The Trouble with Twelve by sofiaie


									                                The Trouble with Twelve

It's not easy being 12 years of age.

Mozart probably didn't mind. He could sit down and scribble a symphony or fiddle on his
violin, but to be a 12 year old male in wartime Brisbane was a different matter.

To start with, I had to contend with two older brothers, Pat (14 ) and Jack (18 ) who held
deliberately audible discussions on the question of my mental retardation.

Fuel was added to the feud when I was given a bow and arrow set for Christmas. The
arrowheads were suction cups that harmlessly adhered to any dense substance, so Pat's
head became my favourite target.

He approached my mother one day with an arrow stuck to the back of his neck.

'When are you going to have Neil certified?' Pat asked.

My father clearly supported the opinion of my two brothers. In fact, he frequently declared
me to be a 'bloody idiot' and resorted to the laying-on of his razor strop as the most
effective means of damage control.

I remember lighting a fire once in the tool shed under the house, but the brigade arrived in
time. I also was involved with a known miscreant in placing stones on the railway line, but
no train was ever derailed. I frequently tossed palm nuts through the windows of passing
trams, but nobody was ever seriously hurt.

However, Sergeant Dennis Ryan from the local cop shop often dropped in with vivid
accounts of my harmless activities. I was tempted to tell him how his son, Vince, bribed
Mary Carey with two aniseed balls and a Texas toffee to let him take her knickers off
behind the church hall, but I thought better of it.

                                The Trouble with Twelve (P2)

I was dishonourably discharged from the local convent school for throwing stones at the
Brisbane Boys College boater brigade and sent to provide target practice for the
cane-wielding Marist Brothers.

After my first day, I was asked over dinner that night what had happened at school.

'Oh, it was good fun. The older boys gave each of the new kids a nick name.' I said.

'And what did they call you?' Jack asked.

„Shit Face,' I said, smiling.

My father choked on his casserole and my mother buried her face in her hands.

'They probably meant as a compliment,' sniped Pat.

I had never heard the term before so I just went away and turned on the wireless.

During that first year at Marist, I developed the habit of going into the city after school and
loitering outside the American canteen in Creek Street bumming cigarettes and chewing
gum from the Yanks.

After a successful coup at the US canteen, I‟d usually wander round and stand outside
General MacArthur‟s headquarters hoping to catch a glimpse of the great man. The
entrance to the AMP building was guarded always by two American military police
complete with side arms.

Then one day it happened.

                               The Trouble with Twelve (P3)

The big black car with the Stars and Stripes fluttering from its bonnet pulled into the kerb
right in front of me. The driver ran around and opened the rear door and out stepped
General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in the South Pacific.

He was resplendent in his khaki uniform, peaked cap, dark glasses, corncob pipe and
swagger stick. Standing on his carpet was this 12year old kid with a Chesterfield cigarette
dangling from his mouth. The two MPs snapped their salutes and held them awaiting his
response. I couldn‟t think of a better idea, so I did the same.

A half smile spread across his lips, but he quickly withdrew it and in true military fashion,
General Mac.Arthur solemnly returned my salute. He then strode past me towards the two
MPs, returned their salutes and disappeared into the building.

I went home that night feeling 8ft tall.

A few weeks after Jack turned 18 in 1942, he received a compulsory call-up for the army
and he went to the Canungra Jungle Training Centre for six weeks. My mother was
devastated when he was finally sent to New Guinea to fight the Japanese.

I thought he was so brave, and I loved playing with his rifle, but I never really thought of his
being in danger. After all, Jack was such a nice bloke, I couldn‟t imagine anyone wanting
to kill him – not even the Japs.

My father died of a brain tumour a few months after Jack went to New Guinea but
I felt no sadness at his passing. In fact, every shovel of earth they heaped on his grave
was like a weight being lifted from my shoulders.

But my mother, Clarice, grieved badly for the loss of her spouse and her absent son.

                              The Trouble with Twelve (P4)

The Army even refused Jack leave from active duty to attend his father's funeral.

After my father‟s death in 1942, I revelled in the absence of his domineering presence and
I defied my mother‟s discipline. One night of agonizing memory, I declared my intention to
go to the movies.

I had never been out at night alone before and my mother pleaded with me not to go.
She followed me for half a mile down the road begging me in tears to come back, but I
refused. It was now or never, I thought. I didn‟t enjoy the movie because I was thinking of
her. When I came home she was weeping in bed. I told her I was sorry and I meant it.

A few months later, Clarice complained of chest pains and consulted Dr Stark, our local
GP. He suggested a period of bed rest in the Mater Hospital where she did voluntary
sewing every week.

A month later on a Sunday, she was discharged and on Monday afternoon, I came home
from school to find an ambulance with flashing lights outside our house. Clarice had
collapsed with a heart attack and they were taking her to hospital where she died two
hours later..
My mother‟s life had been clothed in tragedy. She lost her first born, Eileen, in infancy
and following the birth of Jack, she produced another son, Frank.

At 22 months, Frank contracted pneumonia and it was being cared for at home by a
registered nurse. He required massage every hour but Nurse Anderson fell asleep and
failed to administer the required treatment. When she awoke, Frank was dead.

Nurse Anderson lost her licence to practice nursing and became the villain of our family

                           The Trouble with Twelve (P5)

Eighteen years later, on the day of my mother‟s funeral in 1943, the family gathered at my
uncle‟s house after the service. We were sitting on the front veranda discussing the
funeral and the tall woman in grey who was standing at the graveside.

Nobody knew who she was. But as we spoke, the mystery woman came walking down
the street towards the house.

She came up the front steps and introduced herself.

„I‟m Myra Anderson,‟ she said. „I was Frank‟s nurse.‟

Aunt Evie sat rigid in her chair while my uncle offered the woman some refreshment.

With a cup of tea in her hand, Myra Anderson continued:

„When I lost my licence, I was out of work for some months. Then one day, I was walking
down Queen Street and I saw Clarice coming towards me.

I knew she was heartbroken over Frank‟s death so I tried to avoid contact by looking in
Cole‟s window, but she saw me and asked how I was. I told her I was well and she invited
me for a cup of tea. She asked me where I was working and I confessed that I was not.

Clarice smiled and said, “Don‟t worry, give me your phone number.”

„The following week, I received a call from the Mater Hospital offering me a position as a
Nurse‟s Aid. The Mater employed me, and two years later I regained my Nursing

                      The Trouble with Twelve (P6)

I knew that Clarice worked as a weekly volunteer at the Mater so the origin was obvious,
but when I rang Clarice to thank her she said,

“I am sorry you suffered so much, we all make mistakes. But don‟t tell my family. They will
never understand.”

Aunt Evie broke into tears and fled from the veranda. Nurse Anderson turned to leave.

„I‟m sorry if I have intruded,‟ she said, „but Clarice became my best friend and I wanted all
of you to know what a remarkable woman you laid to rest this afternoon.‟

When Aunt Evie obtained a copy of the death certificate from Dr Stark, he insisted on
qualifying his report

.„I have testified that your sister died of Angina Pectoris,‟ he said. „But in my opinion,
Clarice died of a broken heart brought on by the loss of her husband, the Army‟s refusal to
release Jack from active service, and the intractable behaviour of Neil.‟


As I said at the beginning, it's not easy being 12.
                                                                           (1,498 words)

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