Home is where the heart is – Charles and Doris

By Jeanette Bonnici Edited by Jake Watson

It was in the year of 1952 that Doris and Charles first laid eyes on each other. After months of watching her older sister Polly be taken out by a young man, Doris began to wonder what it would be like to have a boyfriend that she would be able to call her own.

Doris and Charles

Doris and Charles

Given the closeness of their relationship, Doris would talk to her sister about boys and one day Polly had a brilliant idea. Albert, the young man that she had been seeing, had a twin brother, and the two would arrange for their siblings to be set up. Albert’s twin brother Charles had never had a girlfriend before and was also interested in meeting a lovely young woman.

It wasn’t long after meeting that Charles and Doris fell in love. “He was very handsome and such a gentleman,” Doris explains. “He would always tell me that I looked beautiful and was very respectful of me and of my family.” Charles’ mother passed away when he was very young and so his grandmother raised him and his twin brother. She was very protective of the boys and did not approve of Doris at first. She did not allow her to come over to their home and so the two would meet up at the park and have picnics together, go for walks, and occasionally have dinner at Doris’ house. After about a year they knew that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

In 1954 at the ages of eighteen and twenty-one they were married. Not earning enough money to buy something of their own, they lived with Doris’ mother until they had saved enough to move into their own home, and not long after, Charles joined the Maltese Army. He would often be sent away for weeks at a time for combat training. The two would write to each other to keep in touch. “Having him away was very hard for me, especially since we were newlyweds. I still have the letters that he wrote to me while he was away and I read them from time to time,” Doris says with a smile on her face. “As the saying goes: ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Our time apart from each other really showed me how dearly I loved him.”
In 1956 Charles and Doris were blessed with their first daughter Carmen and by 1961 became a family of five with second daughter Mary-Rose and third daughter Isabella. “Our daughters were the light of our lives and Charles loved them all so much. He would bring them toys and sweets from his trips away with the army and would play with them and read to them every night. He was a wonderful father”
Through his love of military training, Charles began to feel a desire to join the Maltese police force. After leaving the army and undergoing more training, Charles was unfortunately not successful in his efforts to be recruited into the police force and so was left without a job. “I worried about Charles after that. I knew that he was disappointed in himself and he told me that he felt as though he let our family down,” Doris tells with sadness.

In the next few weeks Doris and Charles began to plan their move to Australia. They had heard that it was a place of great opportunity for young and growing families, and Doris had cousins that had moved there, so they would have somewhere to stay while they settled in. Charles felt like it would be a new beginning for him. “I was terrified moving so far away from my mother and my sister, all of my friends and everything that I had ever known. I was so worried about not being able to speak English very well and so was Charles. But I had him and he had me and that’s all that we ever needed,” Doris remembers, smiling to herself.

The next few years in Australia were restless, with Doris being homesick and wanting to go back to Malta and Charles wanting to stay in Australia, where he had finally found a stable job and was feeling like he was beginning to fit in. Their three daughters were also fitting in well at school and were making new friends. “I never really felt settled here in Australia. Even though I knew that Australia was the right choice for us and our children’s’ future, there was always a part of me that hoped we would go back home,” Doris admits. “But we stayed. I stayed for Charles. As long as he was happy to call Australia home, so was I.”

Doris and Jeanette

Doris and Jeanette

Years pass and before they know it their daughters are married and moved out of home. After moving home around six different times Charles and Doris call a place in Altona home for the years to come. It’s just the two of them in their home and they do things that they used to before they were married. They go for walks in the park and beaches near by, go out for lunch and dinner at the local cafes and spend time with their four grandchildren. “It was lovely, we felt young again! Charles even still surprised me with flowers every week from the local shops and even though all those years had gone by, we were still very much in love,” an emotional Doris reminisces.

Over the next few years Charles sadly fell sick with Alzheimer’s disease. His condition worsened over time and the family had to make the tough decision of moving him into a high care nursing home. “It was a very difficult time for me. I didn’t understand what was happening to Charles and being away from him broke my heart each day.

In almost sixty years we never spent a day apart,” Doris explains. In September of 2011, Charles passed away peacefully in the nursing home, surrounded by his family, Doris by his side. “Not a day goes by where I don’t think of my darling,” Doris tells, tears welling in her eyes. “I lost a part of me the day that I lost him. I will always be grateful for the life that we built together and the strength that he gave me to come to Australia.”