In 1950, Dad and his brother, our Uncle Herbie went off together riding on motorbikes to watch the British Empire Games being held in Auckland. That was the last time he ever lived with us, because he never came home again. Nana told me that on his trip, he had picked up, a no good, ‘tramp’ off the street in Hamilton.
My idea of tramps came from Nana’s stories of the depression years when lots of men were tramps. They were walking the roads of New Zealand, desperately looking for work in exchange for food. Some of the tramps who came to her family farm, at Bainesse, were like some of the tinkers who fixed things and the hawkers who sold stuff, bad people who stole, so I figured tramps were not nice.
I overheard mum telling Nana she had gone on a visit to the, ‘Old Lady’s’ house, (that’s what they called dad’s mother), to ask dad to come home to us. She found out Dad and the tramp were sleeping on the floor in the tiny wash-house, of her little flat, with no room to swing a cat.
Mum was so upset without dad, that, Nana changed jobs to go to work at the plasticine factory in Lower Hutt and moved in with us to help mum out with her money.
Nana’s factory, let her bring home any of the colored crayons and plasticines they made, that got broken, for me and my sister to use. When mum found my little plasticine animals stuck around the house, I got lots of biffs. But, Nana soon had to leave that job and find a new one, because of the stuff they used to make the plasticine, it turned her hands bright red and itchy sore.
Nana was away visiting for a night and mum let me sleep in her bed for a treat. When I woke up and heard dad’s voice, I got happy thinking he was back. Then I heard him and mum having a barney, shouting and fighting. Trying not to listen, I got busy scratching a picture into mum’s black wooden headboard, with my hair-clip.
When mum screamed, I decided to take a look see and walked slowly down our hallway, on a pretendy trip to the bathroom. Taking a quick peek into the kitchen, I saw mum, lying all curled up on the floor crying with dad giving her a kick. Spotting me, he shouted to, ‘get back to bed’. In the morning, he was gone again and I got a good whack from mum for ruining the headboard.
Mum and me went on a trip to Lower Hutt for mum to get some money out of my Post-Office savings book. Climbing up the bus steps it was a surprise to see dad was our driver. He gave me a big smile, but I felt funny, like he wasn’t our friend anymore and didn’t talk to him.
The Post Office had spinning doors to get inside and holding up the roof were very fat round shiny marble columns. To kids waiting for parents they were fun amusements. Spinning round and round in the doors, or trying to keep hands on the cold marble posts while running flat out in circles, until giddy, they staggered or toppled over. Mum said it was bad for my brain to get giddy.
At her turn with the Post Office lady, I had to write my name on a paper and say what I was going to buy with the money. I told her, mum said we were going to get me some new shoes. After that we walked up the high street to the milk-bar to sit up in the high backed wooden seats for a treat. Mum liked a milkshake and I had an ice-cream. They had big pictures of nursery rhyme characters painted all over the walls, I liked the funny looking cow kicking up its heels and jumping over the moon best.
Mum also took me with her on the weekly train trip to town, to pay our rent at the big State Advance’s building with lots of floors, just up the street from the Wellington train station. Waiting on the platform at the Epuni train station, I clutched onto mum hiding behind her legs. The sudden, popping up appearance, of that huge, black, train engine, at the top of the tracks, was terrifying to me. It looked like a dragon straight out of my big book of fairy-tales, come to life, racing down the rails towards us, hissing steam and smoke before coming to a clanking, screeching halt.
Holding mum’s hand, we boarded, and when everyone else was seated the ticket man blew his whistle, waved a flag out to the driver up front and we were off. The dirty train windows made it hard to see out properly, but I pressed my face against the glass watching carefully as the houses along the railway track sped by, wishing and hoping to see Grandma outside her little flat.
Mum got really desperate for money and her and I went looking for dad to give us some at Grandfather’s Petone house. I rode my three wheeler and mum walked alongside it was a very long trip that took us ages. Through the Epuni subway, over the big bridge at the top of Hutt’s high street and down through Alicetown to Grandfather’s house at Petone.
I fed Grandfather’s chooks their wheat through the holes in the wire netting cage while waiting out in the backyard. When mum came out she reckoned dad was not there. By the time I pedaled all the way back home, I was puffed out.