While in the maternity home after the birth of my second child, one of the other mums commented to me, that if my children were never ‘properly’ Christened in a Church, and they were to die, they would not get to go to heaven. Not knowing much about God and his rules, and wanting to keep him onside, this played on my mind, worrying me. I decided to make arrangements for a service at the local, Presbyterian church. Chosen only because my family had some ‘olden days’ connection with this denomination.
Mother in law Elsie, arrived on the train for a sleepover. Mum’s little blue bug ferried everyone over the hill for the day. My sister, Nana and cousin Judy, who with my Auntie Bonnie had recently returned from the South Island to share a house in Wellington, overlooking Oriental Bay, all turned up. Everyone arrived bearing gifts for the children, silver christening mugs with the children’s initials engraved on them, and lovely china, piggy banks. After the service we all shared a family lunch and my Nana with her old box ‘Brownie’, she had used to record our family since before I was born, took photos.
What we called her bit of Gypsy, (tea leaf reading, superstitions, etc) came out during the day when she insisted on taking each child’s hands and crossing their palms with a silver coin. Supposedly this would ensure they were to have riches later in life.
My Nana and Auntie Bonnie had been put out of business at their South Brighton dairy, by the, ‘Parkers’ opening up a Supermarket right next door taking all their customers. Nana told me when they were forced to shut up shop she had lost all her savings in her and Auntie Bonnie’s venture.
For a few years after the shop, they shared a flat, just across from the beach, in Oram Avenue, New Brighton. An older English couple, the ‘Mounts’, living in the flat in front of them, loved ‘little Judith’ as they called our cousin, and cared for her while Auntie Bonnie worked. Nana was very proud our Auntie Bonnie had taught herself to do posh cooking from books and got a job as a cook at the New Brighton hotel.
At this time Nana was working as a cleaner at the Christchurch hospital but told me, it made her very sad cleaning the rooms where they put people to die on their own, because they would be calling out for their missing relatives. She asked me to not let her die alone. After the Mounts decided to move back to England was when they all decided to return to the North Island, nearer to us their family.
Nana was now employed at the ‘People’s Palace’, a large hotel up Cuba Street in Wellington run by the Salvation Army, doing cleaning. She reckoned, the ‘Sallies’ were very tough bosses because someone used to follow her around from room to room, with gloves on, checking for any missed dust. And even though they were ‘Christian’ people, they paid very mean wages to their employees, while they themselves drove around in big flash cars.
Mother in law, Elsie, was still treadling away on the big industrial sewing machines at the ‘Bata’ factory where my boyfriend and I had met. She was on the slipper line sewing the new, rage, ‘Bata Ballerinas’, (little velvet slip-on shoes with rubber soles). The factory had a social club she paid into all year which enabled her to invite her grandchildren to their end of year Christmas party.
Fortunately this coincided with our weekend off and we all squashed up in the tiny cab of our little flatbed truck, it had replaced the worn out Austin when it died, for the trip over the big hill. Elsie shouted new clothes for the children to wear and all dressed up we enjoyed, a not very often, family outing together. It was fun catching up with the ones we knew from our time working at the factory and the children enjoyed getting toys from Santa.
Another social outing I remember from this time, was attending the engagement party of a couple I had stayed in touch with from my days on the egg carton line. Mum volunteered to take care of the two little kids for the evening, cleverly fetching a drawer out of her clothes chest to tuck the baby up in, for sleeping. I was feeling excited at the prospect of a rare for us, fun night out alone. However, my husband’s drinking, getting to be a regular thing, ended up with him having a ‘few too many’.
Making our way homeward, after picking up the kids was a nightmare. My husband’s driving, going at a snail’s pace was wandering all over the road. The climb up to the top of the winding ‘Rimutakas’ hill-road towards Featherston, was even more harrowing as we drifted from one side of the thankfully deserted road to the other. Clutching the kids tightly, I tried talking flat out to keep him awake, but still we kept swerving to close for comfort to the edge of the mountainous drop. Scared out of my wits, I screamed for him to, ‘stop right now’, and he did, right smack bang in the center of the road.
Swapping sides, I was about to get my first ever go at driving a vehicle. With my husband in an unrousable sleep, unable to help and frightened because I had never driven before, I got behind the steering wheel and managed to get the stick into first gear, without the foggiest idea of how to change. Ever so slowly, we crawled up and over the hill all the way home in first gear. The good news was, our tightly packed bodies in the cramped cab left no space for the baby on her father’s knee to go sliding off onto the floor.