Listening Through Closed Doors


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I’m sure many of your parents, like mine, told you that no good comes of listening to conversations not meant for your ears. But when you’re a bored teenager sometimes listening to an adult conversation can be quite revealing. How else were we to learn about life?

On one occasion my parents’ saying proved to be wrong and what I heard became a turning point in my life. The conversation unfolded between my father and a woman who often visited us, the very woman written about yesterday with the silver grey hair and the pink volkswagen car.

Said woman disapproved of the freedom I was given since I had started competitive swimming. She’d apparently seen me biking home from training with some boys.

‘You give that girl too much freedom,’ she said. ‘She’ll end up getting herself into trouble.’

Now I was at an age where girls getting into trouble meant only one thing, they found themselves pregnant. I was about to burst through the door in protest, but my father’s reply stopped me. His answer was simple.

‘We trust her,’ he said.

They were such powerful words and even though he never said as much to me personally he didn’t need to. His trust always came to mind when I found myself getting involved in teenage shenanigans.

So, conversations listened on through closed doors are not always a bad thing.


Budget Honeymoon 1971 Style

8 May, 1971, my husband and I were married and remain so now, 42 years later.

Our honeymoon budget was almost non-existent. A few months earlier we’d moved to new jobs in Rotorua, one of New Zealand’s major tourist and thermal regions and hadn’t yet had time to explore the region. We spent our first two honeymoon nights in a small town close to where we were married, checking out the local sights during the day. On Monday morning we returned to pick up our wedding gifts before driving north to our small Rotorua home. We chose to become tourists in our recently adopted town, at the same time saving money on accommodation.

While scrummaging around in a drawer of containing an assortment of bits and pieces recently I came across an old, long forgotten piece of paper – a docket from the first two night of our honeymoon.


The nightly tariff was NZ$11.50, making the two nights accommodation NZ$23 and a meal for two people in the licenced restaurant cost NZ$8.05, bringing the total cost of our stay to NZ$32.05. To help you understand these figures NZ$32.05 currently converts to US$26.86.

The Avenue, modernised over time, is now the Avenue Hotel. In comparison to the cost of our 1971 stay, the nightly tariff now ranges between NZ$100 – $450. Our meal in 1971, probably steak and including wine, seemed expensive in those days, but it was our honeymoon after all. In comparison, last night four of us ate and drank at an affordable local Cambodian restaurant, the bill coming to NZ$117.

I struggle to imagine what I could purchase for NZ$11.50 today – a glass of better wine at a restaurant, coffee and a tiny light lunch at a café, or maybe a take away meal for one to be eaten at home.

Times change, but to be fair, so do incomes earned. If I could remember what each of us earned back in 1971 I could make a more meaningful comparison of the cost of the first two nights of our honeymoon.

The trip down memory lane has provided us with smiles all these years later. We now live back in the city where we were married, so perhaps we should extend the reminiscing to spending a night back at the Avenue Hotel sometime soon.

4 May 1907 – Remembering My Father on His Birthday

Today is 4 May and the day for me to remember my Father’s birthday. As I reflect on the man I called Dad and the stories he used to tell about his childhood, I realise there are many things, important things, I don’t know about him. The most important thing lacking in my knowledge is his birth place. I grew up knowing he spent his childhood in a small New Zealand town called Wairoa, where his father worked as a hotel chef. I’d always assumed that’s where he was born, but now I think this move by his parents came after he was born.

Dad lived in an era so different from the world today. His childhood stories told of making ice-cream by hand, churning it in a vat, enabling he and his brother to earn a penny to go to the movies. He learned to swim by being thrown into the river beside the hotel his family lived in. His story told how the bottom of the river bed contained so much broken glass from the drunken hotel patrons throwing their empty bottles into the water he dare not put his feet down. It really was a matter of sink or swim.

Even adult life differed from the life we lead today. During their courtship my parents went on picnic outings in large groups for many years before getting married. They brought up a family without all the modern technology of today.

Like all little girls, I had a soft spot for my father. I think of him when times are tough. I hope he’ll feel proud at how I lead my life.

I do have regrets though, that I never spoke to my father more about his life. So many questions are left unanswered, little things about everyday things in his life. I thought I knew my father when he was alive, now I realise how little I really understood the important things in his life.

For anyone reading this, don’t leave it too late to find out more about our parents’ lives. Talk to them, ask them questions, encourage them to talk. One day you’ll realise how important your parents past is to understanding who you have become.

If the Wind Changes Your Face will Stay Like That

My parents threw many superstitious sayings at me when I was a child, no doubt to keep me in line. I enjoyed pulling faces, as most kids do still, and my father constantly reminded me, if the wind changes your face will stay like that. I have to admit, I believed him and often found myself stopping mid face contortion and resuming my normal appearance.

Many of these old superstitions are grounded in truth, or have some sort of logical explanation for their existence.  I’ve searched for an answer, but never figured out this wind change one. We lived in a windy town, so wind changes were quite the norm. I tried justifying the possibility of face changes in my childish mind. Maybe the sudden change frightened the face muscles to such an extent they could never return to normal.

I laugh now at the nonsense our parents fed us in the past and even more so remembering how we believed them. I guess they felt if they put fear into us we’d stop our annoying habits. I wonder if parents ever tried convincing in a positive way, if you smile sweetly and the wind changes, your face will stay like that. Somehow I don’t think so.

Did your parents bring you up on superstitious sayings? And, if you believed them, why? I look forward to reading your answers.

The Importance of Preserving Family Stories

“Tell me a story! Tell me about the time when you ……….”

Kids love learning more about their parents, especially the mischief they got into, the adventures they had and the activities made their life different from present day life. Kids like to hear what their parents did at school, how they spent family holidays or what caused them to be grounded for a week. Teenagers like finding out about Dad’s first car, or Mum’s first pair of heels.

Years ago, in the days before TV, storytelling was a regular bedtime activity.  Sometimes this meant sharing a book before bed, but often as not the stories told were oral ones. Parents told stories about their own childhood for kids to enjoy.

My father had a few favourites he recounted regularly, until I became almost as good as telling the stories as he was. Sadly, he restricted his repertoire to a few familiar stories, possibly because I loved them so much I kept asking for them.

I enjoyed the stories explaining the different life my father led as a child. The stories told of everyday events from the early years of the twentieth century. I listened, fascinated at how different my father’s childhood had been from my own, yet containing many familiar elements as well. Now I’m older I appreciate the value of those stories. They tell about my family’s past.

Family stories, told often enough, become a part of family history. They are part of who we are.  They also preserve important information about past family members that could be lost forever if the stories are not told.

Stories as a part of oral family history have been handed down over the centuries, passed on from generation to generation. More people are now making the effort to listen to the stories from the past and write them down. This way they are preserved as a more permanent record, rather than risk disappearing into time.

Writing family stories is becoming a more popular activity, not just recording the family history, but recording the little details of everyday life. These stories are part of our heritage. It’s never too early to start telling your children about your own childhood, comparing it with theirs. Share your highlights and your disappointments. Let them discover how different their lives are today .  Family bonds are strengthened when these moments are shared between parent and child.

If your own parents are still alive be thankful there’s still time to learn about their past.  Talk to them about their childhood and younger lives. Share experiences and feelings with them. Listen carefully for things that give you a better understanding of your parents.

Buy a notebook or journal and make time to write down their anecdotal stories. They don’t have to be in chronological order, or be for anyone’s eyes but your own. They do need to have enough substance for you to recall them in further detail at a later date if you want to.

Family stories are part of everyone’s heritage. Encourage story telling in your family. It will strengthen family relationships.  And, remember, everyone enjoys a story.