Saturday 18 June 2011

I'm Just a Home Child

(This poem is dedicated to my Great-Grandma, Daisy Blay.)

I’m just a home child named Daisy Blay.

I could hear the pigeons cooing on the rooftop of the St. Pancras Workhouse the day I was born in 1894.

I could taste the bugs in the gruel they served us at the workhouse.

I could smell the stench of the Thames River on a hot summer’s day.

I’m just a home child.

I could touch the ruffles on my mother’s skirt as she bent over to scrub yet another floor.

I could smell the canopy of smoke that belched out of the London factories as I walked down the street.

I could feel the heat of the fever that wracked my baby sister Alma.

I’m just a home child.

I could feel the knots in my tangled hair and smell the dirt on my ragged clothes.

I could see my mom hold her head in her hands the day my dad died of cancer.

I could hear the click of the skeleton key turn in the lock as my brother and I returned from school to an empty apartment.

I could hear my mom sobbing the night baby Alma died of rickets.

I’m just a home child.

I could see the one broken chair in our apartment after my mom sold everything to pay the rent.

I could hear the growling of my empty stomach as I searched the cupboards for a morsel of food.

I could feel the calluses on my mom’s hand as she held mine on our way to the Barnardo Home on Stepney Causeway.

I could sense her despair as she waved goodbye one last time as I stood on the steps of the Home.

I’m just a home child.

I could smell the flash powder burning as the Barnardo worker took a photograph of me against my will.

I could feel the fabric of the clean dress I changed into.

I could taste the delicious food they gave me.

But it could not fill the hole in my soul.

I’m just a home child.

I could feel the chalk between my fingers as I practised cursive writing on my slate during lessons at the Barnardo Home.

I could see the knots in the fine wooden trunk that the Barnardo workers gave me for my journey.

I could hear the fog horn on the Kensington docked at Liverpool, as I prepared to immigrate to Canada in 1903.

I’m just a home child.

I could hear the voices of the 400 other child immigrants singing “For Those in Peril on the Sea” on board the ship.

I could see the majestic icebergs complete with polar bears as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

I could hear the dock workers speak a foreign language as we reached our destination at Quebec City.

I’m just a home child.

I could hear the rooster crowing at dawn as I prepared to start the work day on a farm in Ontario.

I could smell the heavenly scent of the meals I cooked for the family with whom I lived.

I could hear the orders of the lady of the house as she instructed me on how to wash her family’s clothes.

I’m just a home child.

I could feel the hot tears fall down my cheeks as I read William’s letter describing how he walked shoeless across the frozen stubble of a farmer’s field in Manitoba.  

I could feel the pain in my throat the many times I had tonsillitis.

I could touch the report from the Ontario school saying that I was truant once again.

I’m just a home child.

I could hear the warnings of my Canadian classmates:  “Don’t play with her.  She’s just a home child.”

I could see the beautiful Christmas tree in the Bracebridge home with no presents underneath it for me.

I could hear the rude responses from the children I babysat when I tried to discipline them. 

Even though I was now a teenager, I was still just a home child.

I could hear the seagulls squawking over Bedford Basin in Halifax in 1914, three weeks before the war broke out.

I could see the look in my groom’s eyes as he said:  “I do”.

I could feel the gold and pearl necklace as my husband Charles attached the clasp around my neck.

For the first time, I was more than just a home child.

Photo courtesy Barnardo Home, London, England, 1903.

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