Dizzy, at the sudden changes in my life, a baby coming, wedding and celebrations, the long drive, from mum’s Moera flat to Farmer Fred’s milker’s cottage, in Manakau, was the first time in ages, I was able to come down to earth and mull it all over. The further away, the wee green, square Austin, Elsie’s present, stuffed up with wedding gifts, carried us, the more reality sunk in, making me feel a little bit nervous about what I had gone and done.
The first glimpse of our new home, spotlighted in the beams of the car’s headlights, no street lights here! to light up the pitch black countryside night-time, told me it was nothing flash. I saw a square corrugated iron box, painted green, that could easily pass for the original, Captain Cook’s cottage.
All our worldly belongings, delivered the day before, consisted of, a small table with two chairs, a bookcase made by my husband’s father, a chest of drawers, a bed donated by Elsie, with bedding courtesy of mum’s boss, ‘Mrs Coltman’ at the ‘Grand Hotel’, and her Evan’s drapery connections. Lastly, we had also inherited an ancient pair of over-size, arm-chairs, with coarse straw stuffing poking out of numerous holes in their faded flowery covering, abandoned by a previous tenant.
Happy to have a place to call our own, my husband unloaded the car and I entered the back door into the tiny kitchen. Immediately, the old fashioned, green, ‘Shacklock’ coal range took my eye, giving me a panic attack. Never having laid eyes on one of them before, I didn’t have the foggiest idea how I was going to use it. Housekeeping classes at the Wellington East Girls, College flat, had never covered this eventuality.
Surveying, the unfamiliar scene in the cottage’s sitting room with its bare floorboards, it suddenly hit me, there was no going back now. For better or worse, as, I had said earlier today, I had left my family behind to start a life with my new husband. Now, I had to do something else I had never done before, which was spooking me out, undress and get into the big wooden bed in the next room with him.
Farm life, really was, very different to being a ‘townie’ as Farmer Fred called it. The silence and isolation of the farm were a huge difference for me from the city. Loneliness, a feeling I had never known before became a difficult new experience.
Aunt Daisy’s cheery voice coming across the radio airwaves each morning, wishing her listeners, ‘Good Morning’, was a big help in lifting my spirits. She reminded me of my kind Nana.
I avidly listened to her hints, recipes and homilies, keen to find a blueprint for my new wife, and soon to be mother, life. I got addicted to the morning serials, ‘Dr Paul’ and ‘Portia Faces Life’, not wanting to miss an episode, while getting on with what seemed like endless cooking and cleaning.
After a short lunch break with my husband, in the afternoon, I liked to drag one of the – surprisingly comfortable, despite their looks – old armchairs into the sunniest spot in the room, to snuggle up and read. I began working my way through the stack of cartons in our spare room containing my husband’s childhood books, just like I had the books at the Newtown library. Now however, it wasn’t mum jerking me back to reality with her, ‘get your nose out of that bloody book’, instead it was the ticking clock, I had to keep an eye on, to prepare our teatime.
Our reunions in the evenings were very brief, because my husband’s day, left him unable to stay awake and he fell into bed exhausted. Each day, he got up early in morning while it was still dark, even beating the birds, and rounded up the cows to bring them into the milking shed. The cows were hooked up to machines that sucked the milk out of their teats and afterwards, put back out in the paddock. After hosing and cleaning the shed, the men got a short spell to have breakfast.
Every day, it seemed to me, like the amount of hard work farm jobs for my husband to slug his guts out on, were never ending, the only respite, the short lunch and smoko breaks. In the evenings, another milking and clean up was done. The days just passed by in a blur of farm routines, falling into bed, and getting up to repeat it all again.
The only time we got to ourselves, was between the two milkings on God’s day, and one weekend off a month. Whenever, we had enough money left over in the kitty from our small monthly cheque we used our weekend to head back to Wellington for visits with our families.
Farmer Fred and his wife kindly tried to make up for our little monthly pay, by giving us free rent, mutton meat, milk and cream. Each evening, my husband filled up our shiny new tin billy from the big metal vat of fresh cows’ milk at the cowshed and in the mornings before the milk tanker roared up the drive to pump it out for the ‘Townies’ he also skimmed off the delicious tasting cream that had risen to the top.
We used the cream to pour onto our porridge at breakfast, and puddies at night, or whipped it up to put on top of smoko scones with homemade jam. The milk was supposed to be boiled, to get rid of the bugs before we used it, called pasturizing, but no-one ever bothered.
Just over the railway line in the little Manakau village was the local, General store, that sold everything anyone could ever want. We ordered our supplies by phone and they delivered them to our door. Each pay day we were shocked when it took just about all of our pay to square up their monthly account.
My husband created a veggie patch garden at the side of our house and as well as producing regular veggies, he liked to grow far out ones with odd names I had never even heard of, Kohl Rabbi, a sort of purple cabbage thing, brussell sprouts and capsicums are a few, I can remember now.
I spent considerable amounts of my days getting to grips with how much wood to poke in that old Shacklock wood-fire stove to stoke it to the right temperature. After much trial and error and a few burnt offerings, I mastered the basics of morning porridge and meat and veggie meals. My scones however, never got to pass muster with my husband as he knew someone whose scones rose high enough to be cut into three slices.
My wedding present ‘Edmonds Cookbook’ and the Sunbeam mixer, enabled me to progress to producing cakes and bickies. ‘Full tins’, I quickly learned, was a farm essential for ‘smoko’ breaks. The only time I saw another human face, were the times ‘Farmer Fred’ popped in to share smoko with us.
Elsie gave me her ‘Singer’ treadle sewing machine and on one of her visits told me, that, during the war years the empty, flour and sugar sacks from the baking were used to create, shorts and bloomers for the kids, or tea towels and pot mitts.
Mrs Farmer Fred, introduced me, to another essential task for country house-wives. The yearly cooking marathon, of converting enough produce into glass jars, to line the pantry shelves and feed the family until the next season.
Purchasing the paraphernalia for this large scale production was a major expenditure to be squeezed into our small pay packet. As well as the garden produce and boxes of seasonal fruit from the orchards, we needed, a large metal pan and wooden ladle for the boiling up, sacks of sugar and dozens of various sized glass jars, lids, sealing rings and labels also had to be bought.
Making our own jams turned out to be a bit more trickier than the preserving because they needed to get sterilized real good. Occasionally we found a jar of jam with a bluey colored fur growing over the top, from not enough sterilizing. Everyone reckoned was it harmless, as after all, wasn’t it really just penicillin? so we just scrapped it off before using it on our toast.
Some farm ways, I found downright horrible and heart wrenching. It was upsetting hearing the poignant bleating cries, coming from the soft velvety faced little male calves, peering out through the slats of the bobby crate, down at the end of the driveway. As they awaited, unsuspectingly, their deadly fate after being carted off, their equally distressed mothers running up and down the paddock fence-line panicking, were bellowing -their-hearts-out.
Lambing time was the worst and most ghastly thing I had ever seen. An ever increasing, veritable mountain of furry little lamb bodies thrown beside the cow-shed kept growing daily. I was unable to figure out how come so many died and why they never figured out a way to stop it, but was never brave enough to say what I was thinking.
Once a week the lamb bodies got picked up by a truck and carted off for skinning and turning into ‘slinkys’, extra special soft lamb skins. Sometimes, Farmer Fred, tried to trick dead lambs’ mothers into adopting another orphan lamb. He would dress up the orphan in the cut off skin of her own dead lamb, in the hopes the smell would fool her and she would let it drink from her.
Settling into married life together, differences in our outlook, we never knew we had, started to pop up. I was surprised to discover, my new husband had ideas about everything and if it wasn’t done his way he got all riled up. Making the bed, sweeping the floor, drying the pots, even making scones, he had theories about them all and right and wrong ways to do everything.
Heaven forbid, I pull the broom instead of push it, to me a minor detail, to him a problem. The constant correcting and insistence on his way made me feel like I was right back under mum’s thumb. Whenever I stood up to him there was a big row, that ended up with him sulking and not talking for days. Pretty mean when I had no other company.