Mum changed to doing two jobs for more money. Her day work was at a new milkbar, ‘The Sunshine’ in Manners street, and her second job at night times was cleaning trams in the huge, barn-like tram-shed, up the top of Newtown. Her work there only started after eleven p.m. at night, when the trams were finished doing trips, and finihed at 7am in the morning.
The only sleep mum got was after tea-time each night, she snatched forty winks on the couch between her two jobs, after sending my sister and I off to our beds. My sister was ‘lights out’ quickly, but I had to stay awake to get mum up in case she overslept, locking up the door after she left.
Trying to stay awake I listened to radio stations on our little bedroom radio. Roaming the dial, I sometimes tuned into a very crackling, shortwave station, called Radio Ecuador, where I heard a gospel program talking and singing about Jesus. When the man said, God would listen, if we prayed to him. I gave it a go. Shutting my eyes tight, hands clasped together, like I thought was proper, I asked God to send our dad back to us. Mum never talked about him anymore, but me and my sister missed him.
Saturdays, mum got her only break from her jobs and let us kids stay up later. We sat around her new radio-gramophone tuned in to the Saturday night radio requests, a program where people from all over New Zealand wrote in choosing their best loved songs to be played on the air. Or we listened to mum’s new seventy eight records. Rosemary Clooney singing, ‘This Old House’ was a favorite of mine.
If she was in a good mood, I would be sent off to the dairy to buy the ‘Sports Post’ and a chocolate dip ice-cream for mum, and lollies for us kids. Carrying that ice-cream home without sneaking a lick was hard, but that would have been more than my life was worth. The Saturday nights when mum was really worn out and wanted to doze on the sofa we were packed off to our beds.
If the hall across the grass, in the middle of the flats, had been hired out for a ‘doo’, my sister and I perched up on my bed to have a gawk. Quietly, trying not to let mum get wind of what we were doing, we sneaked our window open a wee bit to sit in the dark, elbows on the windowsill, to have a nosey out through the gaps in our curtains.
When they folded the hall doors open, to give the dancing couples a whiff of fresh air, on the really hot nights, we were treated to a great show. The live band music, a mixture of old-time and new songs, drifted over to my sister and me. Entwined couples floating past our view, under magical colored lights, gave us the opportunity to pick out our loveliest dress. The flash dresses sold us on learning to do ballroom dancing when we grew up.
In one of the dancing breaks, with the music stopped we heard muffled shouting sounds coming through the wall from number twelve, followed by a loud thud. I briefly tossed up whether to tell mum, knowing, she would have my guts for garters if I woke her, and decided best not to.
The music started up again capturing our attention, and we returned to watching the dancing. However not long after that, an ambulance appeared driving right over caretaker Jack’s manicured grass. It backed right up to number twelve’s porch, and the ambulance men disappeared inside Mr and Mrs N’s front door carrying a stretcher.
When they came out, my brain had trouble making sense of what I saw. It looked just like they had a tiny little doll wrapped in a rug on the stretcher, but really it was Mrs N. She never came back home after that. I heard some flats’ adults say she had a bad fall before she died. The shouting we heard made me suspicious that Mr N might have played a part, but I never let on to anyone about that.
Sunday nights were our bath night and always there was a big fight over who got to have first go. Sharing the bath water with my sister was horrible as going second meant grey bubbly soap stuff would be floating on top of the water, and stuck in a ring around the edges. Mum used bars of yellow ‘Sunlight’ soap for washing everything, bodies, hair, clothes and dishes. With any left over scraps put into a tin-can with little holes in the bottom to dangle over the sink’s hot water tap to make soapy dishwater. For teeth cleaning, we used rags rubbed over a cake of ‘Gibbs’ pink toothpaste, or if mum ran out of that we had to rub our teeth with salt on our rags, which nearly made me spew.
Standing up to get out of my bath, I noticed little rivers of blood mixed with bathwater running down my legs, scaring the heck out of me. Frightened I was about to die, my brain immediately thought I must of done something to make this happen. Forced to call out to mum for help,I was dead sure she was going to be mad and give me a whack. She arrived, took a quick look and left again without a word.
She reappeared carrying a strip of old sheet folded up into a pad and two large safety pins. I was told me to put this big bulky thing between my legs and pin it onto my singlet at the front and back, also she said that this was going to keep happening every month. Putting two and two together, I now guessed what all those rags hanging on the clothesline at Judith’s, house must be for.