Jeanette attended and loved the Summer Life Writing Workshop in January 2011. Since then she has been a member of a Life Writing Group that formed after the course. Jeanette has almost completed the first draft of a memoir of the first nine years of her life.
Every Friday night my mother cooked fish and chips. We were a family of seven so it must have been quite a job. The fish was always snapper, those were the days when a family of modest means could afford to have snapper every week.
Mum coated the fish in batter, a mixture of flour, egg, milk and a pinch of salt, then fried it in dripping in a heavy cast iron frying pan. It came out golden and crisp on the outside, succulent inside. Mum was a good plain cook.
The chips were cooked in dripping too in a round, deep, pot with a long handle and a wire basket that fitted inside the pot to hold the chips as they cooked. The dripping, checked carefully by my mother for any impurities, stayed in the pot from week to week. It fascinated me to watch it melt as it heated and solidify as it cooled.
After a good shake, to get rid of excess fat, the chips came out crisp and golden, a delightful combination of texture and taste, crunchy outside, soft inside. I liked to put the chips on a piece of buttered bread and watch, in anticipation of the treat ahead, as the hot chips melted the butter.
Sometimes on Fridays I cook fish. Rather than batter I dust the fish - terakihi, snapper, blue cod - with seasoned flour, pan-fry it in canola or avocado oil and serve as Mum did, with lemon. Instead of chips I do sauté potatoes or wedges and I always have a side salad, no bread and butter.
It’s probably a healthier meal than my mother’s but as delicious? Not quite.
PS. In spite of cooking in dripping my mother lived well into her 87th year.
Mary's passions are grandchildren, writing, maritime history and cats. In 2012 Mary completed a Master of Creative Writing (Hons) at the Auckland University of Technology and was winner of the 2012 Christine Cole-Catley Short Story Award. Her thesis was a novel, “Salt of Our Blood.” This story was written at a memoir workshop facilitated by Deborah.
I was born to James and Daisy. James was a ball-room dancer who delighted in me standing on his feet as he took me through the steps. The pleasure was all mine. He would lift each foot in turn with mine on top, left then right, holding me carefully so I never fell. We danced to his favourite music, the waltzes of Johann Strauss. Up and down his feet went as the music swelled and swirled around us. It was our private time.
He also liked Marilyn Munroe and Diana Dors. I think because they had large bosoms and were very glamorous. They were his pin-up girls in the basement, where the corncobs dried and the copper boiled.
I didn't like to look too much at the bloodied towels soaking in the concrete tubs next to the copper. The cold darkness held secrets; Mother's, which spoke silently of her stature as a grown female, and the 'disappearing corncobs,' eventually found to be the work of the cats. And, I thought, rats, who lived amongst the nervous spiders in that dank inferno.
There was a male smell of oil, timber and leather. The leather hung ghostily near the shoe last where Dad tap-tapped neatly, carefully, new soles onto my red 'Buy British, it's Best', English shoes.
The oil waited for the car-repair days when with the handbrake on, I had to keep my foot pushing the clutch. Dad's feet stuck out from under the raised bonnet of our silver Triumph Mayflower, which, much to my mortification, the children at school called a soapbox.
Once, I was given a ride to school as my parents went to the shop. They told me to hold two glass milk-bottles. I did, all the way into class. I always did as I was told.
Susie has spent time in reflection and contemplation as she trains to become a Spiritual Director. She has only ever journalled thoughts and tried writing a bit of poetry. This piece was written during a writing exercise at a Memoir workshop facilitated by Deborah.
“The head is too small! Quickly into the hospital.’ My Mother was panicked. What was wrong? I felt responsible somehow, grieved that I had given my Mother those anxious days.
“How can I remember what happened. We were knocked out. You were round the wrong way – a breech birth.” Again a sense of being a nuisance, causing worry when my older sister was needing the care and attention – born with a cleft palate.
Then a blank. No memories only, “You were a bonny baby,” and photos of me - bouncy black curls and deep dark eyes that already held secrets – and fat! As though my wrists had rubber rings around them.
“My, what a beautiful baby,” I heard someone say. At least I think I heard them while I was being pushed in my pram.
Actually the facts were that I was born at Narrow Neck Naval Hospital but none of that mattered.
I remember catching the sound of ‘Robert,’ the name of the boy much wanted after two older sisters and thinking I was meant to be a boy. Maybe I was a crying baby, maybe I slept well? It was never shared. Perhaps I was tucked up content, or perhaps I was restless? I wondered about these things when I had my own children but the memories seemed to have been erased from my Mother’s mind, whether on purpose or not I don’t know. I do know I was spoilt and loved, but I can’t remember the words said. No cooing, mushy words, and I always remember words, usually the hurtful ones, but I long to remember hearing something specific from my Mother, something unsuitably mushy.
“Don’t spoil them,” she would say to me about my gorgeous new babies as I fussed and loved them loudly and longingly. “Don’t look in the mirror so much,” she would say as I became older and looked long and hard into those dark eyes trying to understand who I was and what was I really thinking.
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