I hate my parents! No…perhaps that is a bit strong, having now written it. I dislike my parents…closer to the point, but now a little too soft.. I’m indifferent towards my parents is perhaps closer to the truth. Yes, I choose to ignore them, and in many instances, regret having to admit that they ever existed at all.
Maybe they loved each other, maybe they didn’t. God knows, love wasn’t exactly a subject openly discussed or displayed as my brother, Kevin, and I grew up. It is sad that Kevin had to be the one to pay the price for whatever did not exist (https://timalderman.com/2012/04/23/kevin-pickhills-the-unspoken-name/) and for what was not discussed, in their relationship. Did we have a happy childhood? In truth, I would have to say yes, though I’m aware that having said that, it is only myself that I speak for. Kevin may have been of another opinion, though, of course, we will never know if that is so.. He has been in his grave for the last 49 years, but I can assume that he would agree with me on that one point – a happy childhood.
It wasn’t difficult to have a happy childhood in the 50’s, and early 60’s. In fact, it appeared that childhood was destined to be that way, almost as if preordained. The weather was perfect – though there are those who say that idyllic weather is part of a co-joined memory of everyone’s childhood – we had perfect neighbour’s, perfect house, perfect pets, and apart from the fact that this is Australia we are talking about, it could almost have been a real-life episode of ‘Father Knows Best’. I was given reasonably free rein to roam Sylvania with my mates, and my dog, Trixie. Kevin in those days was a bit of a millstone around an older brothers neck, but who did not see younger siblings in that light? A necessary evil, in fact.
My childhood, like most who lived through those times was, in many respects, an urban myth. Up until the end of the first decade of our lives, the Easter bunny still delivered Easter eggs, the tooth fairy still left money for dearly departed teeth, and Santa stll came on Christmas Eve to deliver pre-ordered gifts. The only swear word I knew was ‘bloody’ – and had my backside beaten for using it – girls were definitely yucky; and when a school pal whispered into my ear one day about what I actually had to do to a girl to get her pregnant, I screamed, threw my hands in the air and ran!. Nobody would ever do anything that disgusting! Perhaps an inkling of my future lifestyle there! Anyway, I had watched a movie on television by this time, and had it on full authority – in my own mind – that women got pregnant by being kissed, which is why I went out of my way to avoid those situations.
Was it obvious that my mother was unhappy, and planned to desert our happy home? I wouldn’t say it was obvious, but I certainly knew that something wasn’t right. When I got home from school the afternoon she left, and found her gone, I can’t say I was really surprised. In later years, when I was temporarily reunited with her after my fathers suicide, she confided to me that she knew my father was having an affair.. I was more concerned with the issue of her leaving us with a father who was to prove mentally unstable. She claimed that when she left, she had no idea where she was going, or what she was going to do. She couldn’t have managed dragging two young children along with her. I accepted that explanation though must admit to never being entirely happy with it.
That my father was unfaithful to her, I never doubted. Within a fortnight of her leaving, a housekeeper named Nancy was suddenly introduced into the home. It wasn’t that she was identified as ‘housekeeper’ so much as the fact that she knew a little bit too much about us, was a little too familiar with the house. Add to this the fact that she spent the first night on the divan on the back verandah, then suddenly moved into the master bedroom – on my mother’s side of the bed – and even a twelve-year-old doesn’t have problems doing the math. Kevin and I hated her from day one. She was trying to act like a mother, but she knew she wasn’t, so discipline was a problem from the beginning. I hated her because she wouldn’t take orders – well, not from me at any rate. As far as I was concerned, housekeepers took orders. That was something else I learnt from television, and it also proved to be a lie.
For my poor brother, life became an absolute misery. You have to remember that these were still days of witchcraft, and ignorance. If my brother had lived another ten years, he would inevitably have been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). However, in a time of witchcraft, his chronic disobedience, his problems with learning, and his hyperactivity were considered to by symptomatic of mental deficiency, and that was exactly how Nancy treated him – as someone who wasn’t ‘all there’. I had no problems with him, he was my brother, and pain in the neck or not, I had the patience of a saint with him, teaching him language, and reciting nursery rhymes to him until he knew them verbatim. He spoke what my parents referred to as ‘double Dutch’, and even though they had trouble understanding a single thing he said, I was always there to translate. I could never work out why they could never understand him! He spoke quite clearly, as far as I was concerned. But Nancy wasn’t even liberal enough to want him to have a translator. She just wanted him out. She was about to get her way.
Nag! Nag! Nag! God, if Nancy could do anything, she could nag. Some women are just born to it, and she was one of them. She treated Kevin and I like criminals and outcasts. We were watched 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and nothing crept by her – believe me, I tried. But worse than dobbing on me to my father for my occasional raids on the sacred biscuit tin, worse than alienating us from our friends and neighbours – you wouldn’t believe how many people she poisoned my father against, or in turn poisoned them against us – was that she picked on Kevin. I couldn’t protect or defend him from her. She was like an unrelenting demon from hell. If he looked at her the wrong way, if he spoke to loudly, played when she wanted him to sleep, spoke when she wanted him to be silent, she was on his case. And she made sure the old man knew all about it when he got home from work – and that was ever the threat. Finally he cracked, just caved in to what she wanted.
Fuck, he was a weak man! I think that shits me more than anything. He sprouted all the morality and principles on God’s earth, but when it came down to brass tacks, he just gave in to whatever was easiest. I could never believe that just getting rid of Nancy never seemed to be an option. Fuck knows, nobody else would have put up with her. Compared to my mother, she lived a life of royalty. I have tried to work out over the years how she
managed to stretch the money my old man gave her to do things that mum never seemed able to manage. The only conclusions I can come to are that he either gave her a hell of a lot more money than mum ever saw, or she had an income outside of what she earned housekeeping for us. It is a question that will never be answered now. Christ, she even moved her son into the house, who in turn became Demon from Hell #2. My old man even did up a car for him, and moved him into my brothers bed, which heaven knows he had no need for, being dead at this time. Which I guess brings us to Nancy’s revenge, and what was to be her downfall.
That Kevin would never have gone over The Gap at Watsons Bay, on that fateful 16 December 1965 night if Nancy had not come along is not even a debatable point. It would not have happened. Full stop! Even my mother suffered unaccountable guilt over my fathers actions, beating herself up over leaving home, leaving us in such volatile predicaments. Did Nancy herself ever feel guilt over what happened? In my observations…no! To her, a problem had been removed and life went on. Her alienation of people we knew now carried over to visiting sympathisers, close family, the media! She closed ranks, and not because it protected anyone, but because it was a further extension of her power. My curiosity at trying to come to terms with what had happened, trying to comprehend the sheer personal magnitude of it, was met with icy emotion, steel resolve that nothing and nobody was going to offer me any enrapturing arms, or sympathetic tears.
While all this turmoil went on, several other events occurred – I was, at no time, informed about what was going on with my father! I was kept completely in the dark, and apart from what I have been able to glean from press reports at the time, I am still in the dark about. I wasn’t even notified of his court cases! There was an attempt by my mother to take me back, which happened with such sudden and unexpected ferocity that it had the opposite effect on me to what it should have had…it scared the life out of me, and sent me bolting to a neighbours home for protection. And there was a custody battle between my mother and father, accompanied by threats – truly – from my fathers sisters on what I was to say to the judge to ensure my father – certainly not my parent of choice – retained custody. Nobody gave a flying fuck about what I wanted…it was all about spite, vindictiveness and control! Being a 12 year-old in the 60s was not to have any rights. You just did what you were told!
As for my fathers brief incarceration, there was one visit, and I was “encouraged” to write regularly, whether I wanted to or not. Upon his release, Nancy stage managed his coming home to be a scene out of “Leave It To Beaver”, complete with me running up the road and into his loving arms! It was done reluctantly, I can assure you. My father and I effectively had no relationship from that time on, and when he committed suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in 1978, there were no tears shed on my part. After his return, life’s disruptions continued, with the selling of our Melrose Ave home, moving to a shoebox flat in Kogarah – still with Nancy in tow – a name change from Pickhills to Phillips, and me having to change schools, leaving behind everything and everyone I knew. I ended up at a Marist Brothers boarding school in Campbelltown.
Still, there was one consolation – and again, it was unexpected, and came like a bolt from the blue. Dad arrived home at the flat one day, just in time to hear Nancy in one of her vitriolic tirades at me, for having helped myself to a biscuit from the Sacred Biscuit Tin! Now, whether he suspected that this may have been going on, or whether he was surprised to find it going on I will never know. Suffice it to say that, for the only time in our relationship, he stuck up for me, and bundled me into the car and took me to an aunties. I never saw Nancy again! Like ai cared!
My father and I never reconciled over Kevin’s death. Like with most of the unpleasant things that occurred in his life, he just pretended it never happened. Not Nancy, not my father, nor any of his family ever mentioned Kevin’s name again. It would be 35 years later before I felt comfortable, and able, to write about his death, to tell his story. A reconciliation with my mother just after his death likewise proved futile and fruitless. Too kuch water under the bridge by then. I believe she is still alive, and in her 80s. If my stepfathers death is any gauge, I will hear of her death several years after the event. I am not expecting to shed tears over that event, either’!
Tim Alderman (C) 2015