Steve Charters grew up in West Auckland. As a young adult he travelled to England to train and work as an actor. On returning to New Zealand he nurtured an early enthusiasm for writing by attending courses run by the Centre for Continuing Education at Auckland University. The following piece was written during a Masterclass in Memoir at the Michael King Writers’ Centre.
Whenever it rained and I couldn’t go outside I’d ask Mum if I could look at the photos. These were kept in an old chocolate box on top of a pile of ‘Plays and Players’ in the wobbly bookcase she’d made at night school woodwork. They were WEA theatre production photos from just after the war, before I was born. It was at the WEA that Mum and Dad had met. She’d seen him leaning on the piano one Saturday afternoon and admired his gleaming white teeth. This surprised me, for Dad’s teeth when I knew them were neither white nor gleaming but yellow with gaps.
Once I’d recovered from my parent’s temerity in having a life that preceded my own I examined the photos more closely. They showed ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘The Children’s Hour’ and other unnamed productions and revues. I was fascinated because not only were Mum and Dad in the photos, but also Aunty Joyce, Uncle Joe and Uncle Hank sitting on sofas and looking surprised in rooms where the walls rose endlessly, at odd angles, with windows that had painted trees outside. This was my first intimation that apart from real life there was a pretend life, a place where you could pretend to be real.
My enthusiasm for pretence persisted and if the rain persisted too I might spend the afternoon in Mum’s wardrobe trying on her shoes, snapping open and shut the brass clasp on her green suede handbag and styling her fox fur. This had sharp teeth that snapped onto its tail and two amber glass eyes bulging with black pupils. The nose was of some black composite material. Her shoes were far too big of course and when I tried to lift them from the floor they fell off so I shuffled them over the Feltex where they snagged in the pile as I emerged from the bedroom lisping ‘Look at me.’
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