Gracie Sang a Sad Song

Rangitoto volcanic island from the former Crippled Children's Home

Rangitoto volcanic island from the former Crippled Children’s Home

Mary and daughter Dr Genevieve watch a young girl play hopscotch in the hospital grounds, at the start of the increasingly steep path that wound down to the water-front.

This is another moving short story, written by Mary Gabb.

            Gracie was eleven years old, but seemed much older. She was a nut-brown child, half maori, blessed with an uncontrollable shock of frizzy marmalade coloured hair. She constantly wore a brownish toned floral dress, with a mismatched cardigan of uncertain colour and she sang like a lark. Rarely could she be separated from her ukulele which was permanently slung around her neck. Often she would add to her costume a frilly pink plastic lei, and pick a flower to tuck behind her ear.

Gracie had a distinctive gait, mechanical and shuffling like a clockwork doll. She wore callipers attached to her boots and stiff leather cuffs buckled just below each knee connected sturdy steel rods to her boots. A strong spring attached to the toe of each boot corrected her foot drop and kept her from tripping over her feet; the wasted weak muscles a trophy of a polio epidemic.

The Home for Crippled Children was Gracie’s home, as it was for thirty other children. It was a magnificently gracious establishment set on acres, beautifully landscaped with rhododendrons, camellias and roses, and graced with an enormous mosaic tiled lily pond. A long sweeping semi-circular driveway threaded through the tree studded gardens and led to the entrance of the Home. It was a prime piece of real estate, with a coastal frontage, and it had been bequeathed to the city by its former owners for the purpose of housing and caring for crippled children. It had breathtaking sea views.

The outlook from the elevated, open verandahs at the rear of the Home was like a fine piece of art, a million dollar view. Dominating the scene, a sleek mysterious island with pubescent female lines, lay tantalizingly close and seemed to float on the glittering sea. Rangitoto Island! It looked so close it seemed that you could reach out and touch it. It drew Gracie’s gaze as she sang accompanying herself on her beloved uke. “Oh, I wish I had someone to love me, someone to call me their own. Oh I wish I had someone to live with, for I’m tired of living alone. If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls would I fly………” Her singing so sweet and soulful, was a prayer for a miracle; perhaps that the sea breezes would carry her voice to some angel who might hear and respond.

Gracie never had visitors, and on visiting days was left to her own devices. The existence of a track to the beach down a precipitous cliff face was never revealed to the children. But with the unerring intuition of a child, everyone knew that it was there and it began inside the conservatory which was definitely ‘Out of Bounds’. Rumour had it that the track was steep and dangerous. One visiting day, when with the distraction of visitors she knew she would be unnoticed, Gracie slipped quietly past the glittering lily pond. Mingling with and leap-frogging the groups of visitors who were fully absorbed in their own resident child, she made her way unobtrusively, to the entrance of the conservatory. Once inside the conservatory she was concealed from view by the tangled lush growth of trees and ferns. Just a closer look at Rangitoto; she wanted that so badly. The track beckoned her on, through the fernery filled with pungas (tree fern) with their furry brown snake-like fronds all curiously curled, and underneath them the unruly growth of maidenhair and sword fern.

Once out of the conservatory, steps appeared cut into the steep escarpment leading to the beach below. At first they were quite regular and zig-zagged steeply through the tangle of native bush. Intermittent landings gave a sense of safety and the steps were not difficult to negotiate. Gracie’s confidence grew. But soon the steps became irregular and some were shored up with wood in an attempt to halt the erosion caused by wind and rain. The descent was longer and steeper than she had imagined. There were no landings now; each step seemed a precipitous drop down the sandy cliff. Gracie wondered if she should turn back, but now she was halfway there and it was unthinkable to retreat without achieving her goal. The going got more difficult and more treacherous, and to make progress she was obliged to sit down on each step and carefully lower herself to the next one, steadying herself by clutching at the tangle of weeds and beach grass growing within reach. It was a tiring and frightening adventure but each step was a triumph. She gloated and wondered what the other kids would think if they could see her. But in sight of the beach, so close to her goal, a step unexpectedly gave way under her feet and threw her forwards. Overbalancing, she tumbled headlong down the last few steps onto the coarse, damp grey sand.

Just a small fringe of a beach it was, with native bush and tree ferns scrambling right down to the deserted beach margin. There, only feet away was the dazzling blue sea, and serenely floating on top of it was her Island. Rangitoto, so close and even more magically calling to her now! She struggled to her feet shaken but uninjured and dusted away the wet sand from her body. The isolation was eerie, not a sound or sight of any other person in the whole world. She had done it! And the tranquillity and splendour of her surroundings both awed and unnerved her. She was alone in the world and free! Surprise and elation made her feel proud and invincible. She wondered if she had been missed.

Gracie took a few tentative and awkward steps in the soft sand to the water’s edge, and with each step her boots sank deeper into the sand.  The benign and gentle waves lapped over the toes of her boots. With her eyes fixed on the magical island, she stumbled on the uneven sea floor and fell. Her wet heavy boots held her fast. The water was so cool and caressing. ‘I would fly to the arms of my darling, and there I’d be willing to die’……..



It’s gone..

Pop-Star appreciates short stories that leave him with unanswered questions at the end, longing for a sequel, stories that hint at important issues without necessarily enunciating them, and do not tell everything about the leading characters.

“It’s gone” is such a tale. An unusual one you must agree. How many stories have you read about a five-year old who swallows a whole string of beads?? It is more poignant than humorous, more thought-provoking than entertaining.

Pop-Star’s heart went out to the patient little Gracie removed for so long from her family; she was an inpatient in a Crippled Children’s Home from the age of four until she was six. She had a serious disabling illness which Pop-Star thinks may have been severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or Still’s disease. For two whole years she felt lonely and bereft of family love and support.

Adults may not understand her dilemma and her strange response, which she hoped would bring her family kudos. She did not think the Matron would consider her ungrateful. Although grown-ups might find her action totally incomprehensible they should remember that they too face similar tortuous decisions in their lives.

How do they resolve the internal conflict between self-indulgence and pleasure on one hand, and a wish to conform to perhaps ultra-conservative expectations placed by family, and community, religious or otherwise?

Written by Mary Gabb, do read it  carefully before seeing if you agree with Pop-Star’s comments.

IT’S GONE….but not forgotten!

Gracie stroked the string of beads in her small hands. They were very beautiful. Yesterday was her birthday and Matron had a special birthday dinner prepared just for her in her private rooms. As Gracie was wheeled into the room she could see the dinner table set beautifully for two with serviettes, a pretty cloth and shining silverware. The savoury aroma of the meal filled the small room. Standing on the cover of one dinner plate stood a bare naked Kewpie doll, with arms outstretched. And a small parcel wrapped in birthday paper tied with pretty ribbon lay beside it. Gracie was nervous even though matron had discarded her billowing white veil, but curious about the contents of the parcel. “Yes, you can open it; it is your birthday present from me because now you are five”. The child untied the pink ribbon and slowly removed the wrapping paper, revealing an exquisite string of ruby red beads. She was overwhelmed with both its beauty and its sinfulness. She had never had any jewellery of any kind before; personal adornment was frowned on in her family. And Gracie had slept that night with the treasured string of beads within reach under her pillow.
Bed rest had been the latest treatment ordered for Gracie until the swollen painful joints had settled, and now after all else had failed, she was here in the Crippled Children’s home and she had no idea how long she would be here. The days seemed endless with the same institutional routine every day: meals on trays, bed baths, teeth cleaning with peroxide water from chipped enamel mugs, bread and jam for lunch, visitors on Saturdays and Sundays. Home was many miles away, so Gracie rarely had visitors. Life away from big brothers and a busy household was very tedious and the days merged one into another until she did not know how long she had been here. She tried not to mind but in case they forgot her, she kept up a steady flow of laboriously written and misspelled letters to her family at home.
Gracie had let go of the beads for scarcely a moment since she had received the gift from Matron. She held them up to the light and when she looked through them everything was glowing red. As she twisted them in the sun she discovered that the smooth cut surfaces would send bright rays of pink light on to her book. Gazing at them, she wondered if they were real rubies. She knew about rubies. Snow White’s lips were ruby red, and Aladdin’s cave was full of rubies. Gracie’s only diversion in this place was stories in fairy tale books that she could now read by herself. The books here were different; at home she had been read to regularly but only from Bible story books, and true stories. ‘What Smoking did for John’, and ‘Matilda Who told lies and was burned to death’ were her Mother’s only concession to fiction. She knew ‘Matilda Who Told Lies’ off by heart. She loved the rhyming rhythmic cautionary tales, and shuddered at the underlying messages.
Gracie looked at the string of beads in her hands, they were still there; they were real and it was not a dream. She poured the string of beads from hand to hand, fascinated by the sound they made as they chinked together, she loved the sensation of running them through her hands. She did not want to put them on, she just wanted to look at them and touch them. But soon there was a glassy clink in her bath-chair day bed. She examined the string of beads and could see that the thread had come adrift at one end. One of the precious stones had fallen off. Holding the string carefully so that the others would not come off she searched for the missing bead, and found it tucked under her leg. It was the smallest one at the end of the graded strings of beads. She popped the stray bead into her mouth so that she wouldn’t lose it. Then she tried to tie off the loose end of the broken thread, but it was too difficult for her small fingers. Concentrating on the job in hand, she accidentally gulped and smallest bead went down.
The string still too short for her to tie so she removed another bead a bit larger than the first. It came off the string easily and went into her mouth. I wonder if I could swallow another one she thought. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one was paying any attention to her and it was dead easy. She needed the string to be longer so that she could fasten it, so with increasing speed, bead after bead went into her mouth and was quickly gulped down. But the beads were getting bigger now and she could feel the sharp faceted edges scraping the inside of her throat. The three largest beads in the middle of the necklace looked daunting, and she paused. She wondered if she should stop, but took a deep breath and swallowed the second largest. It hurt, but it did go down. She held the biggest bead in her hand, she couldn’t stop now. It was a challenge impossible to resist. She took a huge breath, gulped…and the largest beautiful bead began its painful descent, almost sticking half-way. It hurt all the way down. Her eyes watered and she was scared. In a little while the pain eased and she looked at the remainder of the beautiful string of beads in her hand. She wondered how she could explain the missing beads.
And so it was that the remainder of the beautiful string of beads quietly and quickly followed their fellows to the same destination. Gracie felt satisfied and pleased with her success. She didn’t know anyone else who could swallow a whole string of beads. Her older brother Ted would be impressed if he knew. But while she couldn’t help feeling sad at the loss of her beautiful beads, she hoped that God would be pleased. The necklace had disappeared, it had gone. But her ruby red beads were never forgotten.


Pop-Star’s parting comment.

You have heard of the divine injunction to children to honour their father and mother. For Pop-Star there is a reverse obligation too.

“Honour your children. They may be surprisingly smart even although they need your guidance and protection in a challenging world. One-day you may be grateful to be on the receiving end”.



“I Spy…”

Pop-Star is indebted to family friend Mary Gabb for this delightful little story about Granny’s crash in her swim suit.

It all happened a long time ago, and 4-year-old Oliver is now a strapping young man of 20.

Pop-Star hopes you enjoy reading it as much as he did

Mary with friend Noelene.

Mary with friend Noelene


‘I spy with my little eye”, chanted 4 year-old Oliver from the back seat of my car, ‘something beginning with b!’ Flipping through all the b words I can dredge up from my internal Thesaurus and casting my eyes around my field of vision, I fail to notice that the cars ahead of me are stationary. I am intent both on getting myself to my aqua-aerobic class on time and depositing the three little darlings back in their own nest after a sleep-over. When it finally dawns that I am headed for disaster, I react quickly and jump on the brakes praying that my car’s tread will hold. It is the first rain we have had for six months and I am nervous about the ability of my tyres to grip the greasy road.
‘Hang on! I’m stopping,’ I shout to the three kids in the back seat. The squeal of brakes qualifies me in the eyes of the young as a Grand Prix driver. I feel the brakes lock and my trusty ’78 Volvo becomes a graceful skater on ice, despite my frantic attempts to arrest its progress. While I realize the car is out of my control, I still attempt to steer towards the kerb and away from the looming queue of cars. But a large bus lumbers into my path from the right. There is no place to go. I take my foot off the brake momentarily and brake again less viciously. ‘Will I make it?” Some unnerving moments and then a modest thud arrests my progress. My vehicle noses into the bus; the vehicles eye each other off with some belligerence. I wish that I had stayed at home.
‘Bus’, shrieks Oliver in my ear. ‘My turn again!’
‘Damn’, I thought ‘I’m going to have to get out and face the bus driver’. The grandchildren in the back of the car, seem to be as unconcerned as though close nose to nose contact with a bus is a regular performance. The raucous screaming of the tyres, and my evasive tactics have impressed my small passengers. They chortle with excitement and are unruffled. Rain is coming down quite heavily now and I boldly emerge from my vehicle dressed only in my bathing suit.
The bus driver and I inspect the vehicles. He tries not to notice my state of undress. No evidence of my inattention is evident. There is not a mark on my old car and barely a scratch on the left front of his shiny new Swedish bus. Traffic is backing up, cars are tooting at the congestion, and from their windows the bus passengers survey the scene below with amused interest. The bus driver shrugs his shoulders.
‘Thank God and Sweden for Volvos, lady. You’d better get on your way and put some clothes on. You could have fooled me. I thought it was winter!’
‘I spy with my little eye………….’