Anna has come to writing after successfully raising five children, along with her late husband. She wants to record some of the stories from the people in the family's past, for those coming after them.
Granny was a proper grandmother, being seventy years old when I was born.
Maggie Rogers was born in Wiltshire in 1872 and arrived in New Zealand in 1912 at the age of forty with her husband and four children. Listening to her stories of her childhood taught us grandchildren history at the same time.
To me she was old fashioned, with her white hair pinned back in a knot and Victorian dress, black jacket and skirt with a white blouse, and a black hat with fearsome hat pins — they were big and long — good for self-defence or attack.
Though Granny missed out on the suffragette protests in England she was excited to learn that in New Zealand she could vote. She told me how she walked the four miles of rough road from their farm to Taihape on polling day, by herself.
My grandfather disdained 'colonial politics' and wouldn't vote.
"Which was just as well, because his vote would have cancelled mine."
Granny was a socialist, even though she came from prosperous farming stock. Her father had a bench made at the farm gate for itinerants to rest on. At midday one of the children would be sent to count the number of waiting men and the corresponding number of plates would be put on the family table. The would file in and sit down to share in the food.
Her father took the biblical commandment to 'feed the stranger at your gate' to mean what it said.
I remember her telling us about the little six-year-old boys she saw in Melksham running up and down in a rope factory for twelve hours a day. This was to earn a penny which would be given to their mother so she could buy a loaf of bread for their supper.
Granny also said that when she was a child, she always avoided the kitchen, but happily looked after the younger siblings — there were nine in the family — or willingly helped with farm chores. Fifty years later in New Zealand, her cooking was still mediocre, except for her delicious pancakes, generously sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar. She had fond childhood memories of the pancake races on Shrove Tuesday, the day before fasting on Ash Wednesday.
After her seventieth birthday, Granny said she was now living on borrowed time because the Bible allotted you three score years and ten.
She had borrowed nineteen more years by the time she died, aged 89.
Alison is excited by the wealth of stories that have been uncovered in her memory whilst attending Deborah’s most recent summer life writing course. She hopes to make creative writing in memoir or observer style part of her semi-retirement – if she can stop working.
The picture itself is so faded now that only I know what it really holds within its narrow pale pink frame.
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.
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