Crossing the threshold

by | May 12, 2020 | Seasons Newsletter, Uncategorized | 10 comments

Every season takes us across a threshold, where we leave behind what we have known and shift into something new. In this time of the pandemic, other thresholds present themselves as well. Today, on the edge of winter and the storytelling season, I have a story for you.

Why was I feeling anxious? The Prime Minister had just announced that the whole country was now moving out of Level 4 lockdown and into Level 3. This should have been good news. But coming out felt like approaching speed bumps that had grown hard ridges and even spikes. And would the car start anyway, after lying idle for so many weeks?

In reality, social distancing would continue under level 3. No cause for alarm.



Following the thread


In my hand, I held a thread. As I tugged gently, time unravelled, back to 1948, the year of a significant epidemic in New Zealand.

I had just started at primary school, but after the first exciting term, school was closed. There would be no return from the summer holidays, no swimming in the town pool or on any beaches. Children and their mothers were in lockdown.

This was the scary time of a disease that claimed young lives and crippled the legs of children so they were unable to walk without iron callipers. The disease was known as infantile paralysis, a terrifying name that was eventually replaced by the more neutral term of polio.

The epidemic had struck before. 1925 was the worst year, with 173 deaths. My parents would then have been 13 and 14 years old. So when the epidemic struck again, two years after the war, they knew what it meant.

My mother said we, her five children, used the time well. We were always creative in our play. Correspondence lessons came through the mail and over the radio. The disease kept spreading with 963 cases. Anyone who went out had to keep 6 feet away from others.


Anxious parents


When the Minister of Education declared that schools would reopen on March 1, so many worried parents protested through letters to the newspapers that the time of quarantine was extended until April 19, 3 weeks after Easter.

My mother, like many others, must have been very anxious about the breaking of quarantine. Would her children, exposed to others at school, catch the disease?

As it happened, our family had a narrow escape. During the quarantine, my eldest sister who had just turned 12, became ill with a fever. Infantile paralysis was suspected. She was rushed to new Plymouth hospital 12 miles away, by ambulance.



An isolated child


The health system was cruel to children in those days. My sister was shut in a large room containing a solitary bed in the middle. The bed was so high she could hardly climb in and out. She was frightened that she would fall. No visitors were permitted, not even our parents. She was told nothing. In those days the giving of information was not counted as an essential service. She had nothing to do, not even a book to read.

My mother, an unassertive woman except where her children were concerned, mustered her flock together, and by some miracle transported us to the path outside the hospital window. There we stood, waving and calling out to my sister. Even though my sister is now in her 80s with memory loss, the image of us standing there is ever fresh, and with it the feeling of comfort at a time of need.

‘I couldn’t hear what you were saying,’ she said, ‘even though you tried. But just seeing you was enough.’ After some days she was declared free of the disease and returned home.

And so, as I pull back the memory thread and wind it up here, I now know why coming out of lockdown feels more dangerous than going in. And I’m ready to smooth back the speed bumps and bravely go forward into the world once more.


Blessings to you, whatever threshold you are on,




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  1. Denise Poyner

    Breaking the quarantine and heading back out into the world to re-establish our individual and collective normality will be an anxious experience for some.

    Our whanau of 5,000,000 has done remarkably well to hold it together for the greater good of our survival. I am proud of what we have achieved.

    Some semblance of order has returned as I could return to work as soon as we entered Level 3. I understand the relief of your sister when she said “seeing you and your family was enough”. I could see my work colleagues, and I felt privileged that I had played my part to earn that.

    Now of course we head into Level 2. I can go about putting the threads of my life a bit more together – a haircut, a trip to the osteopath, a catch up with my photography friends, and in a while, my music teacher for a music lesson. All with the sensible precautions asked of us, which I don’t think is onerous at all.

    Hard as it has been, many of us will experience enormous personal growth from this experience. My wish is that the kindness continue.

    Blessings Juliet xx

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Denise. I too wish for the kindness to continue.

  2. Cecily Sheehy

    Dear Juliet, Thank you for this lovely letter, and those memories of your sister.
    It so brought back a similar memory for me. I was 5 yrs old at Teschemakers boarding school out of Oamaru.

    As the end of year holidays started I contracted Scarlet fever, and was carried off to isolation in Oamaru. All I remember is also a large room with one bed…and just me and nurse forever, it seemed. No books as you say, and nothing all day, except the nurse who probably hated being stuck there with a sick kid.
    Thank you again Juliet, and many blessings,

    I’m not going to change much in Level 2. I have so enjoyed lockdown, but of course, not the reason for it.

    • Juliet Batten

      Cecily, thank you for sharing your memory. My goodness, it was the same thing, and at 5 years old must have been very frightening. I wish you well with holding on to the good from the lockdown, as we go into level 2.

  3. Paula Hames

    Dear Juliet, Thank you for your memory so beautifully shared, and to remember our human family has been here before, frightened, isolated with so many praying we all get through this time well. Tonight during International Nurses Day, I sit by a candle lit in vigil of the nurses and doctors around the world who have lost their lives to Covid 19 while caring for others. I slip back to just over a century ago to when my own Grandmother, a young student nurse cared for people in the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. Every day I have gone to work I have called upon her courage to be with me as we have faced the unknown, to find compassion and kindness runs as deeply as it ever did. I have never felt closer to all those who came before us and bow deeply to their courage and steadfastness during their unprecedented times. I bow too to all who been in isolation to afford the only immunity we have, from my heart thank you all. May all be well and all be safe. Blessings Paula

    • Juliet Batten

      Dear Paula, what a beautiful message. I feel touched to think of your grandmother and all the nurses who are doing such brave service on behalf of all. I noticed that Jacinda acknowledged International Nurses Day during her 1 pm broadcast today. Blessings to you on your vigil. Compassion and kindness, courage and steadfastness; thank you for naming these precious values that hold us all through this time.

  4. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – this was a fascinating read … I remember going off to school as a 6 or 5 year old, early 1950s, with my own mug, my younger brother too – perhaps the 3rd of us had arrived and Mum was busy with him, the house etc … we used to travel by bus – under the bus driver’s control I guess. Perhaps also my father’s next brother up had suggested that we’d be ok. But you’ve given us a really interesting look at your family’s experience … also giving a very evocative account of how the family came through. It certainly brought that aspect of your family life into the open for us to understand a little more. Great comments too … thank you for this and your readers. Your PM is standing out and doing the very best for her country and its occupants. Stay safe … and all the best – Hilary

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Hilary; it’s interesting to hear your experience. Yes, we are so fortunate with our PM.

  5. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – I meant to add in the bit about the back-history … really informative knowing about it … thanks for that. Take care – H

  6. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – what an interesting memory – both your family’s experience and the history … thank you. For some reason my brother and I were sent to school with our own mugs … not sure about lunch/packed lunch early 50s … (maybe the arrival of my other brother) but I so enjoyed the learning about the earlier outbreak. Interesting memoir and history … and yes aren’t people doing wonders for us – medics and all essential workers … take care – I thought I’d posted already – so will check back in … all the best: your country seems to be being very organised and sensible about this – apart from having the best communicator – Hilary


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