I was nineteen when I began work at the Auckland Star. I should have been the mature age of twenty, but I lied; I needed the money. It did get a little tricky when I really did turn twenty one.
The job was in the Classified Advertising Department and we sat in little walled off cubicles, separated in the middle by a conveyor belt for our copy, which ran from the back to the front of the room.
My opposite number was Pat, a spry woman in her early forties; youthful in looks and attitude to life. Initially I never called her Pat as that would have seemed a little forward in the ‘60s. It was many years before I could slip with ease into calling her Pat.
How glad I was to have her opposite. Her knowledge, quick wit and erudition kept me entertained during any pauses between calls. What laughs we shared when confronted by strange sounding names, weird and wonderful ads and the occasional car salesman who couldn’t help indulging in innuendo and sometimes downright sleaze. I was a terrible giggler and it didn’t take much to set me off. Dear Pat often had to rescue me from myself, taking the headset from me as I exploded into laughter while trying to disguise it with paroxysm of coughing.
I have known Pat for 48 years and she has been there for me in the more momentous times in my life. My early twenties were difficult; a broken engagement, partial estrangement from family and precarious ill-health. Her friendship enabled me to start viewing different options. She was a staunch but relaxed Catholic who would regale me with wonderful tales about Priests and Nuns she knew or had known. It was part of the air she breathed. I knew something had to change for me and Catholicism was a faith I had long been interested in – Pat was the catalyst. After my conversion I began looking at the possibility of entering a religious congregation. Pat was again my confidante.
Years have passed and many changes have taken place in both our lives. Pat now lives in a rest home and unfortunately has a form of Alzheimer’s.
I was invited to her ninetieth birthday in December 2010. When she saw me her face lit up and she linked her arm with mine, “Oh Suzie, it’s so good to see you”. As I was leaving, she said, “You can always come and stay, there’s plenty of room.”