Christmas 1964. In the words of Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ” It was the year the brand new Greensborough swimming pool opened and the year I nearly died. And yes, these two events were connected but not in the way you might imagine.
I was nine years old and having a bad time with asthma.
Not that that was anything new. I often had attacks. My mother, Marg, would sit there, cool as a cucumber, gently rubbing my back saying reassuring words like: “Just wait until I’ve finished my cigarette, Denise, and I’ll plug in your Ventolin machine.”
Mum smoked like a chimney. Of course, she did. She was a nurse in the 1960s! She worked at Deloraine, a small aged-care home across the road from where we lived. All the nurses there smoked. I knew this because, when I had to stay home from school due to asthma, I got to hang out with Mum in the hospital tea room. Eight nurses – all wearing Edna Everagestyle glasses and stiff, white caps that sat precariously atop their Queen Elizabeth-inspired perms – would drink hot cups of tea, eat Savoy biscuits and cheese, and chat and smoke with gusto. I’d sit in the corner wheezing away, observing this joyful scene, or at least I’d try to – with all that smoke, visibility was often close to nil.
I’ll never forget the time Nurse June, smoldering cigarette in hand, looked over at me and remarked: “Geeze Marg, Denise’s asthma’s bad today. What do you think’s causing it?”
Mum shook her head: “I just don’t know.”
June responded: “Do you think it might be emotional?”
“Might be. She seems to have an attack every time she gets excited.”
“Well, lucky she lives in Greensborough, not much to get excited about here!” At which point June laughed until she had a coughing fit.
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