that because Zyg was unable to make a decision, I would have to decide what instruction to give to the sister in charge. I felt trapped and furious. How could I (an ignorant woman) decide what should be done, knowing that either decision could endanger Zyg’s life? I felt like hitting both the specialists on the head – but I did not as it would not have served any purpose. I asked questions:
I turned away from them and stood looking from the window into the dark night, not seeing anything. I tried to control myself and to think. I tried to remember about possible complications following a cancer operation but I had only a very vague general knowledge, then decided to stop thinking about it as the two specialists who knew could not agree. To my primitive way of thinking, the heart was the most important organ, therefore it should be as the heart specialist wished. I turned around and gave them my decision:
“My husband will stay in bed as long as the heart specialist thinks it is necessary. I will be advised by him.”
Once when I visited George, he had a visitor – a tall girl with lovely hair and beautiful eyes – whose name was Adrienne. George came home as soon as he was allowed to and I fed him mainly on ice-cream and pulpy, soft food, and he improved rapidly.
The day of Roman’s trial was coming nearer. Vivienne and I were very depressed as we were told that he might face a long jail sentence. The solicitor who represented Roman (although a very pleasant man) was very over-worked, and not optimistic. None of us told Zyg that the trial was to be held soon. Once again I had to ask Beryl for time off from work and even for a whole day at the worst possible time as we all worked very hard without tea breaks and hardly any lunch times. However, Beryl knew of my situation – she knew that I would have to quit otherwise – so she gave me the day off. I do not remember much about the trial – I was too upset, too worried after seeing Roman chained to a policeman. I remember Danka who was called as a witness. Danka and her husband, Jurek, had been our friends for many years but after this day, I loved her dearly.
The character reference she gave Roman, her sincerity in giving it, her deep belief in the good which was in Roman touched me very deeply. Through her answers in the witness box, she gave me hope; she somehow communicated to me that not everything was lost with Roman. The sentence was three years at least. It was better than we had anticipated; however, it still seemed dreadful that my Roman, my gentle and basically kind and good Roman, was sentenced to three years at least. I knew that he had done wrong, something hideous, that he had been peddling drugs which could affect many young and innocent children and, through them, their parents. Drugs were something which I abhorred. My thoughts were full of sorrow for Roman but also there was some hope that maybe sometime, maybe years later, he might mature, that he might realize that there are no decent short-cuts to getting things he wanted immediately. I hoped that there might come a time when he would realize that he had responsibilities, that he had to work honestly and had to wait for those things he wanted now. I knew that there were people who never grew up, never matured, but could our child be one of them? I sincerely hoped that there would come a time when Roman would be able to face responsibility and reach maturity.
Zyg had a setback. One day when under the shower, his stitches broke and now he had three colostomies (which are holes in the stomach through which the bowel passes the waste and not through the anus). He smelled badly constantly; he hated it, he got depressed, especially after he had been told by a sister that Mr Menzies had had a colostomy for more than ten years and that it was incurable. On 7th November, 1970, Zyg was discharged from the hospital. It took no more than twenty minutes by taxi to reach home but he was exhausted and had to be helped up the steps. He was grossly underweight; very tired; very depressed and not interested in anything; the spark of the wish to live was gone.
I had to stop worrying about Roman and try to nurse Zyg back to life, back to love of living. It was not too hard as he liked being home; he liked the backyard which was nice with flowers in blossom. Zyg’s co-operation was very good. Although for him it was a great effort to go to the backyard, he went every day to sit in one of the chairs prepared for him either in the sun or in the shade. After a while he tried to go up and down the driveway, even a few times a day and, although still very weak, after a few weeks he even went out into the street, going a few houses up and back. We were both worried about his colostomy. He resented it but felt inclined to put up with it. I did not. The doctor told me that roughage should be avoided in his food. I decided to give it a try. I watched his holes a few times each day when doing the dressing. Sometimes a hole would close and then open up again. When I noticed tomato peels in the newly opened hole, tomatoes were eliminated. The same happened with the skins of apricots and later on, strawberries and rye bread were eliminated. In the end there was not much left with which to make nice meals, but I was determined that he should have tasty meals. After a while two holes closed completely but one refused to close and that was not good enough.
Christmas came and I had a few weeks off work. The doctor told us that Zyg could go swimming if he wanted to and, anyway, he could do anything he felt like doing – there were no restrictions. Zyg wanted to go swimming and chose Black Rock as there were many trees where he could rest in their shade after a swim. This swimming now seems funny but then we felt like crying and cursing. Zyg had to pull his togs well above the waist to hide the bag; I went behind him with two plastic bags – one empty and one with cotton wool. When he was in the water above his waist, his colostomy bag went into my empty bag; when during swimming the dirt was coming out, we cleaned it with the cotton wool which was in my other bag, so as not to pollute the beach; then back to the trees to put on a new colostomy bag, hiding from people and so on. After a few weeks Zyg went to the doctor for a check-up and the doctor was amazed at his improvement.
He told me that when he said that there would be no restrictions for Zyg, he did not expect him to survive Christmas. This was 1970. Zyg had not only survived but his holes had closed up and stayed closed, even when I started introducing different food. At last George fell in love and it was high time too as he was already thirty years old. He was really in love as he even gave up car racing. Zyg and I were both very happy with Jurek’s choice as we liked Adrienne from the first time we met her.
Zyg’s health improved and he was able to go back to work and we tried to count our blessings, but – Roman was still in prison and Viv visited him every permissible day, only grudgingly letting us share the visiting time occasionally. Julia became more difficult, frailer, more demanding. Bama was still in hospital and Elizabeth took him there and back by car.
Our main worry was Roman and the future for Viv and her three girls. We had a visit from a well-known man who thought first that Roman might be able to help him break the drug ring. Roman was not born a martyr, nor did I think that he would be able to help. My greatest wish was to see Roman out of jail, healthy and normal. I did not want him dead; death is so final.
The few following years were not really bad but I do not remember them much except the summer months when each weekend we spent at Elwood beach which we could reach by public transport.
I remember having most of our meals in the backyard which I loved, and the highlight was George’s wedding to Adrienne. I liked her very much although she seemed aloof, but perhaps she was just shy. I liked her parents also and my mother thought that her father was exceptionally nice and very handsome.
In July, 1972, on his 65th birthday, Zyg retired and was quite happy about it. He received some money for long service and could pay most of our outstanding debts, and Zyg started helping me with the housework.
Roman was released from jail and was even accepted back in his old work at the Railways. Viv and Roman were happy and so were George and Adrienne. Zyg even received part of his old age pension which was a very great help.
We would have been happy and content if the atmosphere at home had been a happy one, but it was not. Zyg started to drink too much and, although never quite drunk, he was also never quite sober. I started to drink too, at nights, as it helped to cope with Zyg and Mother and the sleepless nights. I even moved out to the bungalow so that I could have some peace and quiet in the evenings. I decided to drink more on the principle “If you can’t lick them, join them”. I now know that I was just stupid with my reasoning.
I guess that living for many years on nerves, pep pills and sleeping tablets, and being constantly over-tired, began to show now when I was able to relax a little.
Both my boys were happy; we had no real financial troubles anymore and Mother, although tiresome, was just an old lady – lonely, a stranger in this country, without close friends.
Our GP had advised me during the last year to take it easy but now he told me that I should have a very long holiday or, preferably, to give up work altogether. It was a hard decision to make as the prospect of being home all day did not seem attractive with all the bickering and all the disagreements. It was also very nice to have a second income.
However, I realized that I was not coping well at all, that I was unable to keep going much longer (even small things irritated me out of all proportion) so I decided to take the doctor’s advice.
One day, armed with the doctor’s certificate, I told the manageress that I was quitting. There were a few unpleasant sessions, feelings were hurt. I promised to stay for another week and to distribute my work to two others, leaving a lot to the general manager. I completed all I intended to do during that week although I had to work till late at night at home.
Our doctor was right when he advised me to stop work earlier. I left it too late. One evening when there were again unpleasant arguments, I lost my temper. I don’t even remember what it was all about. Was it about the catacombs? DeGaulle? Or drinking?
I only remember that I called out to Zyg: “Go to hell” and, banging the door, went to my bedside table and took an overdose. Zyg told me later that it was only next afternoon that they called the doctor and, against Mother’s wishes, I was taken to the hospital where my stomach was pumped out. After a week I returned home. The only thing I remember about the hospital clearly was the book by Camus Sisyphus. I knew that I had made a mess as I should either not take an overdose or else I had to do it properly. I was neither happy nor unhappy to be alive, just ashamed that I had made such a mess in such a stupid way. The atmosphere at home improved; we were all very nice and polite to each other; Bama was still in hospital and still depressed.
After a while I decided to look for some part-time work near home and was lucky to get a job as a “temporary” for a week but stayed there for four years. Although the work was rather boring, I liked it; the girls were nice, especially Yvonne and Elaine, and the boss was very pleasant and a clever man.
It was a good time, without any troubles. Roman and Viv now had a boy, Lucas, and Mother was thrilled at being a great-grandmother. George and Adrienne were also happy and decided to go for a trip overseas. Zyg and I also wanted to go for a holiday somewhere, maybe to Alice Springs which I wanted to see very much. Now would be a good time to go as we still had some money left from Zyg’s and my long service leave.
One day we received a letter from George from Europe. He was offering us money which was due to him from a life insurance which had now matured. We were stunned! Of course we could not accept it as they themselves had not much money and even had to sell their car before going overseas. However, it was fantastic that they were both offering us money so that we also could go overseas, and even to Poland, which we would have liked to have seen once more. Neither Zyg nor I even considered accepting their offer but we felt so grateful for their gesture. We felt extremely happy thinking that we had children who were ready to share their happiness with us.
A few days later there came a phone call from George asking if we had already booked. I thanked him sincerely and explained that we did not intend to go. His reply was: “I will ring you again and again until you both agree to come, and do not forget that phone calls from Europe cost us money, so you had better agree soon.” Friends, Roman and Mother urged us to accept their offer as it was given with an open heart.
What parents could ask for more? This offer was more than enough; we did not have to take their money as well. However, a few days later there was another phone call and we accepted their invitation and went to Europe. With George’s money and ours we could manage easily, especially as we had relatives and friends in a few countries. It was a great pleasure to see old friends, friends from the times when we were young. It was an odd feeling to see faces which were now old but which could still bring back memories from our youth. With some I could talk easily as once before, with some not at all. We had changed and grown apart which was sad. Poland had changed a lot since 1946 when I was there for the last time. After the Warsaw Uprising, when the town was razed, it had been rebuilt with new streets, new buildings, except the Old Town which was restored to its former self. Many streets were changed so much that I could not recognize them.
I even had trouble finding the place where my old Conservatorium had once been. It was now a modern building with very many facilities which seemed to me extremely luxurious compared with what I had had when studying there. There were many improvements but also many things which I did not like at all and I was not thinking about the political situation. There were the long queues at the food stores where people lined up first and then went to see what the store was selling as one never knew what food might be available. There were always shortages of some goods. The people in the streets were well dressed, there were many cars (many of them Mercedes), the shops were not empty but not well stocked either.
However, the worst was the cramped living conditions. For example, our friend (in a fairly high position and well off) told us that he had a large and nice flat in the Old Town. He mentioned two rooms and a large hall. In this flat he lived with his wife, his teenage daughter and his son of about twenty. They had two rooms, very over-crowded, there was a kitchen and a bathroom, and the hall which served as a sleeping room for the son. There was no privacy for anyone in the family; there was not even enough room for anyone to have their own corner. Single people, if they could afford it, were much better off as their flats consisted of one room plus a hall in which there was a tiny kitchen and bathroom with a toilet. This room was usually a fair size and they were comfortable, but the same room was still used after they got married and had children. I did not like the new houses which looked like Commission houses with many flats, but the people of Warsaw thought that they were beautiful as they provided accommodation for many and even had a small yard with a few benches but, once again, there was no privacy.
I did not like the service in the shops as the salesgirls were really rude. I did not like the service in restaurants where one had to wait for half an hour to give the order and another half an hour or so to get the meal (which quite often was something different from that which one had ordered). One day when we saw a rotisserie shop we decided to have a roast chicken as the queue was not too long. After a while we noticed that the queue was not moving and, as I saw only roast potatoes and raw chicken waiting to be put into the rotisseries, I decided to skip them and went to get some open sandwiches at the self-service counter. I had to line up to get a docket, then line up to pay (as per docket) which took over half an hour. After eating my sandwich, I went to take Zyg’s place in the queue so that he could sit down for a while. When I was near Zyg, a newcomer asked him:
The man grinned and the salesgirl (who was chatting and joking nearby) turned to Zyg and told him: “Nobody asked you to come. If you don’t like waiting, you can go!” Zyg got his chicken, eventually, but by now the beer was sold out and very soon the chickens were sold out and again the queue stopped moving. The sandwiches were all gone and the fresh ones were not prepared.
Once I went to a shop to buy a pair of sandals. I had forgotten my European size and was not certain if it was 6-1/2 or 7-1/2. The salesgirl was behind the counter and I showed her the shoe I wanted to try on, explaining that I was not certain about the size. She gave me a 6-1/2 which, after trying, I found too small – so I returned it to her asking for a 7-1/2 please. She looked me up and down and said: “Don’t waste my time. Next time you will know your size.” – and off she went to another salesgirl and chatted with her. All the customers waited patiently but I left.
Here in Australia we are all spoiled with the friendly service, with the self-service. We take it for granted and resent it when somebody speaks to us rudely but, in Poland it was a normal way of life and nobody complained about it. I did not like the Social Services either – not in Poland, Germany or France. They compared poorly with Australia, although Germany was not too bad. The worst was in France.
In Paris I met my ex-fiance, Stach, who (although aged) was basically still unchanged. He had retired at the age of sixty because of poor health. Stach had worked in France for over 25 years as a department head in a government office which imported agricultural machinery from England. Now he lived on his pension. His shirt was frayed, the collar had a hole, the suit was darned. He lived with his young wife, her sister, her mentally-retarded son from the first marriage, and their son, in a small flat in a suburb of Paris. He had not been to Paris since his retirement; he had not been to a concert (although he was once a musician and loved music) as he could not afford the Metro fare. He said that he was better off than the majority of retired people as his wife was working and supporting him. Stach’s pension was so small that it barely covered his keep and there was no money left for luxuries, not even for a tram fare to the park.
Compared with these conditions, Australia was heaven – especially after the Labour Government showed consideration and concern for their old and the under-privileged. Vienna was a disappointment, although still very nice. However, Munich was a pleasant surprise. I liked it very much and once again admired the Alte Pinakothek which, although bombed during the war, had not lost anything, thanks to the curator. I liked London very much which I saw now for the first time, and fell in love with Cambridge. I was sorry that there was not time to see more of England, especially Stonehenge.
The best of all was Rome (which I had always liked) and to me it was and still is the Eternal City despite the dirt, the smell, the pushing crowds. Just as before, we stayed longer than scheduled as I could not leave it. Other cities in Italy are also beautiful but Rome was something special. I think that I could spend years in Rome and there would still be plenty to see, to admire. The charm which Rome had cast over me was still as strong as ever.
It was fun meeting George and Adrienne – first in Warsaw and then in Paris. They both looked happy and were travelling in their home on wheels – a Combi van. Zyg and I enjoyed our trip tremendously but were quite happy and content when the money ran out and we had to go home, skipping Rome. Mother was very happy to see us and the house seemed lovely. It was good to see our friends; it was a good feeling to know that we were home.
Here in Australia, in our small house, I felt that we were really home and I felt happy to be home. Next day I went back to work as the boss had rang Mother asking me to come back to work immediately. The next two years were pleasant ones. The atmosphere at home was nice, there was not much grating, I liked going to work, our sons were happy and Zyg’s health was better than expected. The children of our friends were either getting married or having babies and I thought it was very nice to be old and to be able to work part-time. At last I had time to do what I wanted. We could go to the beach (even during week days) as I could start earlier and finish earlier.
We had time and money to go to concerts, shows, exhibitions, and I had time to read books which required time. I was not sufficiently educated to be able to read them quickly and needed reference books.
I became fascinated by the double Helix and the synthesis, especially with the prospects of DNA or cloning, also computers, reactors and the problems of waste and mainly about astronomy and astrophysics. As I had no background knowledge, it was hard going but great fun (when I could grasp what it was about).
Bama, although now permanently in hospital, was no trouble and quite often neither too depressed nor too energetic. Mother settled down to a routine and enjoyed herself in the backyard with a book or playing with our dog.
George and Adrienne had a baby girl – Anna, born on Christmas Eve, 1975. These two years, 1974 and 1975, were really a pleasure to live. No dramas, no hardship – simply pleasure and fun.
Early in 1976 I had a feeling that it was too good to last. I had a feeling that something terrible would happen soon.
After my birthday in April, I thought that Zyg might have another heart attack and asked him to see the doctor, but he was better than before. A few times whilst going to work, and coming back, I had the feeling that an earthquake was imminent – but that was a silly thought as there were no earthquakes in Melbourne, we were not even near the belt.
After Easter 1976 I got very nervous crossing North Road and made quite sure that there was no traffic coming from the station towards Monash. It was silly but I could not help it and Zyg made fun of me when he came to pick me up, saying that I behaved like a country bumpkin.
*Editor’s Note: When we moved to Huntingdale Zyg decided to change our surname from Kruszewski to Skarbek as Australians had difficulties in spelling Kruszewski. Skarbek was associated with Zyg’s aristocratic family dating back to about 1700.
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