Shut the Gate by Maria Zivkovich
Maria lives in Auckland and spent her childhood growing up on a dairy farm in Northland. The farm, bordered by a river, provided a treasure trove of experiences. Maria’s adventures on the farm have shaped many of her memoir accounts.
I can’t remember why my sister and I were down at the cowshed in our school uniforms. Normally we’d be dressed in our rough clothes and of course gumboots. I was sixteen, I know that because I was wearing my Doc Martens. These shoes were my first ever really cool item of clothing. I was dating another student, a year older than me, who was one of the founding members of the Doc Marten group at school.
It was mid-winter and had been raining for days on end. Mum had asked us to close one of the gates on the race to stop the cows escaping onto the driveway and out to the highway. I baulked at this because it meant going through the holding pen which was a quagmire, a slushy, mushy mess that was now one ginormous puddle with cow poo added to the mix.
My sister was (and still is) the strongest of us despite the fact that I am the oldest. Knowing how I felt about my Doc Martens, my sister offered to piggy back me. I literally jumped at the chance. Until that moment we had been dawdling, mucking about. Now suddenly, we were in trouble because the cows were heading our way. I clutched at my sister’s shoulders as she rushed through the puddle, trying to avoid the cow poo. A challenge for sure!
It seemed to happen in slow motion yet was over so quickly. I felt her slip, lose her balance, and with me on her back there was only one way to go. We fell backwards in a spectacular fashion, my sister landing on top of me. There were shrieks of horror. Mud, cow poo and stagnant cold water enveloped us. The cows stood quietly, looking on in bemusement but thankfully had not come through the gate.
Having safely secured the gate, my sister turned around. Seeing me manoeuvring carefully from my spread-eagled position, she doubled over with laughter. She had got off lightly. I got to my knees, carefully, not wanting to skid over again. Tears blinded my eyes.
Mum, hearing the commotion, rushed out to investigate. Seeing me caked in slimy mess and with a look of utter disgust on my face, she cracked up too. Thankfully Mum has always been a quick thinker and a problem solver. Knowing she would have to restore my uniform, woollen winter jumper included she reached for the highwater pressure hose and began spraying me down. The force of water, while painful, worked a treat. I was now a drowned river rat.
To this day my sister and I still laugh about that moment. A ‘shitty situation' turned out to be one of the best childhood bonding moments shared with my super strong and generous sister.
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