Jenny is currently working full time for a global company where her only writing is of a business nature. She is very much enjoying writing purely for pleasure for the first time in a long time.
I don’t remember much about becoming a teenager although apparently other family members viewed this as a notable milestone. I do remember being given facial care products by my mother; perhaps in anticipation of impending adolescent complexion problems.
I started high school at thirteen – a brand new school near my home. I was one of the foundation pupils. For the first time I had to wear a uniform – a great leveller. Given my minimal wardrobe, the uniform was something of a relief. Our headmistress, Miss Spence had a hand in its design. Clearly she was a fan of TV show, The Avengers. That first day I set off in the February heat wearing my blue, green and black plaid woollen uniform and the ‘must-be-worn-at-all-times-outside-school-grounds’ Emma Peel hat. All the girls arrived at school looking like they were about to take part in the Grand National. In winter, black gloves, black stockings, woollen cardigan and blazer were added to our ensembles.
In an attempt to thwart the obnoxious male students who stood under the stairs in an effort to look up our skirts, we wore strange undergarments known as ‘witches britches’ which had to be regulation navy blue, black or green and reached almost to our knees. Being something of a rebel, I wore pale blue witches britches with black lace.
I do remember the selection of courses on offer was not vast in 1968. I had wanted to study technical drawing with thoughts of architecture in my future. I was told the class was full. All the places were given to boys. I had to study Latin instead. Oddly, neither thirteen-year-old me, nor my parents, thought to question this decision. How times have changed.
I was born by Dot Wynn
Dot is an American ex-pat who currently lives in Auckland New Zealand, with her husband and two young children.
I was born during a snowstorm, so my dad liked to remind me, when frustrated with my teenage behavior. “I could have been killed driving back and forth in the snow to visit you. This is how you repay me?”
My parents fled Vietnam on April 30, 1975, known as the Fall of Saigon. After being shuffled around the Pacific, they were eventually resettled in the state of Pennsylvania, located in the Northeast region of the United States, where the winters could be frigid and snowy, a far contrast from the tropical country they had left behind.
Few details were shared with me about the past. Not about Vietnam. Not about their escape from the communists. Do not ask. Do not talk about it. That was the way things were. So when my dad offered the detail of the snowy weather, I latched on to it.
What concrete information I have about my birth is contained in a pale blue five by four inch Child Health Book issued by the hospital in which I was born. The inside pages contained blank charts for the usual child health records: name, date of birth, allergies, medical conditions, vaccinations schedule, growth, family history, and developmental milestones. I was born on the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbour. At 5 pounds and 9 ounces, my low weight was probably not a concern considering my petite mother did not even clear five feet. The immunizations were completed. The growth records started off with regular frequency, but stopped after a year. Family history was left blank. Developmental milestones, ‘jabber, say Mama and Dada, ride a tricycle’ were left blank. How were language and cultural barriers handled back then?
The book that was meant to provide information about my early years raised more questions than answers. So many blank pages with no explanations. It was as if the book was saying, Do not ask. Do not talk about it.
I have worked as a waiter, a hippie lost in Europe, a chicken farmer in the Negev Desert and a short-order cook at Dicky Chicky in Dizengoff Street Tel Aviv. I studied Philosophy and Theatre at the University of Tel Aviv. In Hebrew and spectacularly unsuccessfully. In South Africa I became a fitter and turner in a Dickensian steel factory. As a salve to my conscience I taught English at the Institute of Race Relations. I became a game ranger in the Okavango and finally found a home in advertising leading some big international agencies and some smaller ones too. My role has always involved writing and thinking, often in that order.
Our fine-polished maple dining room table bore witness to many of the great conflagrations of my family’s life.
My father, a man of severe habit, would insist on an unrelenting unforgiving routine. Dinner at 7. The meals predetermined by what day it was. Chicken and rice on Monday, fish and chips on Tuesday.
Silence was the key to peace.
We would gauge my father’s anger by how white the tip of his nose would become. And I, the persistent object of his disaffection would always stand ready to scarper at the very first scrape of his chair as he pushed it back.
I would find a place to hide. More often than not, in our backyard.
For there I would be able to sit with Tim and Minnie, the gardener and family maid, as they ate their sparse meal of dzadza with a tomato and onion gravy that they shared. Sometimes, as a special treat they would have Mopani worms in the gravy. On those days I ate carefully.
On summer nights they’d bring out the little wind-up Decca they had saved for, and we’d listen to the music of the townships.
It was a place of great sanctuary.
Tram by Jessie Jellick
Jessie was born in 1970s Northland and grew up in its underbelly. After many years of searching she has found her home and sanctuary in the natural beauty of West Auckland with her partner and her friends who are deliciously warm, thriving, artistic, gentle and kind. After becoming a parent her childhood desire to write her story was reignited.
Sitting atop the old tram I hugged my knees and wondered what I had done. The tears flowed steadily and I felt the full force of hurt and confusion. The tram was a secret place I liked to go, although it was beside the gravel road hardly any cars came by. My Dad acquired the tram from god only knows where. It was a huge beast of a thing, rusted inside and out, a shell of its former self. What I loved were the metal rungs clinging to the outside of it which led me up onto the roof. Here I would sit to think and to dream as I looked towards the little grassy hill and the bush to its side where I sometimes played.
For now the tram was my refuge. I did not want to be found.
Suddenly my step-mother appeared at the bottom of the steps, “Get inside right now, how dare you humiliate me by leaving me in there with your friend,” she seethed. I followed her orders reluctantly, bewildered. I was the one who had been broken and who was now being forced back to my friend. I was the one whose face was blotchy and red from crying. I was the one she had taken the garden hose to and hit repeatedly for no reason that I could understand.
Janet has always loved the power of words, as a reader and a writer. She is very interested in both the spaces we create between ourselves and others when we relate, and the capacity to heal and understand ourselves, and other, through telling and sharing our stories.
I made my way through my teenage years with all senses attuned to possible avenues of escape. I was biding time, keenly focussed on the alluring prize of Freedom just ahead.
On a Friday night and over the weekends, I’d slather on gold eye-shadow and dark brown lippy and head off to my part-time job at the local dairy. If I wasn’t going to be allowed out to linger with others girls in doorways of down-town shops, I’d go ‘out’ to work. It was great to earn pocket money, all my own, and magnificent to be somewhere else, entertained by humanity at large, as it was. The steady stream of people coming in and out of the shop provided a diversion from the restrictions of my family life.
Amongst the regular customers were: rugby boys cooly ordering double malted thick shakes laced with raw eggs; kids, racing to the door on foot or zooming up on their bikes to halt in awe before the bright array of lollies; grannies calling by for ice cream sundaes and the odd can of sardines; blokes buying bait, on their way to catch the big one. On hot weekend days, whole families out driving would roll in, and ice-cream after ice-cream would roll off my wrist.
One morning, my boss, a large amiable fellow related to us by marriage, several times over, arrived looking rather awry. He had been out partying with mates the night before. As the day stretched he re-told his story many times over. He’d been driving in from the ‘Cuttings’, coming up along the ridge, when all of a sudden there was a circle of very bright lights above, like no plane, like nothing else they could fathom…. Whatever It Was, hovered and circled as if checking them out.
Michael was of a wide-eyed Irish variety, yet I’d never before seen his eyes so dilated for so much of the day. This was the UFO day. It intrigued me the way a story could grow so in magnitude and effect over a day’s proceedings. My family were Presbyterian on both sides, we played things down. This passionate way of sharing a tale was almost as fascinating as the story itself. Michael and his mates really did believe they had seen a UFO. Wow!
What a big and fascinating world, just beyond the garden hedge. I fancy I contemplated my small life that evening, staring out at the starry skies above, yearning even more to be Free.
The Road Chosen by Rachael Breckon
After nearly a decade as a pen for hire, Rachael is trying to rediscover and empower her creative voice.
It was that easy.
A small wait in line. A quick conversation. Just like that I was a student, Victoria University enrolled in a BA. Gone was the LLB.
For the previous three years, I had put in a half-assed effort in an attempt at passive failure, which is much harder than you’d expect.
But, after Grandpa died, I removed myself, actively.
It wasn’t until he was gone, that I realised I’d been avoiding seeing the disappointment in his eyes.
Escaping his abusive father and the poverty of his Northland up-bringing, he trained as a bomber pilot in Canada during the Second World War. The opportunity sweetened by the government’s promise that veterans could access a university education.
Divorced and grounded he returned to discover a degree was no longer on the table. His working life was spent as a carpenter and groundsman. His evenings and weekends spent in the workshop inventing.
Validation came, the day his eldest grandchild, his wee lassie, left for Law School.
Kicked to the Kerb by Gloria Neale
Gloria Michelle Price lived her first eighteen years in the same house in Glen Innes, Auckland. At eighteen she left for Otago University. Her life since has been one of education and educating, travel and family. She has a word addiction and this is therapy.
Look left, look right and look left again. I stepped off the kerb. Simultaneously, a neighbourhood boy sped past with a bottle of cream on his new Raleigh bicycle. Myself, the bike and boy collided. The cream formed rivulets on the road mixed with swirls of raspberry red blood. The glass had sliced deeply into my face. I next remember lying chilled at the hospital while waiting to be examined. I awoke in a ship: my hospital bed. My broken leg rose before me like a white mast. I remember Dad coming in regularly over the next few months with Donald Duck comics and creaming soda milkshakes. A stitched mouth needed straws. After a time I left Auckland hospital ....only to return.
Mum and Dad were going out together, a rare social occasion. They were inside our State house getting ready. Their three young children sat in the front seat of the 1949 Chevy. John looked at Graham, Graham looked at John who looked at me before releasing the hand brake. They jumped out either door. I was left smiling in the middle. Down the driveway the car rolled, bounced over the kerb and merrily crossed the road before jolting to a stop at the brick wall of the Lindergreens' house. My memory goes blank there.
My childhood was a tension between my father, who welcomed the vagaries of life, my mother who assiduously avoided them and my brothers who relished daredevil escapades such as parachuting off the roof, lighting fires under the house and staking a cousin to the clothesline. They had seen this in cowboy movies, Dad's favourite genre. Mum's nervous breakdown was inevitable, she was so desolate.
Now came the summer of my discontent. My eight year old self is standing in T shirt and shorts on the same concrete kerb. My mother has stepped over that kerb and into a waiting taxi: a vehicle which signified trouble in the 1950s. She turns to me. No words pass our lips, no hug embraces our bodies. The driver releases the handbrake and the taxi pulls away. I am frozen. My mother did not return.
Evita immigrated to New Zealand from Germany with her parents when she was twelve. She married a Pakistani politician and spent twelve turbulent years in Pakistan, some of them working for a UN Peace Mission. Later, in 1997, she relocated to New Zealand with her two daughters. Evita teaches language, literacy and communication skills to people from diverse backgrounds. She’s now ready to write for herself, her children and whoever wants to read what she writes.
By the completion of my teenage years, I’d come full circle and found myself back in the country I’d started from when I was twelve. I was married, had a baby daughter and wondered how everything had happened so quickly.
My childhood had ended abruptly at twelve when my parents and I boarded a Lufthansa flight to New Zealand to start a new life as immigrants. We’d been told by my uncle in Germany that we were insane to immigrate to such a primitive backward country and that the inhabitants of New Zealand still lived in huts and wore grass skirts. I had conjured up fearful images of life in New Zealand on the long journey and was relieved upon our arrival that this, at least, was not true.
Still, it was challenging to the core for a young girl to find herself at an intermediate school in Otara. I’d left behind a childhood among snowcapped mountains, attending an exclusive private Catholic girl’s school where we learned ballet and gymnastics. I’d never encountered softball, nor had I encountered filled rolls with chips but I met a lifetime friend, Hake from Nuie. We were both outsiders. I was shy and timid and she protected me.
I had some English but not much and had to learn, quickly so I could help my parents with everything from shopping and banking to job applications, while adapting to a vastly different school system. There were boys and discrimination to contend with as well. ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Kraut’ were daily greetings. I felt like the foreigner I was and the name I carried ‘Fromter’ derived from the German ‘Fremder’ foreigner or stranger. I retreated even further into the shyness and solitude that had plagued me for as long as I could remember.
Those teenage years in New Zealand were transformational. Towards the end of that time I’d met my husband at university and soon thereafter boarded another Lufthansa flight to an uncertain future. Married and pregnant at eighteen, my teenage years were drawing to a close. By then I felt at home here and knew deep in my heart and soul that one day I’d come home for good. New Zealand had become my spiritual home.
Dianne works in the film industry in Auckland and decided to challenge herself in the area of writing.
Excited and nervous, we were finally going to be meeting our teenage heroes. I was fifteen, and was going with my best friends Jane and Sharon to see our favourite band The Fourmyula. The Fan Club, which we belonged to, had organized a photo opportunity after the gig. We were proud they came from our hometown Upper Hutt and some had even attended the same college.
Self-conscious and awkward, we awaited our turn, me in my best floral puffy-sleeved dress. Pretty older girls lined up in front of us and were flirting with the band. Our favourite band member was the baby-faced bass player Ali. Our turn came and flash, it was all over. The photo showed us looking a bit shy and startled.
Years later, the band reformed to play a gig in Auckland. Jane was also living in Auckland, so I asked her if she wanted to go and re-live our youth. She was keen.
On the night, there was the band, a bunch of middle-aged men playing to a middle-aged audience. It didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. The songs were still great, and Ali even managed to still look a little baby-faced.
Jane suggested we re-create our photo with Ali. At the end of the gig we rushed up and asked him for a photo re-creation. He seemed taken aback by our enthusiasm as we bustled him into an appropriate spot and asked someone to take a photo before others claimed his attention.
Flash. It was all over as quickly as that first photo. I think this time he was the one that looked a little startled.
"Poles Apart" by Maria Kazmierow
Maria is a consecutive career chameleon — currently a family lawyer, formerly a history teacher and author of text books. She is a bi-lingual New Zealander of Polish ancestry. The Polish refugee and immigrant past of both her parents motivates her writing memoir.
Predictably, I arrived late, just missing the Waitangi Day public holiday. I was born on a Friday, in St Helens Hospital — a place which no longer exists. It was 1964.
The heat and humidity of the tropical Auckland summer sapped everyone’s energy. Our labour was long. But the joy in being born, a new family after so much loss, awash in tears of joy. So far away from the cold wastelands of Siberia and Communist Poland. We were a family at long last.
I am Maria Katarzyna Kazmierow, always Kasia. Maria after Dad’s mother who died in Siberia in the second World War. Kasia, after his baby sister who perished soon after in his arms at three years, when he was just a boy of primary years. Death took all the women in my father’s family first. Little Kasia was the last.
What’s in a name? Much — sorrow, honouring and love of those lost. Tears are flowing, for the first time as I read what I have just written, words which I have said many times before, for a family I will never know, for my father who named me so.
I was born, and I am me. What’s in a name for young me? Kasia, my childhood name, became “Kashin” like the elephant at the Auckland Zoo, pronunciation mangled at primary school. Because of this I changed my name and was known as Maria at secondary school and from then on. But Maria who? She was Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, or a Hispanic maid in a US sitcom. My name was a cultural crown of thorns, in a country ill equipped to value its beauty.
Being a new mother in a foreign land was not so easy for my mother. It was much more than speaking little English. There was the loss of her mother to cancer at thirteen years after Hitler’s horrors, then immediately replaced by a genuinely evil stepmother in the best Disney tradition. Her heart’s compass was lost, its pole torn away. The signposts for parenting this small bundle of noise and demands, that was me needed to be found.
Mother and baby had to learn what to do, and we were struggling at home. Soon our new family was parted again, as mother and child moved to a Plunket Karitane Hospital without Dad. That hospital was as histories say “for newborn babies who failed to thrive, and to help new mothers cope with their newborn baby”. Just how difficult things were for a new mother who had lost her own so early was not ever said.
Suburban Auckland isolation was never so close as for those silenced in the language asylum of a Polish quarter acre paradise. Fortunately, warm and welcoming neighbours and that “noisy bundle” broke down the seclusion through humorous exchanges and the international language of children and food.
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