Every night after dad’s work and our teatime, we all piled into his new car for mum to have her driving lesson. When dad was in the Army he had been a driver and gotten all his licences, even the one for big trucks.
For mum’s lessons, Dad drove us over to the Western Hutt road, turning off onto a windy, dirt road, past his old work, the Dulux paint factory. Mum took over from there to drive us up the very steep, narrow track through the, Toi-Toi bush, covered hills. At the top, in a tiny clearing, Dad told mum to get the car turned around.
This part was where it got scary, us kids would slump right down in the back-seat and cover our heads with dad’s old grey army blanket. Each time mum tried to go backwards, she couldn’t figure it out properly and kept bunny hopping, starting and stopping, closer and closer to the cliff’s edge. At each go she had, her and dad got madder and madder until the lesson ended in a big barney with them going at it hammer and tongs.
My sister and me only surfaced after dad took over again. We begged him on the way home to get out and get us one of the tall fluffy toi-tois, but he reckoned they would be too hard to cut off.
Mum got the bright idea to put the green velvet curtains hanging in our hallway to a better use, turning them into new pyjamas for me. I heard her and Nana, in our kitchen having big fits of laughter while she was making them and went to investigate. Mum was standing in the middle of the room, holding up what looked like a giant green gun for Nana to see. Mum had made a big mistake and forgot to cut out two legs, which made them have their big crack up.
After they were finished right, I hated them. That green velvet material, felt so creepy to me that I hated touching it. Even worse, in the night, while I was sleeping, the velvety pant legs crept up my legs to roll themselves around my calves so tightly, peeling them off in the morning was nearly impossible.
March 1948 was my five birthday and my first school day. I remember feeling excited and scared, walking with mum around the road to the Epuni School.
I had on a new dress and mum had tied my hair up into plaits with ribbons. Inside the new brown leather schoolbag over my shoulder, I had my lunch in a brown paper bag and a new duster for rubbing out my black-board, chalk work. Mum had made it out of scraps of that creepy velvet material, I hated touching.
After introducing me to my classroom teacher, mum told me goodbye. Suddenly overcome at being alone, any excitement for school, forgotten, I climbed up and sat on the top of the school’s big wooden front gate watching her disappearing back down the street.
Just as I was feeling like, really badly wanting to get down and run after her home, she turned the corner and was gone from sight. A big school kid, looking like he thought he was, ‘the cat’s pyjamas’, began strutting around the schoolyard ringing an enormous golden bell, so I played follow the leader and lined up with all the kids, before filing in for class.
Inside the classroom, the teacher said I was to stand out in front of all the unknown kid faces, sitting on the floor. I remember, not liking them all gawking at me, while she told everyone my name.
One girl in the class, I recognized, she lived across our street, right next door to the neighbor lady, Dad always called, ‘the BLOODY voice’, shocking my ears, but it was because we could hear her always shouting.
After making friends, we began doing the walk to school and home together. During a chinwag on one of our, there and backs, my new friend, confided she had worms up her bum. This got us trying to work out how worms got up bums and if everyone had them.
I told her about the time dad got me to lie down on top of the ironing board while he squirted something up my bum, and after I had to sit on the dunny for ages. I reckoned maybe that was to get worms out. I mostly remember thinking, how rude it was for the visiting uncles to gawk at me on the ironing board and didn’t like it.
A sickness called, Polio, was going around the country, and a nurse dressed all in white with a white hat on top, arrived at our school to give all us kids pricks in our arms. One by one, our names were called out, and with great dread about what was to happen, we had to take our turn to enter her room.
Inside, all the blinds were pulled down, blacking out the room and making it really hard for my eyes to see. Without any warning at all, she just pounced, grabbing my arm in a vice like grip, she spun her big fat body around twisting my arm to lock it behind her.
In no time at all, I felt the needle going in, and it was no prick, but a big sharp jab. It hurt so bad I wanted to cry, but the other kids waiting outside, were shouting out, ‘cry baby’, to any pricked ones coming out with tears. I just squeezed my eyes my hardest.
Mum started me off going to the ballet lessons held in the big hall near us. Our teacher showed us how to do handstands, walk upside down, and do cartwheels we practiced in lines, one after the other across the floor. Using skipping ropes with ball-bearings in the handles we also learned skipping exercises.
Thinking myself a bit clever, I liked showing off my new skilIs to the kids in our street. One time, while walking upside down on my hands, I overbalanced and flipped, twisting my back. I hobbled home in great agony, but never let on to mum, because she would say it was my fault for ‘getting a bit big for my shoes’.