Penny Slack is the 81 year old mother of David, Tim and Belinda and grandmother of Jaime, Jessica, Mary Margaret, Ariella and Mili. Through the busy years she had never shared the stories of her life. Recently Mary Margaret began writing letters to her grandmother. In Penny's replies, the idea for these stories began to take shape.
These school holidays were different. Instead of travelling home, from New Plymouth, by bus, I flew on a DC3. It was 1952 and the early days of NAC. My very first flight. What a thrill. I felt myself to be a pioneering aviatrix and took a personal pride in our safe landing at Milson.
Little did I know that within a few moments of landing I would be brought down to earth by a remark that would cripple my sense of well-being for many years to come. My parents had welcomed me enthusiastically. We were walking to the car park, when my unthinking father, from slightly behind, announced in a loud voice “Penny's legs are very hairy.”
I had never been aware of it. My legs were my legs and they worked perfectly well for me. The hairs were there alright but I was unaware of them being of any concern. Suddenly I realised that in the eyes of my father, and therefore of anyone with eyes to see, hairy legs were unsightly.
For many years, my conscientious efforts to keep my legs covered required considerable forethought. Stockings at all times, or long trousers. There was a time when I discovered Cyclax depilatory wax in a small pot. Such an effort, an all day long operation, heating and reheating that little pot to cover an extensive area of leg.
It wasn't until I was in my thirties that leg waxing became a service provided by beauticians. Oh joy. Ever since that day, I have presented my legs every six weeks, then come out so smooth that I can't stop rubbing my legs together. I am stockingless, wear shorts and even happily swim. At last, released from the image of a hairy-legged weta, I am a bud unfurled.
Recently I arrived for my appointment and expressed surprise at seeing the vicar from our church in the waiting room. “Oh no,” said the receptionist, “We wax more young men in here than eighty-year-old women.”
Gabrielle retired last year and now has time to write stories and memoirs for her children and grandchildren, something she has wanted to do for years.
I have loved lots of people over my lifetime. I could say I especially love my children. They were born three years apart, a girl then a boy.
When they were four and one, I thought what a perfect age this was. I felt I would like to capture this time and hold it forever but the following year I also thought this was the perfect age and how could it be any better. I felt like this all through their growing up. Each age seemed such a perfect time.
I was immensely happy bringing up my two children, feeling loved and loving. When they got to be teenagers it wasn’t so easy. My daughter rebelled against her father and he reacted badly to this. My son became monosyllabic as teenage boys often do. They were coming out of their childhood years, seeing flaws in their parents that weren’t visible when they were small.
Two years before my daughter was born I went into labour early and delivered twins at 27 weeks. There was no ultrasound scanning in those days so I only learned that I was carrying them one week before they were born.
One baby, a boy whom we called Adrian, lived only a few hours. The other a little girl, Suzanna, lived for six weeks. She was such an active little baby lying in an incubator with an unruly mop of black hair on her tiny head. I expressed milk with a hand pump and took it into the hospital every day. When she died a doctor said,
“What are you moaning about, you’ll have another one in nine months.”
But the paediatrician said to me, “You were meant to be a mother. I have never seen anyone with so much milk when their baby was born so early”.
Though my heart was breaking I held onto those words like a woman drowning as I poured the last bottles of my milk down the sink.
Pauline wants to get her story out with all its ramifications, as a form of healing and to enlighten her children. She is an avid reader and believes in the power of the written word to bring some form of justice or relief when other avenues have failed.
‘Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart’ A.A. Milne
I am sure there are plenty of women who have some guy permanently etched in their memory and in their heart. In other words the one who could have been. My Shakespearean love was a co-pilot for Air New Zealand who was striving to become a Captain behind the kaleidoscopic controls of the DC10.
We met whilst on a layover in a Wellington crew room where the attraction, for him, was like a thunderbolt possibly fuelled by the large brandy he was nursing. His first words were staccato questions, ‘Who are you? What is your name?’ And more tellingly “Where were you seven years ago?” This last question suggested he was married-albeit not happily? How clichéd, I thought as I dutifully ignored his attentions.
Fate however had other ideas and consistently rostered us on the same flights until I succumbed to his charms and realised this was destined to be more than a passing fling. He was self-opininated, funny, short of statue and wonderfully attractive. My heart and breathing bellyflopped with every encounter.
We would swap rosters to pursue our wondrous physical and emotional attraction throwing caution to the wind whilst aware we might be discovered. On several memorable occasions free drinks and bottles of champagne were sent over from neighbouring diners in our favourite restaurants. Such largesse was due to our very obvious circle of love which we made no effort to hide.
On reflection I should have listened to my heart and ignored my conscience, instead of terminating our love affair. To my great sorrow, I heard he died prematurely as a result of exposure to Agent Orange whilst flying in Vietnam.
Wisdom is easily attained in hindsight. I realise that I love him now as I did then.
Susie is nearing retirement and she feels that after journaling for many years she’s starting to see the bright spots in her past. She is keen to find these pockets of joy that are emerging through the clouds, and to savour the remembering.
They say it’s the dash in between the dates of birth and death that matters but it’s hard to squeeze all the happenings, good and bad, into the story of my life. Some things, the dark things, the mistakes and the disasters stand out loudly, shouting to be noticed. But I am purposefully choosing to ignore them.
I have to focus hard to capture the rare moments of light in an otherwise muddied picture, to see which colours they are; soft pink, brown and white, the colours of our eiderdowns. My sister and I used to enter a world of make-believe in bed at night-time when we would play game shows. Selwyn Toogood was a favourite, “The money or the bag?’” we would shout excitedly, and the Jack Maybury Show when we would clap loudly pretending we knew the answers. Dad would hear us and come in with frowning eyebrows to tell us to ‘get to sleep, or else.’
When the neighbours, Mr and Mrs McBride, got the first tv in the street we were so envious. I could barely understand their broad Scottish accents, but I knew when they said I could watch Mr Ed the Talking Horse. I came home one evening to say I’d watched ‘the witheringnoos’ and it took Dad ages to work out. It was the weather and news. I distinctly remember that moment because Dad laughed out loud which was unusual for my quiet, serious father. It made me feel warm and soft inside.
Julia would like to share her life stories with her six grandchildren. She was raised in Wellington and, as an adult, lived in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and the United States. She is a counsellor and has also been involved in the re-settlement of refugees in New Zealand.
We lived in a big, draughty house belonging to my grandfather. The bedroom I shared with my two cousins was a happy place until I became very ill with double pneumonia. I was six years old. My cousins were moved to another bedroom, crammed in with other family members and I lay in the darkened, lonely room listening to the hushed voices from the hallway outside my closed bedroom door, worn curtains drawn.
My temperature raged day after day as I lay in bed, covers tucked firmly under my chin by the loving hands of my worried mother. As delirium enveloped me, feeling scared I saw the walls swaying back and forth and the ceiling descending upon me. I felt alone and isolated from the large extended family.
One day during that time my brother, Jimmy, who was three years older than me, had been invited to a birthday party at the house next door. Birthday parties were a rare event for us. He arrived home with a balloon filled with air and played exuberantly with it in the hall right outside my bedroom door. Eventually, he undid the tightly tied knot and slowly squeezed the air out to deflate it. As I listened to the shrill screeching sound, I heard my mother yelling at him, “Stop it, and be quiet. She’s dying.”
The weeks passed, and in time my temperature stabilised and I slowly recovered. Finally my cousins were restored to the bedroom and life went on at 4 HIropi St.
Jean is transitioning from her academic career as senior lecturer, researcher and journal editor to take up the challenge of creative writing. She hopes eventually to make a leap from memoir to short stories of dystopian visions in the science fiction genre.
I felt so much love for my mother, but standing there seeing her like this she was not my mother. She was dying, they told me, and I was to kiss her goodbye. They insisted and so despite my reluctance I shut my eyes and kissed her. I had just turned fourteen.
It happened like this. I was late home from a detention after school. It was always a mission getting home, and this had meant another hour added on. My older brother had found my mother instead of me, and called for help. It seemed so sudden, even though a few months earlier my mother had told me the doctors had given her six months. She had lived for two years.
In the kitchen fridge on that day she had left behind evidence of her creativity and care. A new dessert recipe – a row of gingernut biscuits jammed together with whipped cream and put into the freezer compartment. What had happened between that loving act and her slipping into unconsciousness?
But she hadn’t looked like my mother. It’s still a blur and I can’t remember exactly why I recoiled — it was just not my mother lying there. Over the following days her body remained in her bedroom and I was able to sit beside her. She was loved by the community and it was a mark of respect for her to remain at home in an open casket.
After she had gone, I would go into her room at night before bed and smell her pillow. Her scent was reassuring and triggered a sense of her that I could hold onto. There in that womb like pink bedroom with the curtains drawn to the closing of the light.
Kacie is an acting coach, wife and mother. She’s written fantasy and erotic horror. Finally, she’s gathered the courage to write about her own life.
She entered a room like a ship with sails full, her cigarette holder balanced between two fingers, eyes fluttering, smoke torn voice announcing her entrance. Her arms would sweep through the air dramatically as she feigned deep delight and excitement at the sight of all who were gathered there. She flirted with the men. She flirted with the room. Most of all, she flirted with life. There was no obstacle that couldn’t be overcome with charm and coquettish swing.
When she was ravaged with cancer and terrified, sitting on the stainless steel exam table, the minute the doctor came in the room it started — the batting eyelids, the pointing toes, the Southern Charm. It worked. Her doctor slid into his role of the gentleman savior, patting her shoulder, assuring her in soothing tones that she had time left. One year. Maybe one and a half. This seemed to appease her. Superficially. But I could smell the terror that screeched inside of her, as much as she tried to magic it away.
I think she knew the one thing she couldn’t charm was death.
I don’t know what made her give up the fight. One minute she was towing the line, not smoking the cigarettes that had ravaged her lungs, not drinking the booze that had destroyed her liver. She was gentle and kind, humble and loving in a startlingly new way. The next thing I knew she had suddenly given up. The smoking and drinking were back, as if she’d decided, ‘What the fuck does it matter?’
This was the worst time. The fangs came out then. This is when she would throw deep, wounding words like spears. Once her attack referenced a time when we were living in Puerto Rico. I was five years old and half dead from an infection. ‘That time in San Juan, when you were so damned sick...’ she said, ‘ You were such a pain in the ass!’ And a poison spear struck the five-year-old girl inside of me.
I hope she didn’t mean it. I hope she was just horrified and full of guilt. I’ll never know. The worst thing about death is that it keeps its secrets forever.
Please submit your story via the Contact page and it will receive a gentle edit from Deborah.