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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 3 - Goodbyes

"He would kiss and cuddle us goodbye and board the train, which would be hissing steam and smoke. It was huge and black and fearsome-looking and extremely noisy. Daddy would lean out of the carriage window as the train began to move...'' Gayle Woodward recalls the traumatic experience as a four-year-old of seeing her father depart on Sunday evenings from Auckland station to travel on the overnight sleeper to his work in Wellington, New Zealand.

My father was being promoted through the Post Office Technical division and was called upon to go to Wellington to teach in the training school for technicians there. He was to spend Monday to Friday in Wellington and then return home on the sleeper overnight train to arrive in Auckland for Saturday and Sunday at home.

He travelled on the steam train known as the Limited and seeing him off on Sunday evenings was a very traumatic and frightening experience for the four-year-old me. He would kiss and cuddle us goodbye and board the train, which would be hissing steam and smoke. It was huge and black and fearsome looking and extremely noisy. Daddy would lean out of the carriage window to wave as the train began to move out.

The train driver would blow the whistle, a deafening shriek, wheels and levers and other bits would move. Steam and soot surrounded the platform where I would be standing with our mother waving as he got smaller and smaller and soon disappeared as the train turned the corner and was out of sight. I felt as if he had been swallowed up by a monster and cried and sobbed for my Daddy. I did not think that I would see him again.

At age five, having just started school, it was decided that I should have my tonsils out. I was told that I would have to go to hospital for two days and that nice nurses would look after me. I had no knowledge of what was to happen to me and found the whole thing very frightening. I was so scared as I lay under very bright lights in the operating room with lots of strange people around me and when told to count to five as the anaesthetic took hold I refused.

I woke in a different place feeling very sore and scared. I thought it was the next day and time to go home and called a nurse. Nurse brusquely told me “You’ve only been asleep for two hours”. I was given ice cream and jelly to eat and looked at it in horror. Didn’t they know I hated sweet things, especially ice cream? I was told I had better eat it because there was nothing else.

I was so happy when my parents came to see me although they looked strange in this place with strange sounds and strange noises and strange smells. I cried.

My Daddy took out a clean white hanky from his pocket and fashioned it into a sort of doll, really a knot for a head and the remaining material as a dress. He gave it to me when they left me for the night. I cried myself to sleep clutching my hanky doll as if my life depended on it. All the other kids in the ward were much bigger and I couldn’t believe that they were not scared at all. I had never been alone before and hated the whole idea of being forced to be away from Mummy and Daddy at all - let alone for two days.

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