Jackie belongs to a writing group formed after Deborah’s life writing course in 2015. She has also attended master classes at the Michael King Writers’ Centre taught by Deborah and was attracted to this latest course by the biographical element. Her memoir is a work in progress as there is still so much to write about and the story of her life is more complex than first imagined. The more she writes the more she discovers to write about.
She was born Minnie Blanch German on January 31, 1881 at Birch near Beer Ferrers, a parish on the western bank of the river Tavy above the confluence with the Tamar, in Devon, the youngest of nine children by her father’s first wife and the fifth girl. Her father had three more sons by his second wife. It was a crowded house.
Wavy red hair, just like mine, turned white as she aged and came into my life.
A tall winnowy figure she endured a sea voyage to New Zealand in 1897 as a sixteen-year-old with her older sister Florrie. “To escape their father’s wandering hands” so I am told. Her face was stern and she had a sharp, pointy nose which has carried on down the generations, but her eyes were kind and she could produce a wry smile.
A strong body was essential as she toiled on the Whakahongi Road farm, now Highway 27, at Tatuanui in the Waikato breaking in the land to become prime dairy country, finishing what her two brothers had started before her. I understand they all changed their name to their mother’s maiden name, Matthews around the time of WWI because of ill feeling.
Grandpa was a bit of a bully with a mean streak, and a hard taskmaster so I don’t think she had an easy life bringing up four children as well as attending to tasks on the farm. She was always beautifully dressed, however with expensive pearls befitting a wealthy farmer’s wife. I suspect she had no money of her own as all expenses were charged to the local general store and then paid each month as the Dairy Company cheque arrived.
When Grandpa died, she splashed out and bought herself a Japanese Noritake tea set decorated with silver and dainty pink roses. The ‘Japanese’ was always emphasised in whispery, reverent tones.
Jackie belongs to a writing group formed after Deborah’s Life Writing course in 2015 and has just completed her Master Class at the Michael King Writers’ centre. This course has enabled her to extend her skills, identify themes and set her on a path to completing her memoir. It has also shown that there is still so much to write about and that the story of her life is more complex than first imagined.
A few months ago, as I was looking through an old biscuit tin of photos, I found a tiny yellowed photograph of my mother taken in about 1921. I’d never seen it before. My mother looks to be about one year old and is sitting on her Great Grandmother, Granny Wolfe’s knee. There are four people in this photo. Nana Westrupp, my mother’s grandmother is beside Great Granny Wolfe. My mother’s Mum, Nana Reed is sitting in front.
Jackie wrote her first novel at twelve. She hasn’t written much since, except essays, diaries and blogs. And a thesis. That was a mission. Now, with lots of gorgeous grandsons, she is venturing into the realm of memoir.
The farm. My Grandmother came here from Devon in 1897 as a sixteen year old. Her two brothers were here already, clearing the land, living in raupo huts. She came with her elder sister Florence, to be their cook.
Waikato land. Dairy farming now. Rich in both senses of the word. Many a school holiday was spent there. The old implement sheds still stand. The dark red paint weathered. The blacksmith’s forge with central fireplace, bellows and anvil. Rusty tools line the walls. The garage on a slight lean, the old Bedford truck long gone. Chook houses, wirenetting sagging, overgrown with weeds. Rusting farm equipment; hayrakers, seed planters, the original John Deere tractor, still stand plaintively under cover, waiting in vain to be used.
A split door leads into the wool shed. Top half. Bottom half, so you can look in and not let the sheep out. The single set of electric shears hangs limp and forlorn, long since passed its use-by date. The smell of greasy sheep and lanolin pervades the building. Noisy machinery comes back to me, the sheep baaing as they were turned on their backs to be shorn. The workers at the bench picking through the fleece, ready for the baler. How could this huge pile of wool be compressed into the size of a regular bale? Surely it will burst at the seams.
Uncle Jim’s workshop. More tools lined up neat and tidy, the smell of oil, tins of nuts and bolts. The door was always locked so it was a treat to be able to peek inside, to photograph it for posterity. Uncle Jim looked on with quiet amusement. Nearly as old as the equipment.
The farm’s been sold now.
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