Kindness Comes in Many Ways
A small ships man. HMAS Kookaburra was only 560 tons.
Kindness Comes in Many Ways.
I was a cocky, twenty-year-old sailor, full of vigour and temerity, when I discovered to my horror that I had contracted “the Dreaded Lergy.” The “Dreaded Lergy” was an illness severely frowned upon by the conservative society we had back in 1957. This was horror stuff. I think they used the euphemism, “ a social disease.” What to do? Refer myself to a Royal Australian Naval medico; have my “Lergy” recorded for posterity. No. I’d take independent action. Go outside the system. But in order to do this I needed to take some recreational leave. It is at this point that I began to appreciate that there were not only wiser heads than mine to be found all around, but kinder hearts as well.
Of course, I had no idea I'd bare all before a dozen trainee nurses
Of course, I had no idea that I’d not only “bare all” in that operating theatre, or that a dozen young trainee nurses would be looking on, or I’d never have booked in. But book in I did, completely oblivious to the items I’d need to take to me. So naïve, I fronted up in my bell-bottomed sailor suit with nothing in my over-night bag but a pair of powder-blue satin pajamas (I’d bought the PJs for a couple of quid from a matelot just back from Japan) and a toothbrush. It is at this point that I encountered those kind hearts mentioned above.
One my old ships, survey frigate HMAS Barcoo
"Big toe problem is it?"
“Er, Chief, “ I says to my superior, the grizzled old Chief Petty Office who could grant my request. I didn’t know what to say. I fidgeted. I hedged. I hummed and hawed. He saw through it straight away. “Aye, me lad. So you want a few days off. Fine. ‘Big toe’ problem, is it?” I nodded in silent agreement. “We have a lot of big toe problems on this ship.” After which I saw a doc who referred to a specialist who referred me to... A morning to two later I showed up at the Royal Prince Alfred for my operation. And it turned out to be an operation.
The old Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.
"Forty years of drinking did this to me, son."
The all male ward was filled to capacity with fifty and sixty year olds, all of whom, it seemed, had problems with their waterworks. The advice never stopped coming. “Forty years of beer drinking brought me to this, son.” “Keep off the heavy stuff, mate. It’s the whisky and rum that’ll do for ye.” Not one of these oldsters asked me what I had wrong. But I knew that they all knew it was “Lergy.” There wasn’t even any remarks about “girls of the night,” or anything like that. Not even a surreptitious wink.
Nurses in the 1950s.
One old gentlemn lent me his dressing gown.
One old gentleman, and he was very old, old to feebleness, took pity on me when he saw that every time I went to the bathroom I had to pace the corridor clad in nothing but my powder-blues. I didn’t even have any shoes! They been spirited away somewhere. He lent me his thick, woolen dressing gown and comfy slippers. To this day I love him for it.
Group shot of uniformed nurses.
"Good luck, son." Smiles and handshakes.
But greater kindness was to come. And I speak not here of the newspapers and magazines loaned, the extra cup of tea which someone else said they didn’t want, the proffered chocolates, the smiles and “good luck” handshakes. I speak of being befriended by two total strangers whom I encountered when I was on my way out of that good hospital. We met in the foyer.
"You look sorta tired, son. Been that sorta day, eh?"
Still slightly dizzy from anesthetic administered some hours before, I was endeavouring to come to a decision as to what to do: make my way home to my family’s residence in the western suburbs, or take the shorter taxi back to my ship. That’s when an elderly couple offered an alternative.
“You look sorta, tired, son. Just been in for the day, eh?
“This is my wife, Julie.”
“How j’da do? - Would you like a cuppa?”
An elderly couple still in love.
Another word for it is love.
From a parked car to a nearby cottage; to an evening-meal cooked by loving hands, I sat down in the company of two wonderful old retirees – I suspect now they were retired – who had opened their hearts and their home to me. We chatted well into the late hours. And after all this, they even ran me back dockside to my ship. It had been a long day, but a memorable one.
Kindness, ah, kindness. Another word of it is - love.
I never saw these people again. But I know that they’re up there somewhere, in heaven, smiling down as I write this. And to this day I thank them.
Back to my home away from home- my ship.
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