A moment of doubt by Carol Clayton
Carol is enjoying giving her creative side license to write; this is her second story for Deborah's website.
My legs are freezing. A cold Ohariu Valley morning with white frost spread across the grass like a cloak. The baby is wailing on my lap. I look down at the angelic contorted little face, my hair draping across my eyes. Damn it, I didn’t have time to tie my hair back after my shower.
Jessica, please go to Mummy’s dressing table and find Mummy’s brush and a hair tie - brown or black - it doesn’t matter.
Thankfully that doesn’t matter but everything else seems to matter a lot. How to juggle these two little mites? The shower this morning had been grabbed between everything else. Listening to the baby wailing I pulled on my shapeless red skirt over my wobbly jelly tummy, then the jersey that didn’t go at all, to hell with it. Put some stockings on, you should have grabbed the trousers, stupid woman. No, I can’t stand that wailing any longer the stockings will have to wait. My legs are freezing.
I shout through “Jessica love, can you see any socks there too? You are such a big grown up girl helping Mummy and baby Henry.”
She toddles back with the hairbrush and socks but not the hair tie. Bite your tongue, she is only two and a half, bless her.
Murray breezes in, how dare he be so chirpy.
Cup of tea?
Take the baby first, I need to finish dressing.
How come you are half dressed?
Don’t go there.
Are you okay?
But you are always okay.
Well I am not now.
I burst into tears. A possum in the headlights, he walks over, takes the baby, and then Jessica’s hand. I love that tableau but gladly leave it behind to relish three minutes for me, I might even be able to finish off this cry in peace.
A Special Person by Margaret Merton
Margaret Merton believes that life writing is a powerful way to integrate and discover meaning in your life. As she explores extended Adulthood and Intentional Elderhood this is a tool she needs.
My father. That’s who I want to spend this time with right now, my dear warm, loving father, old enough to be my grandfather, who yet came swimming with my little sister and me in the freezing cold, clear water of Whakamarino, the little man-made lake at Tuai. And who swam with us, when work permitted, in glorious Waikaremoana’s blue-green deep water. The big man who taught me to throw goals with the real leather basketball he would so lovingly oil for me. The man who growled when Gillian and I squabbled, who taught me some Hindustani: the words for ‘Be Quiet’ and ‘Shut the Door.’ Chupurow?
My father, the man, who wrote to my mother in hospital after their first baby’s birth death. ‘My darling, I can’t wait till I have you home safely.’ My dear father who taught me to whistle and for whom I waited, each early evening at the gate, to come striding along the road from work at the power station. My father who in his eighties went shopping for boot laces for his elegant Italian dress boots and was so wryly dismayed to discover they were no longer available.
My darling father who after he had been to his youngest sister’s funeral that bitterly cold June in 1969 announced to me, ‘I have seen the last member of my family into the grave and now it’s my turn.’ Who even in his hospital bed held my hand to warm it on that freezing Christchurch black frost morning, the day before he died. Thank you Dad.
The Moment When I Grew Up by Tim Paul
Tim has degrees in Law, Commerce and his favourite - a B.A. in French and English Lit. He has practiced Law in Auckland and taught English in both New Zealand and France. He has lived in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin in New Zealand; Park City in the U.S. and St-Junien and Limoges in France. Most recently he has worked at the University Bookshop in Auckland. He is currently completing a post-graduate degree in French and looking to create a book of his own.
It's not hard to recognize the moment when I grew up. Though on reflection, perhaps there are two moments. One I can't remember, though it did happen, and another dependent on the first, which I can.
Let's start with what I can remember.
I am lying in bed asleep in my room in my parents’ house. My brother is in the room next door. I'm sleeping soundly. Feeling warm. A smile on my face. In my bedroom under the red, white and blue ‘70s bedspread with the red bunk on top. In the home where I loved to read, to play games, to have fun with Paddington our Old English sheepdog, swim in the pool and eat the left-overs in the fridge on Sunday mornings, of mum's dessert from Saturday night's dinner party.
And then I wake up. And I'm no longer there in that room. That safe happy place. I'm in another room. One I don't recognize at first. Yet it is my room. And then I remember the result of that other moment. The one I can't recall. I no longer live with mum and dad and my brother and dog in our home. This is where I live now. With my mum and my brother in this new place, this apartment that isn't our home. And I wish I could go back into the dream where I was warm and safe and happy, and things were how they used to be.
An Early Memory by Dawn Webster
Dawn is retired with lots more to do. She is a genealogist, a family storyteller, a mother and a grandmother and a knitter...
I can really only remember back to the time when I was five. In 1934 children went to school when they turned five but in 1935, it was after the Depression and the government of the time needed money for other urgent projects, the school entrance age was raised another year to six. I wasn’t quite five yet and can remember being desperately disappointed.
As a probable diversion my mother tried to teach me to knit. She provided me with a pair of clean meat skewers, the kind that used to hold together roast beef. That was a come down. I wanted real knitting needles. Certainly I expected to be able to knit straight away.
With my mother and auntie we were sitting on the front porch in the sunshine. I remember the smell of the breath of heaven bush as we sat there. The two adults were knitting nicely and I was industriously poking the skewers in and out of the piece of the knitting my mother had started for me. It was to be a scarf, first of all for me but as the afternoon wore on, for a doll. We went inside for afternoon tea. Next day we did knitting again. The scarf seemed to have grown a great deal. Suspicious, I asked my mother how that could have happened. ‘The fairies must have done it,’ said my mother.
I didn’t do any more knitting for years. I didn’t make a scarf for many, many more years after that.
Who Am I? by Jane Leyland
Since she retired Jane has come across more and more stories of her forebears, and now regrets not asking more questions before it was too late. So she has decided to write up some of the stories of her life for her grandchildren, and maybe then she’ll tackle mother’s and her grandmother’s stories.
Who am I? I had expected to write that I was born towards the end of the War, as England was preparing for the invasion and troops were amassing along the South Coast. The Blackout and petrol restrictions were at their height. It was a most inconvenient time to be born.
But that wasn’t what I wrote.
I found myself writing; “‘Ann and Jane. Which one are you?’” I crossed it out and started again. But I wrote the same again, and a third time. “Ann’s the one who talks for both of us. I’m the quiet one, with fuzzy hair”.
So who am I? The doctor’s daughter? The younger sister? I wasn’t the boy my mother longed for, or the brother my sister thought I ought to be. For a while I hoped I was a boy. Boys seemed to have so much more fun, and my sister had told me that families had a mother, a father, a girl and a boy. But then my brother came along. So who was I?
The argumentative one? The rebel? The adventurous one? I didn’t fit my mother’s mould of what a young girl ought to be. Not like my sister. I escaped at the first opportunity and went to a University as far away from home as I could, and as removed from my middle class upbringing as possible. I wanted to see the world, and find out how other people lived.
So looking back now, who am I? A perfectionist and intrepid traveller - but not so intrepid any more. A wife, a mother, a grandmother; a teacher, a manager, and an editor; a gardener and a friend. Yes, all of those, and more.
The Things that weren't said by Sue
Sue recently rediscovered bundles of letters, aerogrammes and postcards that she, her parents and siblings had written to each other over about twenty years. These took the family through French exchanges to New Caledonia, years at Otago University, Mum and Dad at conferences and of course the OEs. They brought back little details of home, the jokes, the everyday happy times and the leaving home.
It’s a dull, low-cloud afternoon in Karori. In the jaded mustard Californian bungalow the little girl in her snug woollen dressing gown has forgotten about the red plastic slide from the toy library. The pram is abandoned on the cheap cotton rug that covers the grim Karitane-yellow carpet.
A dull-hearted me is dreading the dark, the hours from breakfast to lunch through time that loses meaning when you’re numbingly tired. Why the glum? It’s my first ever night of lone parenting, with two lovely (but lovely is irrelevant) little people who rely on me for every jolly thing – nappies, tucking into bed and picking up again when sleep is just a sick joke.
Dad? Hello! Yes, you’re welcome to stay tonight. Come straight up.
A grandfather steps into our home. He hasn’t been to Wellington since Christmas, what a treat. The little elephant he draws on her hand takes me back thirty years. Can I have one too? A bedtime story? “Get Slinky Malinki and hop into bed, Papa will be there in a minute.”
The bruising busyness of careers has sapped my father. We had to share him with so many others. How had I forgotten this side of you, Dad? Have you been there all the time? When did I lose you? Welcome back.
Joan Hugo Burley has lived in Auckland for seven years. She participated in the “First Chapters” life writing programme mentored by Deborah in 2010. Her story was selected for publication in the accompanying collection Translucence: Life Writing from Manukau and Papakura edited by Deborah.
Going to boarding school in England was a very exciting prospect. There were new clothes to buy and we ticked them off the official list: three navy viyella shirts, two white cotton shirts, two navy tunics and so on.
Everything had to be marked and my mother, sister and I sat for hours sewing on embroidered name-tapes, red for my sister and green for me. Finally, the task was done, and two trunks were packed and left by the door, waiting to be taken to the railway station.
My parents dropped us off at school, and suddenly, they were gone. My sister was in the junior school across the road as she was only nine. I was eleven, and old enough for the senior school. We could only see each other on Saturday mornings, after mending our laundry and washing our hair.
I stood by the jungle gym, watching the other girls go past. Most of them were older than me, and they seemed very big. I didn’t know a soul, and felt very alone. It was hard not to cry.
Up in the dormitory, there were six iron-framed beds with purple counterpanes. I knew which was mine because my eiderdown and rug lay folded at the foot.
In the next-door bed was another new girl, unpacking her suitcase. She smiled and told me her name was Judy. I showed her some photos of home, and the teddy bear I had brought for company. She shared her sweets with me and asked if I would like to be her friend.
My parents had gone back to Africa. I was on my own now, but I thought if I had a friend everything would be all right.
Father Christmas by Jackie Hawkeswood
Jackie is semi-retired and helps to bring order to decades of collected family information.
At a family gathering we were discussing the end of year school concerts put on by the pupils at the local hall. There was always a huge pine tree brought in (from a farm) and decorated for Christmas wit crepe paper streamers, glass baubles and balloons from under which Santa Claus dispensed his largesse to all the children after the show.
My sister leaned over and said to me, “You realise that Santa was really Dad, don’t you?”
I couldn’t believe it. How could I not have recognized our own father under the red hat and snowy white beard? Why hadn’t anyone ever told me before.
I was shocked.
I was dismayed.
I was fifty-eight.
Please Don't Call Me Son by Max Adams
Max Adams is a semi-retired Valuer from Pukekohe. His interests include landscape photography, conservation, tramping and writing.
Call me Dad…Son.
With these words a rift was created between two humans that was to remain for the next 65 years. After the death of my father in 1945 his family cared for me. This must have been some imposition on them trying to get life going again after the war.
The year before my father’s death, my mother had left, with my sister, for the bright lights of Auckland. After two years of caring for me my father’s family decided that it was time my mother faced her responsibility and took me back. She had married again in 1947 - a young, brash, recently discharged Navy lad called George. He was well meaning and hard working and looking to establish a post-war life.
George was dispatched to collect the small refugee. It was his first words that created the chasm that was to never close. After a silent ten-hour ride to Auckland I was to arrive at the cruel reality of living in a caravan, with strangers, my mother, George and my sister. Young Max’s trauma was exacerbated the next day before starting at his new school, ‘On no account are you to tell anyone that your name is not Adams – or you’ll get a hiding.’
Having effectively had his identity taken away Max was thrown into a vortex from which his relief was withdrawal and behavioural problems. A change of environment to a new school saw him adopt a ‘father figure’ in his teacher, an ex-RAF Wing Commander. Mr Elliott was a caring man who quickly recognised that it was not discipline that was required, but something to increase the confidence of this young lad.
Max was recommended for a gold medal – a traffic warden’s badge, which he wore with pride. The sulky tiger changed into a lamb excelling in the schoolroom and on the sports field.
One thing remained of the past, however. There was still the hidden secret of his identity…
Growing Up Moments by Alison Quesnel
Alison Quesnel, a self confessed workaholic, left the corporate world to review and change her life. A health issue helped her to focus more than she had intended and she is enjoying ticking things off her list of things she always wanted to do. Creative writing is one of them. This story of growing up is one of many she has experienced as an adult and even in her sixties she is expecting more of them.
My French-kiwi husband and I were on our OE travelling in the ubiquitous Kombi Van. The previous morning we had woken on a remote forest road in a quiet white world. Inside, under our duvet that I had brought from Wellington, each breath we had taken had iced up on the inside of the windows and frozen. We agreed it was time to find a Ski Resort and a live-in job.
Non conformists always, we had taken an insignificant road into the mountains avoiding major resorts, stopping in a tiny village square in the middle of nowhere. Marc went into the only large hotel. He returned triumphant. I was to be a femme de chambre and he a plongeur. “What’s a plongeur?” I asked, thinking it might be a diver. We soon found out it was a dishwasher/kitchen-hand.
Madame, La Patronne, thought Marc was terrific and he certainly had a way with her. As for me she clearly assumed I was of low intelligence because I was a colonial and my vocabulary was limited back then. This was hilariously illustrated when she asked me if I knew how to use the vacuum cleaner. I could not find the French words for; ”yes, but not this variety” so I said “No”. There followed an extremely amusing pantomime where she demonstrated to a person of very little brain what a vacuum cleaner was for and precisely how to use it. I remained expressionless.
Some weeks later she took me up to a bedroom to point out the “moutons” (fluff) under the beds that I had not cleaned. I shrugged. Leaving the room she returned with Marc and they both reprimanded me, demonstrating with fantastic pantomime their expectations of me.
I remained serene.
Please submit your story via the Contact page and it will receive a gentle edit from Deborah.