Listening Through Closed Doors

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Image courtesy of https://pixabay.com/

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.

On Being the Middle Child

Apparently yesterday, Sunday 2 April, was middle child day. Living in the southern hemisphere as I do, I’ve only just found out about this. We’re already more than half way through Monday as I write.

However, the whole concept of middle child fascinates me for two reasons, the most obvious one being that I am a middle child. I’ve read so many things about the negative side of being a middle child, especially of feeling left out, but that hasn’t been my case at all. I loved being a middle child. The family position proved very advantageous to me.

You see, while the other two were being doted on by our parents, as middle child I was left to be independent and free. There were plenty of times, especially during my teenage years, when I was grateful for my parents not really knowing what I was up to. And then, if I wanted to curl up with a book on my own, no one actually noticed.

The other reason I was interested to learn about middle child day is related to one of my current writing projects. I’m exploring what life was like for me in the 1950s and 1960s through the eyes of a middle child. The revisiting old memories is proving lots of fun.

So, to all middle children out there, I hope you had a happy day. I’d love to hear about your middle child experiences and whether it was a positive or not-so-positive experience for you.mice-395831_960_720

Making a Start on Writing Your Stories

So many people tell me there life is not worth recording, they’ve never done anything interesting that others may want to read. Of course, I tell them that is absolute nonsense. No one else knows our life as we do. What seems ordinary to us seems fascinating to others. That is why it is important to get your stories written down.

As I go about my research for my latest writing project I’m grateful that people in the past have recorded their everyday stories, so that every day details are not lost. In the future someone may be grateful to you for writing your stories down. Even the smallest details may prove to be informative or interesting to someone in the years to come.

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Time to Remember the Stories of Our Pets

There’s something about growing older, life tends to float by at a more even pace. Not that I haven’t been busy so far this year, but maybe I’ve finally found some balance.

New Year came in with huge bangs in Taupo, where we were minding my sister’s house and dog. The fireworks terrified the poor fellow. However, he settled down and we continued our week with him amidst lots of fun and laughter.

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Here’s Busta pleading, please take me for a walk Aunty Val. We didn’t dare mention that word, w-a-l-k aloud, unless we were ready to put our words into action!

Oh the Smells a Dog Can Smell and the Birds he Can Chase

One of the things I want to do more of this year is write the stories of our pets. After all, their stories deserve to be told just as much as the rest of the family. I know our cat Smooch will agree with that!

Smooch the Cat is Pleased Mum and Dad are Home

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The stories of pets and humans are entwined together don’t you think.

 

1950s Memories of The Esplanade, Palmerston North, NZ

Place names didn’t mean much to me as a child. The Esplanade was a park we went to on family outings at the weekend. We usually walked there from our home a few blocks away.

In recent times I’ve wondered about it’s name, Victoria Esplanade, to discover it was planned to commemorate the 60th jubilee of Queen Victoria in the late 1900s. Something still didn’t seem right. In my mind an esplanade is something you walk along beside the sea. We’re an inland city, no sea in sight, but we do sit beside a river and, yes, the Esplanade gardens and walkway are situated beside the river.

The Esplanade has changed a lot since my childhood, but is still rather a special place in the city. My first memories are of the paddling pool. One warm summer Sunday my mother wheeled my new baby sister in her cane pram, while I pedalled along beside her on my new red trike delivered by Father Christmas. I still remember the delight of being able to splash to my heart’s content for what seemed like all afternoon as my mother sat and watched, chatting to the other mums.

Sometimes we went to listen to the local brass band playing in the rather grand bandstand, an impressive occasion to me as a child. Once the band had finished we were allowed to play in the bandstand, running around and around until we became quite dizzy.

A few years later, while attending the nearby school, our teacher took us to the Esplanade to study the native birds, listening to their bird song and hopefully snatching fleeting glances of the birds in the trees, those brave enough or curious enough to wonder about the mass of children on the path below.

Not long after that much of the luxurious bush was cut and cleared, but a small patch still remains, making the walk along the river path a pleasant one.

Now, more than 115 years later, we can be thankful for the foresight of the early city fathers who, having arrived from England and finding themselves in a landlocked community, may have missed walking along the esplanades of their seaside towns. By creating and naming this riverside space The Esplanade they could recreate some of the memories of home.

 The Esplanade remains a popular place for outings with both young and old.

 

Rainy Day Pleasures of Childhood

The rain falls gently outside and I allow myself to drift back to my 1950s childhood, when even rainy days held lots of fun. We had no television back then, but I never had problems finding something to do, but more a problem of choosing from my favourite wet day indoor activities.

Who remembers pressing their face against the inside of the window on a rainy day, nose all squashed against the glass, watching the raindrops trickle, trickle, trickle at first, then racing each other down the pane? I watched their trail as they slithered downward, never straight, veering slightly this way or that until they merged with another or hit the ledge below.

Colouring books and crayons were essential on a rainy day and even more enjoyable when Mum sat down with me. “Colour a page, Mum,” I’d plead and she’d quietly choose a picture, pick up a crayon and start by neatly outlining the edges, before filling the space evenly as only Mums could.

The box of paper dolls, stored carefully in old cardboard chocolate boxes, often came out on rainy days, whole families of them ready to live their lives as I directed. Then there were jigsaw puzzles, especially good for extended periods of rain. I spread all the pieces out on the floor, turning them over, sorting them into colours and locating the straight pieces of the edges. “Always assemble the edges first,” Dad said, “it makes the rest easier when you’ve got something to work from.”

Another rainy days treat was to get out Dad’s book, ‘The Jolly Boys Book of Boxcraft.’ In it I learned how to make everything from dolls houses to train stations, using a few small boxes and plenty of glue.

Knitting also occupied my time as I grew out of some of the younger activities. I loved watching wool turn into rows, transforming into something recognisable, row by row.

And of course there were books, always books. I’d lose myself in a story and not notice the rain outside had stopped.

I think back now and say, thank heavens we didn’t have TV or electronic game equipment back in the 1950s. I’d have been deprived of so much fun had I been stuck in front of moving images that I couldn’t interact with. Rainy days were never boring, but always fun.

Keeping Warm in the 1950s

Many of you are currently sweltering in the Northern heat, while I look for ways of keeping warm down here in New Zealand. Yesterday, while dressed in three layers and wearing thick socks, I thought about my childhood. Were the winters really as cold then as they appear now? The aging process has possibly increased my awareness  of the cold.

I grew up in an old wooden house with its share of places for the drafts to creep in, but  I don’t remember being cold at home. Maybe during the day we kept warm busy playing vigorously outside. The evenings inside seemed to radiate warmth, unless I’ve forgotten the cold times.

Our home had a large room we called the kitchen, a bit like a modern house with kitchen, dining room and lounge sharing an open space. The cooking happened in the kitchen on a gas stove and oven. Wedged between the stove and the hot water cupboard, a small fire place, a chip heater, burned all day, heating both the water in the adjacent cupboard and the whole room.

I loved chopping the kindling for the kitchen fire once old enough to be trusted to not chop off too many fingers. The tiny fireplace churned its way through firewood, coal and carbonettes and food scraps after meals.

Not only the warmth from the fire that filled those winter evenings. The whole family gathered, talking, reading, playing cards and board games and listening to the big old radio in the corner, creating a room of family warmth. At bedtime we kids trundled off to bed with a hot water bottle, taking the evening’s warmth with us.

The fire died down over night, but by the time we got up in the morning either Mum or Dad had re-lit it, enabling us to eat our breakfast at the big table in warmth.

Snow rarely falls in the part of New Zealand I live in, but we did experience heavy white frosts during winter months, so the nights were cold. Electricity was never used to heat our home in the 50s, so we maintained a good supply of wood and coal.

Your childhood winters no doubt differed from mine, depending on the part of the world you live in and the era of your childhood.

I sit here in the warmth of my home this morning, heated by gas, thinking about the sunshine that will arrive back here in a few months from now.

A Kiss to Make it Better

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Grazed knees and kids used to go together. Childhood should be an active time, a time of exploration and in such an environment kids expect cuts and bruises. They become an inevitable part of growing up.

I remember my childhood days from the 1950s when we wore grazed knees with pride. Sure, becoming brave enough not to cry took practice and the sight of blood made our lips tremble and tears well in our eyes. But we knew where to find the instant cure.

We’d rush inside, wailing about our misfortune, seeking some love and comfort more than any medical attention. Mum would clean our knee, dab it dry with a soft cloth and say, ‘There, now let me kiss it better.’

This involved Mum raising her forefinger to her lips, placing a kiss upon her finger in a display of affection and placing that kiss on our grazed knee, or whatever other part of the body had been injured. Tears were washed from our face and we enjoyed a quick cuddle, before being sent outside to play again.

We weren’t encouraged to dwell on our minor misfortune or the sight of blood. My father made a big thing about the need for blood and he pointed out mine was nice and red, a healthy sign.

I feel sad today when I watch kids turning small grazes into major catastrophes. We live in a plaster or band-aid world. At the mere pinprick of blood many kids fall apart at the seams and limp off to get the attention they crave. A huge manufacturing industry has developed, producing colourful kid like plasters to protect the tiny cut or injury. Having received the demanded plaster, many kids continue with a huge attention seeking display, acting like a wounded soldier, showing off their covered injury, no matter how small it may be.

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Kids are resilient and bounce back. They don’t need mollycoddling. Scratches, small cuts and grazes heal quickly with the wound being cleaned, a quick dose of parental love and lots of fresh air.

I’m so glad I grew up in a home with minimal items in the first aid cabinet. Expectations were different. A quick clean up, a cuddle and a kiss to make it better were usually all we needed.

A few Beers Shared with a Circus Star

In the 1950s my Dad liked to stop off at one of the local pubs for a beer on his way home from work. Pubs closed at 6 o’clock in those days, so there wasn’t any problem of having too much to drink or coming home too late for dinner. What he did at the pub didn’t interest me, until he came home filled with the story of having a beer with one of the circus stars.

The circus train trundled into town once a year, bringing with it all the excitement of the big top. The train ran through the centre town, arriving late afternoon. And it always stopped a few hundred metres from the railway station, quite close to the Grand Hotel. A small entourage left the train at that point, workers keen to throw back a few drinks before they started setting up for the next day. The group on its way to the hotel included one very excited fellow, one circus star who looked forward to throwing back his beer more than any of the others.

Dad arrived home that day at the usual time, quite animated and with a story to tell. We thought he’d had a few too many at first, but no, while the beers may have helped in the telling, his story focussed on who he’d been drinking with – one rather hairy, beer drinking orang-utan.

Now remember, those were the days when no one considered the rights and wrongs of animals working in circuses. And this old orang-utan loved his beer. No doubt he’d have refused to perform without it.

When the train rolled to a halt, the orang-utan’s work mates pulled out a pram, one of those old cane ones, and he leapt in, ready for the short ride to the pub. He clapped and waved his hairy arms in anticipation. He knew why the train had stopped and where he could swill back his nightly allowance.

No doubt this stunt was an arrangement between the hotel owners and the circus, as the event always attracted quite a few locals eager to share a drink and a few stories. Dad certainly enjoyed telling his story of the night he drank with an orang-utan for many years to come.

At the circus the next day we enjoyed all the acts, laughing at the clowns and oohing over the trapeze artists. But the highlight was the beer drinking orang-utan. It was our Dad’s drinking mate we’d come to see. After all, once you’ve shared a few drinks with a friend he almost becomes one of the family.

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Life in the 1950s – Will You Come to My Birthday Party?

By the age of nine a very important social reality hit me with a wham – if you wanted an invitation to birthday parties you had to throw one yourself. These social events were reciprocal and the urge to be a party goer called loud and strong.

I managed to persuade my parents I’d be a social outcast if I didn’t have a party for my ninth birthday and was allowed to offer four invitations, with the assumption my little sister would be allowed to attend. You can see the size of the smile on my little sister’s face in the photo below. You can also guess we’re sisters by the unshapely haircuts and the fact we’re the only ones without a stiffened petticoat beneath our party dresses. Yes, we’re both the middle of three in the front and back rows.

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Fifty one years later the only person in the photo to attend my 60th birthday party was my sister. The others had long disappeared from my life. However, I’ve had contact with all but one of the other four in the last twelve years.

First there was Jillian. Against all odds we ended up standing side by side amongst thousands on Wellington’s crowded waterfront on the Millennium’s  New Year’s Eve. After staring at what I thought seemed a familiar face, I uttered her name, to find I wasn’t mistaken. What a fantastic reunion that made. Next came April, in recent months, discovered quite by chance after an online transaction. This re-connection was closely followed by Susan, connected with again at our primary school Centenary reunion.

The only girl in the photo not yet connected with in adult years is Helen. She moved away from our town not long after this birthday photo. Helen and I kept in touch for many years, writing letters and meeting up whenever I went to Wellington, where she lived. But as is often the case, our lives went in different directions and we lost contact.

Today birthday parties, both the giving and the attending, are huge events in many kids lives. My friends and I played games such as Pass the Parcel and Blind Man’s Bluff, while kids today enjoy sleep overs, pool parties and gatherings at fast food outlets.

Times may have changed, but birthdays are still times to be celebrated. I wonder how many of today’s kids will look back on their ninth birthday and smile.

What about you? What memories do you have of childhood birthdays?