The Farm by Janet Pates
For the last couple of years Janet Pates, winner of the National Flash Fiction Day competition in 2012 has been working on her memoir between other writing projects; a children’s novel and various local history articles. She has made a resolution to finish her memoir in the next twelve months.
When I was a year old (1936) my parents took up a 21-year lease on a property in Te Kohanga and built a rudimentary dwelling. It hardly qualified as a farm, being largely gorse covered and milking only fifteen cows. To keep the family Dad worked as a drover, at the same time establishing the farm with hours of backbreaking manual work as was normal in those days.
The property was situated on the side of what I now know as ‘Puke O Tahinga’ the highest point of the hills between Onewhero and Port Waikato. We called it simply, ‘our hill.’ The summit of the hill belonged to the Hira family but we roamed it on foot and on our ponies and likewise, old Jack Hira and other horsemen used our farm as a short cut through to Te Kohanga.
The upper slopes of the hill were bush covered and we commonly explored and picnicked there, especially if we had visitors to entertain. Early on, we were educated about things that were edible and those which were poisonous. Everything edible, we ate, simply because we could.
There were blackberries in season but also less conventional treats like chewing gum, made from the well chewed resin of pine trees - mouth puckering stuff and I wonder now, why we chewed it as it was far from pleasant. The nub at the base of the thistle flower had a nutty taste. In the bush, our favourite treat was the taraire berry, a layer of purple flesh over a large stone. They were an acquired taste, sweet, but resinous.
One year the son of city friends had been unwell and came to holiday on the farm. He was aged, I guess about nine, my sister Doreen and I a little older. Naturally, we took him riding and introduced him to the bush. Ripe taraire berries were not plentiful at the time but in the interests of hospitality we offered him the few we found. He pronounced them utterly disgusting.
Later, we got our revenge when Dad handed him a banana passion fruit from the vine that grew near the cowshed. Dad asked the lad if he knew what it was. He held the elongated, soft and golden fruit in his hand, considered it, squeezed it then said, “Well, it might be a cow’s egg.” Doreen and I fell about laughing with cruel hilarity.
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