by Pat Whalley


How do you manage? This silly question was asked of me many times when people saw me with my four preschoolers. How can one possibly answer that query?

Marrying at nineteen with a baby on the way is a bit of an awkward start to being a newlywed. Not for us the fancy wedding with all the exciting planning and preparations, instead, like many other couples, it was a case of get married quickly and look respectable.

My mom had gone to live with her cousin in the US when I was sixteen and I stayed in England with my grandma. This arrangement isn’t as cold as it sounds as I had lived with my grandma for most of my childhood years and she felt more like a mother than my actual mom.

Our family had been, like many others, rather torn apart with the war, dad coming home to a wife who was reluctant to give up her independence must have made for a strained relationship. Dad left, mom needed to work and I was sent to live with my grandma, while my older brother stayed with mom. I was returned to mom’s house when I was eleven and had to live with the abuse of my elder brother, who had been badly injured in a motorcycle accident, and was sleeping in the living room as he could not get up and down stairs without difficulty.

My brother was now eighteen and was in much pain as his two badly fractured legs took many months to heal, one of them got infected and he eventually lost this leg at twenty one. A devastating event for any young man but, at eleven, I had little sympathy for this nasty bully of a brother. The living room was quite small so, from his bed he could reach anywhere in the room with his crutch and he used it to make sure his needs were answered.

If he wanted a drink, he would just shout “pop” which means that I or anyone else handy had to fetch him a bottle of pop from the fridge. Being rather annoyed at this attitude I quite often told him to get it himself, which I knew he couldn’t do without a lot of difficulty. This would result in the crutch descending on my head or whatever part of me he could reach, which did nothing to improve my attitude toward him.

My mother returned from work around 5.45 and my job was to have the meal cooking ready to serve shortly after that time. Mom had given me full instructions the night before so I was happy enough to stay in the kitchen, peel the potatoes and veg and get them on the stove to cook. The meat would have been prepared by mom and would just need heating up on her arrival.

If left alone, this would have been fine but my brother amused himself by saying nasty things from his bed and taunting me constantly. I was too immature to ignore this so poor mom would usually arrive home to find me in tears and my brother in a filthy temper. He was just as happy to use the crutch on my mother as on me so our evenings were usually spent in tears.

Gradually my brother’s health improved enough for him to go socialising and he met a girl, a sweet, gently girl, also called Pat. She suffered abuse at the hands of her father so she moved in with us. This calmed things down a little and my brother became less apt to fly into rages, but every now and then I would upset him with a rude remark and he would beat me up with his fists. I frequently went to school with bruises but when I turned up with a black eye I was called to the principal’s office. I shrugged off his questioning as it really was a common occurrence so I thought nothing of it, however the next day when I arrived with a second black eye, the child protection people were informed.

The visit from the agency did nothing but stir up more resentment, my mother had similar bruises but she refused to have my brother removed from the home. So, as far as I know the matter was left there. My mom had made plans for her and I to immigrate to the US once I left school, this I did not want to do as I would have to go to a US school for another year and, as an awkward sixteen year old, this was scary. I never really felt too much affection for my mother so didn’t want to go with her and asked if I could stay with gran, who was all in favour of me staying with her but mom was adamant.

Mom and I travelled to Portsmouth to board the Queen Mary and while she went into a bank to change the last of her English money, I ran off and caught the nearest bus out of the area. I spent the night in a barn and, when I felt it safe to do so, I called an uncle who drove down to get me and take me back to grandma’s. Apparently, when mom discovered my absence, she called the police who advised her to go to the ship, and I would be put on the ship, at it’s first port of call. She called her cousins in the US and they convinced her to do this. However on returning to my home town, I found that my father had been informed of my antics and he came to see me.

This was my first meeting with my dad since I was two years old and he asked me if I really didn’t want to immigrate, I told him no and he said he would have not given permission for me to go, if he had known my reluctance. My parents never divorced and I still needed his permission to be taken out of the country. He withdrew his permission and life with grandma went on.

I met Dave when I was seventeen, fell in love with him and his family and a couple of years later his mother rushed us both up the aisle as a baby was on the way. My own mother refused to come to the wedding and see me in “disgrace”, but my gran and my new family of Dave’s parents made up for her absence.

Those first few years were a hard struggle and the arrival of twins meant four children in three years, but my years with gran had served me well, I knew how to cook, to manage on a strict budget and to make the best of things. Yes indeed, with all the help I had from my gran in my formative years, I was able to manage with whatever life gave me.

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3 Responses to by Pat Whalley

  1. dyan Goulet says:

    WOW, what a wonderful story you shared, and what a very strong beautiful inside and out person you are. I will always be grateful for our wedding reception held at “the Belair Motor Inn, both you and Dave went the extra miles to make our special day so very relaxed and special, Cheers and again big thank you from us both Dyan and Lyle now living in God’s Country and loving it xo PS: Dave even made us a video xo

  2. Gail Blidook says:

    WOW! Pat, thank you so much for sharing this part of the story of your life. It cannot be easy to unveil such a heartbreaking story. I commend you for the way you have handled such a difficult childhood and gone on to become a successful, loving and caring person. I believe your story and attitude will give others hope and encouragement. It makes me much more grateful to realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a very loving and supportive family.

  3. Laird Smith says:

    Thank you for your frank and fearless account of your early years. You are a determined, strong person which your youth experiences prepared you so well for. Your writing is still very interesting.

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