Besides Aunt, her family included a very quiet husband who hardly ever talked and went to work really early before we were up, returning at tea time. A girl a year older than me and a grown up big boy, who we never saw much of as he worked late during the week, and on weekends disappeared into his blacked out room, curtains shut tight, to sleep all day.
Aunt enrolled my sister and me at Petone Central school, and liked for us to come home for lunch-times with her. On our way past the dairy, I popped in to pick up a loaf of delicious smelling, fresh bread.
We ate in the lean-to kitchen on the back of their old fashioned house and one of the few rules Aunt had, was, ‘no uncooked joints on the table’, to learn us to keep our elbows off her small table as we ate. Tucking into thick slabs of the fluffy soft, loaf, Aunt cut for us, smothered over in delicious white stuff we had never tried before, called condensed milk tasted so nice. Aunt had to tell us not to lick our knives or we might cut our tongues.
From her husband’s big garden outside the kitchen door, we tried out little red things, called radishes. They had to be eaten, dipped in salt and chomped down quickly with big bite-fuls of buttered bread. It was the only way to stop the hotness stinging your tongues.
Aunt never seemed to worry about what we got up to after school and at weekends, as long as we turned up at meal-times and before it got dark. This gave us the opportunity to go exploring with our new school friends.
Down at the bottom of every street leading from the town, was the beach where we roamed scavenging for fascinating shells and stuff washed up with the tides. A rickety old pier stretching way out into the sea, left over from the days when the early pioneers’ arrived on the sea-shore was a big attraction.
It was kind of exciting, and a bit of a dare, to walk over rotten missing planks and see the raging waves underneath. A group of fishermen with long rods at the far end, had their catches in nearby buckets and we spent time admiring their many different sorts fishes.
Really hot days were spent taking swims and laying spreadeagled out on our towels soaking up the sun and turning red. When an older boy from our school I didn’t know, came crawling along the sand and laid down close beside me, relaxing on my towel, I got uneasy. Then he whispered in my ear, ‘did I want to come home to his bedroom for a fuck’? I was completely clueless about this new word and said, I couldn’t because I was looking after my little sister.
On our further away ramblings we took brown bags of sammies from Aunts and went up the main street of Petone to the railway station to use the very high wooden foot bridge to cross to the other side of the train tracks. Over there, on the Western Hutt road, of mum’s driving lesson fame, was ‘Percy’s Reserve’ where we could let our imaginations run wild.
We invented games that required madly hooning, and weaving, through the shady tracks of cool, greeness, among trees or the dense growth of bushes and strange looking plants. In two teams we did a group hide and seek, finding those pretending to be lost then swapping sides to become the hiders.
After getting all out of puff and famished, we plonked down on the edge of a little wall surrounding the big round duck pond for a sammie picnic. Paddling our feet in the cold water to cool off soon attracted swarms of ducks and swans who paddled furiously to swim over for handouts. Watching them doing their bums-up dives under the water, I was amazed how long they could hold their breaths for, like the pearl divers Nana talked about.
Crossing back over the railway walk-bridge afterwards, a couple of, mad idiot kids, thought it hilarious to, dangle, dangerously, over the edge to wave crazily at the train people pulling out of the station below us. Just before the train picked up speed and went whooshing underneath the bridge, we got a glimpse of their shocked upturned faces, before laughingly returning our waves and disappearing.
If we ever came across any kids from the Catholic school, on our travels, we would shout out ‘Mickey Doloons’ at them and they would shout back at us, ‘Protestant dogs’.
Sunday afternoons mum came out from town on the train to visit us kids. Aunt let the three of us spend time in her special, front, (visitors only), sitting room. When it came to the time for her to leave again, my sister always got upset. Because mum wasn’t one for hugs and kisses, I tried to make her feel better with a hug after mum was gone.
Sundays evening before our tea time, Aunt washed our very long hair and while it was still wet used strips of rag to roll up sections into tight sausages all over our scalp. Each time we squirmed because it was hurting or she was taking too long, she told us, ‘beauty has no feeling’, which was hard to figure out, because it sure felt like it to me.
Going to sleep, lying on top of those rolled up lumps sticking out all over my head wasn’t that easy, either. In the morning Aunt took out the rags, and ‘hey presto! instant, Shirley Temple curls and waves. The end result was nice but all that effort and they only lasted a couple of days.