When we first met our son on that bitterly cold July evening in suburban Melbourne, Australia, it was a lesson that would change my life, my thinking, my attitude. The year was 1965 and I felt very content in my comfortable home surroundings with my loving wife, Simone, and eight-year-old daughter, Zoë. Simone was a teacher prior to our marriage, but when our first child arrived, being a wife and mother was her only vocation. She enjoyed teaching Sunday school, and Scripture at the local school, but her life was solely being there for her family. Zoë, with her active, outgoing personality, enjoyed attending tennis lessons and loved being with the neighbourhood children in the weekends, creating a variety of games and imaginative adventures. As for me, I had a very successful optical practice of which I was proud and eminent. Life was good. Life was…just right for our happy little family. I had no idea how our lives would be so dramatically changed in an instant.
We were sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of our evening meal that night. Zoë was anxious to get the perfect birthday present for her best friend, Amy, which was coming up the following week.
“What do you think she would like, Zoë?" Simone asked our blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter.
“Amy hasn’t got Bianca-Jo,” replied Zoë.
“Zoë, haven’t you and Amy got enough toys already?” Simone asked, and then added, “There are a lot of children who don’t even have toys to play with.”
“Well, Sim,” I grinned. “You did ask Zoë what you thought Amy would like. It’s a very simple question for an eight year old to answer.”
Simone turned to me blankly. “Joel?”
“Yes, Dear?” I smiled.
“Eat your dinner.”
Zoë then remembered she had forgotten to feed her pet cat that day.
“Daddy, can I go and feed Maxwell, please?”
“Yes, Zoë,” I replied, “and it’s not “Can I” it’s “May I.”
“May I go and feed Maxwell?”
“Go on then.”
Zoë left the dinner table to attend to her favourite pet, on the front porch of our house. It was a rule in our family that no pets were to eat in the house. She waited on the front porch, tapping it’s cat food tin to beckon the animal to her.
“Maxwell? Come and have dinner. Maxwell, where are you? You know Mummy doesn’t like you bringing home dead mice.”
I had just taken a sip of my cup of tea when suddenly in the silent darkness of our street, we heard a loud crash in front of our house. We heard Zoë’s scream of panic. Simone and I raced from the dinner table to the front of the house to discover a white 1963 model VW Beetle had slammed into the tall Elm tree which stood on the nature strip close to our house. Some of our neighbours had rushed out of their homes to check what had happened. Simone began to slowly move towards the accident scene. Zoë’s cat lay dead in the gutter, two feet from the mangled wreck. I went inside to ring the police, while at the same time trying to comfort Zoë who was devastated at the loss of her favourite pet in the same accident. Simone was drawn to the small six-year-old boy whose dark prince like features appeared despondent and melancholic, even as he lay unconscious in the backseat of the vehicle. The fair and very attractive young female driver was dead. Blood was running down the side of her face from her wounds.
Simone focused down on the little boy. Her heart was pierced with a ghostly trance that she was totally oblivious to what was happening around her.
Soon the police had arrived to interview us as the closest of witnesses to the accident.
“Do you think the cat may have been the cause of the accident, Constable?” I asked him as he was taking down notes into his notebook.
“It seems to be, Mr. Willis,” the constable replied. “It appears that the driver may have tried to avoid hitting it and swerved into the tree. We’ll need to do some further investigation to confirm that. We’ll have to check the scene thoroughly and we’ll do a blood test on the driver to see if there was alcohol involved, but it’s more than possible at this stage that the cat is the cause.
Soon after, the ambulances had arrived to attend to the occupants of the dangled white wreck. It’s front bonnet was pinned against our tree.
It was in a few moments, Simone returned to me to inform me she was following the little boy to the hospital.
“What?” I protested, fearing that she would become too emotionally involved in a child that was not ours. I knew my wife had a strong sympathetic heart, but I also didn’t want my secure and comfortable life to suddenly be turned into a mountain of trauma, grief, and unnecessary arguments. “Simone, don’t do this. He’s not our child. You can’t do this.”
Her eyes were steadfast and determined. I knew I could not stop her from becoming involved. All I could do was wait and ask God to help her see some sense.
She returned to the ambulance as they were lifting the child into the back. He was still unconscious. The ambulance, containing the body of the dead woman, had already left for the morgue. Simone stepped in with the young lad and gently held his hand, while silently praying for him. I watched the ambulance disappear into the darkness, knowing all too well that I would see a distraught woman walking through the front door in few hours in tears telling me the lad’s father or grandparents had arrived to take him home.
“Please, God,” I prayed, “Make her see some sense before I’m in for a real heehaw of a night.”
Simone sat beside the little boy’s hospital bed holding his hand and stroking his hair gently. He was awake, but gazing up to the ceiling blankly.
“I’m here with you, Sweetheart,” Simone whispered. “I’m not leaving you. I’ll be near for as long as you want me to be.”
The doctor entered the room.
“Mrs. Willis, it’s getting close to the end of visiting hours,” the doctor told her. “You can visit him tomorrow.”
“I’m not leaving him, Doctor,” she said firmly. “He’s got no one. Please let me stay with him, just until his relatives arrive.”
The doctor paused in thought on the idea. “All right. I suppose it will make our job a bit easier if there is someone keeping an eye on him through the night. But be careful. One unhappy being is enough for my plate.”
The doctor left the room. Simone returned her eyes to the little boy with a smile.
“Sweetheart?” Simone said softly. “My name is Simone Willis, what’s your name?”
The little boy didn’t answer, but continued to stare up to the ceiling without expression or sound. It was as though his little spirit was desolate, lost in a world that knew no one, no where and didn’t know where to be found.
I awoke the next morning in the lounge chair where I had fallen asleep the night before. I stood up and quickly moved to the main bedroom to discover our bed had not been slept in. I was starting to feel very annoyed. This was not like Simone who was well known for her dependability. But now was the time for my firm, husbandly leadership to put a stop to this, once and for all.
I dropped Zoë at her school, then continued on to the Box Hill Hospital*.
I found Simone asleep on her arms by the little boy’s bedside, holding his hand carefully and securely. The little boy was awake, still gazing up towards the ceiling.
“Simone, what on earth are you doing?” I niggled her. “Don’t you realise we would be worried about you, and how do you think Zoë felt this morning not seeing a familiar face at the breakfast table? She asked me when you were coming home.”
She woke up and half turned to me sleepily.
“Joel, don’t lecture me,” she sighed wearily. “I don’t need it.”
“Well, what do you expect me to say?” I continued feeling quite peeved with the whole situation. “You didn’t come home last night. How do you think I feel?”
Simone turned to the little chap.
“Look at him, Joel,” she smiled at him as she gently lined some strands of his very dark brown hair with the tip of her finger. “Look at his eyes. Don’t you think he has beautiful eyes?”
I observed the little boy closely. “Yes, he is quite handsome.” I stopped to pause in thought towards my wife. She was always a very charitable type of lady. “You love him, don’t you, Sim?”
She nodded with a smile. “Yes.”
I turned to look at my watch. “Look, I have to head off to work. Old Mrs. Raynor will turn me into a toad if she is without her spectacles one more day. Someone has got to make the world see the light. ”
I kissed her, then left the hospital room. There was nothing more I could do to put a halt on Simone’s strong devotion to this young lad, for the moment anyway.
When I arrived home from work that evening I found Simone sitting alone at the kitchen table in total darkness. The evening meal, which normally was ready and waiting for me, was not even given a thought. I turned on the light.
“Simone, why are you sitting here in the dark?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter.”
I began to feel inwardly more livid as I sat down at the table. “His relatives arrived, didn’t they, Sim?”
She lowered her head.
“Didn’t they?” I demanded to know.
She nodded, and then broke down into tears.
I sighed. “What happened?”
“She took him away.”
“Who took him away?”
“This woman. I don’t know who she was.”
“I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. It had to happen. He wasn’t our child.”
“I love him, Joel. Why did God have to let this happen?”
“Don’t blame God in this!”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Stop overreacting!” I ordered. “You wouldn’t be saying this otherwise.”
By this time, my frustration had increased a couple of notches. “I knew this was going to happen, I just knew it. He wasn’t our child. I just wish you would realise that.”
I stood up from the table feeling very annoyed. “I’m going to order some takeaway for dinner seeing that you’re not in the mood at the moment to think about it.”
I left the kitchen firmly. I knew this was going to happen. I just didn’t know how to put a stop to it, other than asking God to help her see reason.
The next morning I entered the kitchen. Zoë was busy eating her cornflakes. Simone was staring down into her cup of tea gloomily. I sat down at the table, turned to her and sighed.
“Simone, please talk to me,’ I insisted. “I don’t like seeing you like this.”
“He’s such a beautiful little boy,” she began. “He looked like a young prince just lying there. He looked so helpless and unhappy. I wanted to see him smile, but he couldn’t. He never said a word the whole time, just kept gazing towards the ceiling, like he didn’t know what was going on, or didn’t seem to want to care what was happening around him. But there was something in his eyes, something that really blessed me. Then, she came in. She took him from his bed, said thankyou for looking after him, then left. She didn’t even let the nurses finish feeding him.”
“It’s over now, Sim. We have to live our own lives now. You have a wonderful daughter and a husband who loves you. You have to get on with your life now.”
Simone stood up left the kitchen for the loungeroom.
“Daddy, will you help me get a present for Amy’s party this Saturday?” Zoë reminded us. “Mummy forgot yesterday.”
I stood up and followed her. She was sitting on the couch, in sad thought.
“Simone, you forgot about Zoë,” I reminded her. “You said you would take her shopping for her friend’s birthday.”
“I’m sorry, Joel. I’ll go this afternoon.”
“Simone, please stop this!” I insisted. “You’re not being very responsible at all. This isn’t like you. You’re usually very dependable.”
“I just…feel so let down.”
“I understand, Darling, but you need to stick with reality. He wasn’t our child. He is with his proper family now. You need to just leave his life in God’s hands now. But you can still love him. You can pray for him.”
She turned to me with a smile. “Yes, I can, cant I? I can pray for him.”
“Did they find out his name, or anything about him?”
“His name is Dale.” She turned to me with a smile. “I can pray for Dale, cant I, Joel?”
“Yes, you can.”
It was an August morning, a month later when our daughter, Zoë, opened the front door to notice the little six-year-old boy, whom Simone had taken to at the accident, sitting on our concrete porch step, wearing only underpants and a ragged, old brown jumper.
Zoë bellowed out to us. “Daddy, there’s a boy sitting here on our doorstep. Quickly!”
Simone and I rushed out to the front verandah. Simone anxiously picked up the child, which resulted in him immediately screaming out in resistance, trying to escape from her arms. She hurried him into the house and placed him on the loungeroom floor. He ran to the corner of the loungeroom, still screaming in terror. Simone looked down at his legs.
“Joel, look! Look at his legs. He is covered in marks, and how could she leave him dressed like that without trousers or shoes on his feet? And that horrid jumper he has on. It looks like it’s ready for the ragbag. What kind of woman is she?”
Simone moved towards him, but he squeezed himself into the wall in absolute terror of us. Calmly, she tried to settle him with her soft motherly voice that I knew all too well.
“Dale, Sweetheart. No one is going to hurt you. You don’t need to be afraid. No one is going to hurt you. You remember me, don’t you? I sat with you at the hospital last month.”
He continued to scream in terror until he fainted from fright. Simone picked him up again and carried him to the main bedroom. She laid him on the bed.
Simone prayed hard. “Oh, Lord Jesus, hold him in Your arms.”
She turned to me as I stood near her, still trying to grasp all of this so early in the morning.
“Joel, could you go and find something of Zoë’s old clothes? I think she may have an old pair of slacks in her drawer which may fit him.”
“You can’t put him in girl’s clothes, Sim,” I replied, absolutely horrified at the thought. “That’s just not done.”
“I’m taking him to the hospital anyway so it doesn’t matter. We can buy him some clothes later. He needs something better than this to wear.”
I left the room, then returned with some of Zoë’s clothing. Simone was staring in shock and horror after she had removed his ragged jumper. She covered her mouth with her hand at the sight of his little battered body.
“Joel, look at him. He wasn’t like this a month ago. He has bruises all over him.” Simone was determined. “Joel, the minute we admit him to hospital, we’re filing an application to adopt him.”
I turned to her protestingly. “What? We can’t do that.”
“Because he is not our responsibility.”
“Don’t give me that, ‘am-I-my-brothers-keeper bit.’ All you have to do is look at the state of his little body.”
“But where is his father?” I asked. “Where is his family?”
“He has no family,” she snapped back, then said quickly, “Joel, if we don’t adopt him, they’ll make him a ward of the state and I refuse to have that beautiful child in an institution. If his father hasn’t turned up by now then he is obviously not around or he doesn’t care.”
“Simone, we can’t adopt him.”
“We can!” She began to persuade me in the only way a woman could persuade a man. “…You love him, don’t you?”
“Can’t you see by all those marks that he needs us, and needs God too?”
I sighed. “Let me sleep on it. Meanwhile, I will need to phone the police. They’ll need to be told. They’ll need a description of that woman you saw at the hospital last month, so we may need to go down to the station.”
Suddenly my world was being turned upside down. Emotional blackmail is a deadly mechanism, especially if you are a Jesus Freak. The old bible verse ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ can be also used against you, so I was wary. I was afraid for us as a family, but also deeply fearful of what heart deep lesson God was going to redeem in us through this youngster. How could I, as a grown man, stand to be emotionally mellowed by a six-year-old child?
That evening, I sat down at the kitchen table to think deeply over a cup of hot tea. Was I wrong? Was God trying to tell us something? Am I being selfish about all this? I am only wanting to stick with reality, not show any lack of compassion for the boy. Is this something God needs us to do?
Simone entered and sat down near me.
“Joel, what are you thinking?” she asked me gently.
“Maybe, it’s me, Sim. I mean, I’m the one who is uncaring, unsympathetic, uninvolved. You know something? I feel like Joseph, the very minute he was told that Mary was carrying the Holy Son of God inside her. He probably felt like I do now…like a goose.”
“He doesn’t need sympathy. He needs a family. You saw the state he was in. He wasn’t treated at all with love. Just think. We can share the Lord Jesus with him.” She looked at me with begging eyes “Please, Joel? Please let him be our son?”
“But we’ll be taking on a great responsibility,” I pointed out. “Child abuse is a very touchy subject. Wouldn’t there be people especially trained to deal with such cases?”
“Would Christ treat a child as a case? Every child needs love. Please Joel?”
I sighed in defeat. “Okay. All right. If it’s okay by the authorities, it’s fine with me.”
“You’re a wonderful man, Joel.”
“I know that.”
She turned to kiss my cheek. I sighed, but still felt a little twittery about the idea.
Suddenly, I knew that my very comfortable life had now become a package of apprehension and uncertainty, of what we would be in for with this little boy. He had already had six years of a previous world that was unknown to us. What did he fear? What were his thoughts? He never spoke to us, nor did we know anything of his family, where his dad might be and who was the female driver who died at the accident scene. We only presumed it was his mother.
He didn’t respond to us. It was as if he didn’t know how to respond to us. All I could do was wait to see what God had planned, for us as a family, and why we were the ones to be chosen to become involved in him.
I stood by the little boy’s hospital bedside that afternoon watching Simone who was sitting beside him stroking his hair with her fingers. He gazed up to the ceiling without expression, without words, without any movement in his eyes, even towards us.
“Dale?” she said softly in his ear. “Mummy’s here. Remember me? I stayed with you after your accident and I held your hand. May I hold your hand now?” She carefully lifted his hand to hold it cupped in her own. “Sweetheart, we have some news for you. We are adopting you. You’re going to live with us. We’re setting up a room of your own with your own toys and some books and nice clothes. It will be your room.”
She watched him in heartbreaking despair as he continued to gaze at the ceiling with his sad little brown eyes. Simone lowered her head to cry. I leaned over to comfort her touching her shoulder.
Just then, Dale’s eyes slowly moved to look at my wife with a reaching heart of concern. He lifted his little hand to touch a tear rolling down her cheek.
Simone looked up and then smiled at him through her tears.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes. I’m your mummy.”
Dale did not say a word after that, but gazed up at us blankly.
A few days later, when the adoption papers had been completed and authorised, we signed the hospital release forms.
Simone took his hand gently and led him out to our car. Dale followed us, willingly without dispute, to wherever we were taking him, in total trust of us, yet he was silent and reticent as he sat in the backseat, on his way to his new home.
After we arrived through the front door of our home. Simone began to gently lead Dale down the hallway to his new bedroom, which she had decorated suitable for a little six-year-old boy.
Dale did not respond to the colours of all the little boy things, or the many toys that lay around the room. Instead, he moved slowly to the very corner of the room and sat down cross-legged with his head lowered.
“Dale, you don’t need to sit on the floor,” Simone said, gently. “You may sit on your bed if you’d like to.”
He did not answer her nor move in response to her suggestion.
Simone moved towards him, “What did the nasty woman do to you?”
He looked up to her and became frightened, then scrambled under the bed screaming in terror.
Simone spoke in a soft voice. “Dale, no one is going to hurt you. You don’t need to be frightened anymore. We love you.”
“Maybe, we’d better leave him, Sim,” I suggested. “It will give him a chance to become familiar with his room.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I guess you’re right.”
We began to leave him alone. Simone turned to him worriedly before she left his room.
Later that first evening, Zoë entered Dale’s room to find him still sitting in the corner by the wall with his head lowered without any expression. He cautiously looked up to her.
“Dale?” Zoë said, “You’re my little brother now. Please be my friend. I want to be your friend. Would you like to see my doll? Her name is Janie. Mummy bought her for me. Would you like to see her, Dale?”
He did not answer her, but continued to gaze up to her without any expression.
I entered his room. “Come on, Zoë. It’s your bedtime now. You’ve got school tomorrow.”
“I was just telling Dale about Janie, Daddy,” she replied.
“Good girl, but you need your sleep.”
As I left with her, I turned to the sad little boy, who lowered his head again without any expression. What was he thinking and why was he not responding, even to another child? All we could do was ask God to touch his little heart.
Simone and I went to check on Dale later that evening. We entered Dale’s room to find him hiding under the bed blankets, weeping.
Simone pulled back the blankets off him. “Sweetheart, you’ll suffocate under there.”
She lifted him to hold him into her arms. He began to scream in terror and kicked his legs about in resistance. She sat on his bed holding him firmly, but he continued to scream in resistance for about half an hour trying to escape from her firm hold.
“Dale, no one is going to hurt you…,” Simone kept telling him with her soft voice, while being drowned out by his yelling. “It’s all right, Sweetheart. No one is going to hurt you. We love you.”
Suddenly he stopped and turned to her panting for breath.
“Aunty Nan…,” he panted breathlessly. “Aunty Nan…not here…
Aunty Nan…not here?”
Simone and I looked at each other, puzzled.
“Aunty Nan…not here?” he repeated.
“Is that the woman who hurt you, Sweetheart?” Simone asked.
“Aunty Nan…not hurt me.”
“Who did hurt you, Dale? Who did those marks on your little body?”
“Who is P.J?”
“The man…the big man…who was with Aunty Nan…lots and lots.”
“And your Aunty Nan didn’t stop him?”
“P.J said…he said…I was bad…I was bad, wasn’t I?”
“No...no,” Simone quickly protested. “No, of course you’re not… You’re a lovely little boy. We love you very much. Me and your new daddy and Zoë too. We all love you and we are going to take very special care of you. You’re our son now.”
Simone brushed back the hair off his eyes gently. “Are you hungry, Sweetheart? You haven’t had any dinner yet. Would you like to come and have something to eat? I’ve made some nice warm chicken soup and I have some pasta there too I’ve saved for you.”
Dale glared into her eyes, and then slowly nodded.
Simone kissed his forehead. “My little boy.”
It was about six weeks later after Dale had begun to settle in with us when we started to see a slight improvement in his response to us.
Zoë arrived home from school very excited. Simone was sitting on the loungeroom couch with her hand over her stomach, smiling. Dale was sitting beside her on the floor, quietly playing with a puzzle.
Zoë rushed to her mother’s side. “Mummy, I got a gold star on my writing today.” She stopped when she noticed Simone grinning down at her stomach. “Mummy, you’re smiling.”
“I’m going to have another baby, Zoë,” she answered, “You’re going to have another brother or sister.”
Zoë started dancing around the room like an overjoyed fairy. “I’m having a baby, I’m having a baby… I’m having a baby…!”
Dale looked up at her without expression. Zoë turned to her brother excitedly.
“Did you hear that, Dale? Mummy is having a baby!”
Dale didn’t respond, but continued to gaze at her.
She began to feel frustrated with her new brother’s lack of response to anything she tried to do with him. She had attempted many times, to encourage Dale to play with her, but he never seemed to want to be involved in any of her games. We both figured he was a just a very reserved, little boy, needing a lot more time and patience from us as he got used to his new family, but Zoë was desperate for him to join in with all of her activities. She had had enough of not getting any response from him for the last six weeks, and she expressed her disapproval quite verbally. “Smile, Dale. Smile! Smile, Smile! You’re such a sourpuss. Smile, Smile!”
Simone stood up firmly, grabbed Zoë’s arm and delivered a hard smack on her bottom.
“How dare you speak to your brother like that! Go to your room and stay there, you naughty girl.”
Later that evening, I was helping Simone wipe up the dinner dishes, still trying to contemplate a new member to our family, and so soon after Dale’s arrival.
“I can’t get over it,” I gasped excitedly, feeling at a loss for words, “I’m going to be a father for the third time. What is this world coming to?”
Simone turned to put her arms around my neck, with her wet rubbery gloves dripping down the back of my good white shirt. “You were responsible! What are you getting excited about?”
I began to kiss her soft sweet lips, but was interrupted by a bellowing from Zoe’s bedroom.
“It’s all your fault!” Zoë yelled at her brother. “You killed Maxwell! If it hadn’t been for you, he’d be alive now. I hate you! I hate you! Maxwell is dead, and I hate you!”
I rushed into her room to grab her arm to give her a good smacking on her bottom.
“Ahhh…!!!” she yelled out in pain.
“You disgraceful child! How dare you talk like that to your brother!”
“You love him more than me, don’t you?” she cried back at me. “He never gets a hiding! Why do I have to?”
I held her arms firmly in front of me. “You rotten child! Have you completely forgotten what he has been through? You’re a very selfish little girl, Zoë!” We love you just as much as him.”
I continued to administer my discipline on her behind as Zoë cried out. Dale stood close by with a deep heart of concern for Zoë. He moved closer to us and started to pull her away from me.
“Don’t smack her, Daddy! No. No...No!”
I stopped, then turned to him. “Dale, son! Zoë was saying nasty very things to you. I have to punish her.”
I stopped in horror by his request. I let Zoë go and crouched down in front of him.
“Why, mate? You haven’t done anything wrong. You’re a good little boy.”
“P.J. said….he said I was bad. I was bad, wasn’t I?”
I held him close in my arms. He placed his little arms around me. “Dale, you know we love you very much. We want you to grow up and live a happy life with The Lord Jesus living inside you. When I punish Zoë, it’s only to teach her what is right and wrong. I know you won’t understand that now.”
I then turned to Zoë and gave her a quick hug. “Zoë, I’m sorry if I have been thinking less of you these days. It’s just that I’ve had a lot of adjustments to make lately. It hasn’t been that easy for me.”
“I said awful things, Daddy,” she said to me shamefully. “I’m sorry.”
She then turned to her little brother. “Dale, I’m sorry I said those things. I really want to be your friend. Would you like to see my dolly’s house? I also have Bianca-Jo, too. Wanna see them?”
Dale turned to her and then followed her out of the room. Simone stood by leaning against the doorway, grinning at me. I stood to my feet staring her, puzzled.
“What you are gawking at?” I asked.
“You mean, you didn’t pick it up?”
“Pick what up?”
“He called you, “Daddy.”
“Did he?” I exclaimed. “How could I have missed that?”
A manly thrill tugged at my heart. “Hey, he called me Daddy!”
At that very moment I began to cotton on to what this little boy was all about. He seemed to be drawn to what others were feeling, whether they were good or bad, but had no concern of how he, himself, felt. However, I wondered what God had planned to teach us through him.
About seven months later Simone lay in her hospital bed holding our new baby daughter, Amanda Julia, in her arms. I peered over the tiny being, feeling proud and a little teary. I wasn’t one for blubbering at anything…except this.
Zoë’s entry into the world was highly emotional, for both Simone and myself. We found it very difficult to cope with all that was happening to us at the time. All the new things we needed to learn as new parents, like the automatic psychoanalysis of an infant’s cry at two-thirty in the morning.
“She is a lot tinier than Zoë was, isn’t she?” I smiled. “Looks like I have to go through all those sleepless nights again.”
“You love it, Joel.”
“Yeah, I suppose I do.”
I paused to reflect on our son, and how he would cope with a new baby in the house.
“How do you think Dale is going to take to this new addition?”
She looked at me and smiled, “Just pray that he will love her.”
That evening, our next door neighbour, George Killen, knocked on our door holding a small present wrapped in purple gift paper. I opened the door with a smile and greeted him. “G’day George.”
George and his wife were retired publicans. George would share many stories with us about who came to drink at his bar. Many of them soldiers, who were on leave, would share their stories of what war experiences they had. George knew that I served in Korea for the R.A.A.F for a short time prior to our marriage, so I was very interested in what our soldiers went through. But when Cecilia needed a much quieter lifestyle, George sold the pub and they moved next door to us when Zoë was a year old.
But now our son was a year older. George’s wife, Cecilia, had taken to our new little boy in a very close and intimate way. George had told me Cecilia had never wanted to become that close with anyone before, not even with him. She would be friendly in a very quiet and subdued way, but even as a publican’s wife, she didn’t mix with people very well. But suddenly, she had warmed to Dale in a deep and personal way. They would spend long hours alone with each other and we wondered why.
“Won’t you come in?” I asked.
The old, grey-haired whiskery bloke just smiled. “Nah, can’t stay. Just came by to shove this in your face. Cec made it for the new bundle of belching lungs. Strike!!! This proves that the nippers don’t come from Mr. Stork. I was kinda worried that Cec would order one, and I ain’t in the mood to ‘ave kids. No way! Not in your life. Stick ‘em in a breadbox and fly ‘em off to Mars. I don’t want no kid wettin’ all over my new golf clubs. Anyways, we’re too old. ‘ows the Missus?”
“Fine,” I replied, “She’s coming home tomorrow.”
“Great to hear. Anyways, must ‘ead ‘orf. Gotta do me lawns before they reach the sky before I do.”
“Thanks for the gift, George.”
“No worries. Cec’s layin’ down this arv. Says she’s tired. Got one of ‘er ‘eadaches, I s’pose. Women!!! I don’t know why the Boss invented ‘em if all they do is ‘ave kids and ‘eadaches. Nah, I love me Cec. Got a bitta class that woman. Anyways, see ya, Joel.”
I closed the door and moved into the loungeroom where Dale was quietly colouring in a drawing. I sat down on the couch.
“Would you like to see what Aunty Cecilia made for Mandy, Dale?”
Dale looked up at me. He stood up and moved to stand by my side. He smiled up to me as I opened the present.
“Wow, that’s nice.” I smiled to him. “It’s a little pink bonnet….to keep her head warm. Do you think Mandy will like that?”
Dale nodded without saying a word.
A week later, we were sound asleep in our bed, when we suddenly heard Dale screaming in fear from his room. It was another nightmare.
Simone arose quickly and rushed to his side. She lifted him from his bed, and he hugged her neck, crying.
“Joel, this is the third bad dream he has had this week. It’s worrying me.”
“We can’t stop the dreams from coming,” I replied.
I looked down at the bed sheets. “He’s wet the bed, Sim.”
“You can sleep with us tonight,’ she said as she turned to the frightened little boy. “Would you like that? Would you like to sleep in with us?”
He nodded to her as she brushed back the hair from his eyes.
She carried him to the main bedroom. I began to get into bed.
“Hop in next to Daddy,” Simone told him gently
“It’s all right, son. I won’t hurt you,” I assured him.
Dale cautiously shook his head.
“How about if I get in first…,” Simone suggested, “…then you can sleep next to me?”
Dale then climbed into the bed next to Simone, and lay down to sleep.
“I wonder what he is afraid of,” I asked.
“We’ll find out soon enough,” she replied, holding Dale close to her body.
It was the following Saturday that George was sitting in our loungeroom quite thoughtful and solemn when I walked in with Zoë from her regular tennis lesson.
“G’day George. What’s up?” I asked.
“What is it?”
“Oh, George. How long?”
“A couple of months,” he replied. “Y’woman said I could sit ‘ere for a bit. Cec wanted to see y’son, so Sim and ‘im ‘ave gone in. She knows it’s her time, Joel. But I tell ya what. It’s sure gunna be ‘ard to live without ‘er. It’s sure gunna be ‘ard. We had some pretty good times, Cec an’ me.”
Simone and Dale entered the house. Simone moved to the main bedroom while Dale wandered up to George.
“Aunty Cecilia is smiling, Uncle George,’ the little boy told him.
“Good, son.” George replied awkwardly.
“Jesus will look after Aunty Cecilia. Jesus is Good.”
Awkwardly, George stood up and moved the little boy away from him. “Look lad, it’s not that I don’t ‘preciate y’bein round, see son, but I just don’t feel like talkin, do ya get me drift? Ar….I’ll see you later on, Joel. Thanks for everything.”
George began to move quickly out the door. Dale ran after him in a strong concern for him. In a short while, George returned carrying Dale in his arms.
“Strike!” the old man exclaimed. “Joel, y’wouldn’t ‘ave a barney knowin’ what this kid just said to me.”
“What?” I asked.
“He said he loved me. I ain’t been told that in chook years, not even from Cecil. But I ain’t told ‘er that in chook years* neither.” George looked at me. “You got a little miracle there, Joel. ‘es a real little ‘eart. Blessin from the skies he is.”
He placed Dale on the floor. Dale looked up to him with eyes that seemed to reach out to him to touch his heart with a divine magic which was mesmerising, even to George. For the very first time in this life, the old man was so emotionally humbled.
George rubbed his hair. “Me little mate!”
The news came through a few months later. Simone walked into Dale’s room carrying a book with a leather cover. Dale was lying down on his bed. She sat on his bed beside him. Dale sat up.
“Dale…you’re Aunty Cecilia…..she’s in heaven now. She will have no more pain.”
“With Jesus?” he asked in his gentle little voice, making sure Cecilia was happy now.”
“Yes, she’s with Jesus,” she replied. “Jesus will take very good care of her.”
Simone looked down thoughtfully at the book in front of her. “Dale, you’re Aunty Cecilia has given you this book. It’s a diary. Everything that she has written down in here, she wants you to read when you are grown up into a man. Would you like me to keep it until then?”
“Aunty Cecilia…is with Jesus?”
“Yes, she is with Jesus now. She is no longer in pain. She is a very happy person now.”
Dale lifted his arms to hug Simone’s neck, sadly.