Rosemary Barrett is reconstructing a life without formal work, which allows time for gardening, foraging, providing food, conversations and connections. She has found recently through memoir writing, that the family stories that flit through her mind can have a voice and she aspires to be a family historian.
Farm life did not prepare me for being a teen, for understanding the sexual act. My father was quiet and shy. My mother was brought up to be a Victorian daughter and didn’t know about periods, sex or babies until it happened. When this mother of mine sat me down in the garden and told me about ‘periods’, I ran away. Somehow I had got to thirteen on a farm, surrounded by sex, my menstruating mother, pregnant cats, pigs and cows without hearing a thing about periods. And that they would go on for years and years, disgusting! I guess mum wanted to tell me before someone else at secondary school told me. My best friend had hers but mine didn’t start for years and I thought I was a freak. Agony. I actually longed for it to come.
Bras and breasts didn’t appear either. They had no place on my lean body. When the bra did, it wasn’t a normal bra and didn’t look the same as the others. I didn’t need bras, still don’t but changing for physical education in a singlet was not cool. And falsies – was I the only one wearing them, push your finger in and the dent stayed.
I was quite wild actually. My horse was my ally and my legs were strong. I grew up riding bareback. I loved nothing better than being down the farm, on the horse, using the tractor, managing the animals, helping with haymaking, feeding out, working as part of a team, being one of the guys.
School was a trial. I survived by being the clown. I was immature and easily intimidated. We rock’n rolled in the toilets and went to Crusaders at lunchtime. I learned the violin and played badly in the school orchestra. We were all girls of course.
And boys. I just got helpless crushes on them. I was not considered attractive. I could never, never talk about these feelings. They had no words. To have them exposed would invite deep shame. But I did write, about my horse, our holidays, my surroundings, the seasons. I wrote passionately and at length about those things.
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Deborah thanks Rangimarie Kelly and Pikau Digtal for website design and artist Karen Jarvis for her image ‘Writers at the Devonport Library,’ (2023)