Guy Fawkes time, was a big event at Aunt’s house. Nana had told us kids, Guy Fawkes was a bad person who had tried, with no luck, to blow up the Government in England. So now everyone liked to celebrate by letting off crackers.
Aunt’s whole family joined in helping us make a guy. We stuffed a potato sack with straw to overflowing, tying pieces of string around to shape a body. Some old raggedy clothes, a laughing clown mask for a face, and one of Aunt’s husband’s old hats on top finished him off.
Aunt’s husband fetched his wheelbarrow from the garden shed and we tried to get our guy sitting up in it, but he insisted on lolling over the side like he had, ‘one too many over the eight’ as Nana would say. Early next morning, while it was still dark, Aunt woke up her girl Maureen and me and we took turns to push our guy in his barrow, across town, through the back streets of Petone, to the ‘W.D.& H.O. Wills,’ tobacco factory.
Lining up at the front gates with a whole heap of other kid buskers we began using the power of our combined voices to belt out,
‘A penny for the guy, a penny for the guy,
if you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do,
if you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you’, trying to beat the others in volume, if not tune.
The workers, coming and going through the factory gates at the shift change over, generously tossed pennies, and the odd thruppence, into our guy’s old hat. After the last of the stragglers had come and gone, kids toting guys, over their backs or in prams, trolleys and barrows, made a mad dash home, for breakfast, and school. Keeping our spineless, lolling guy from spilling out on the footpath while running with a barrow wobbling all over the footpath was a feat.
It was a bit of a squeak, getting to school in time and excited kids, hardly able to contain themselves were unable to concentrate on the lessons, so not much school work got done. Every break it was all talk about the big night ahead. The much awaited ringing out of the school bell at three, was like letting a cork out of a bottle.
Herds of kids stampeded through the hallway in a mad melee, all trying to be first to get out the front doors and up town. Everyone with the same idea in mind, wanting to be among the first at the Chinese, Greengrocer’s shop and get their dibs on the best of this year’s cracker offerings, now on sale.
Aunt’s girl Maureen, and me, with our busking money, joined the kids in the over-crowded shop, carefully scrutinizing the crackers before choosing what to buy. Boys were buying up big everything that gave them the biggest and loudest bang for their buck. Canons, Rockets and strings of Tom Thumbs were their favorites. The girls were crazy for the pretty ones, Roman Candles, Golden Rain, Mount Vesuvius and lots of Sparklers. Picks made, money all spent, we headed home to gloat over our booty like a bunch of pirates.
After our tea, while waiting for night-time and darkness, Aunt got us all togged up in our warmest gear. Aunt’s big boy carted our guy on his back, as we all walked together to the Petone foreshore for our first ever, Guy Fawkes night. All along the length of the beach-front, someone had piled up huge trees, creating, ginormous, blazing bonfires that looked like two stories high.
Their bright circles of fire-light, were lighting up the blackness of the night and the gathered families. The flames sound of roaring and crackling as they were devouring the trees, scared me a bit, as we gazed on in awe, with our cheeks turning red. Aunt told us to stand back, when her boy with a huge, heave ho, tossed our guy, as high up into the fiery flames as he could.
We watched like mesmerized fire-bugs as our Guy for a few short seconds just sat on top of the flames with his clown mask face grinning down at us. Then all of a sudden with a big whoosh, still laughing, the flames gobbled him up and he completely disappeared. I thought about Nana’s story, of ‘Joan of Ark’, a girl some people had burnt alive and how it must have hurt.
Joining in with everyone around us, we oohed and aahed, admiring each others crackers and Aunt’s husband and boy set fire to our crackers. The giggling, littlies, raced around the sand chasing each other, waving their twinkling sparklers. The bigger kids got a kick out of using their sparklers to write their names in light, seeing them magically hang in the air for a few short seconds.
Rockets screaming like banshees were shot into the black sky over the sea, before exploding and falling back to earth with their pretty insides falling out in bright patterns, temporarily outshining the stars. My favorites, the Roman candles, must have been popular with others because they were erupting all over the beach, their fountain spray of beautiful, sparkling rainbow colors lasting for ages.
The naughty, mischievous school boys were getting up every-ones noses. Sneaking around behind people, especially girls they liked, they were throwing down lighted strings of hissing, spitting and crackling, Tom Thumbs. They got great amusement seeing the panicked reactions of squealing and jumping around trying to avoid them.
The noisiest crackers of the night were Catherine wheels. They had to be nailed down to wooden boards, because after being lit, they whizzed round and round crazily, letting out the most awful piercing, screeching noise. My sister scared stiff by it all looked on from behind Aunt’s legs, until at the end, after much coaxing from Aunt she braved holding a sparkler for a wee minute.
Home again at Aunts, we sipped on hot cocoas before crashing extra late into our beds. Our heads stuffed full of the days events were asleep before hitting the pillow.
Saturdays at Aunts was pocket money day which she she generously shared out to each of us. Going up town for a spend up with it burning a hole in our pockets, we felt like millionaires. On our way we crossed paths with a stampede of excited kids all running towards the dairy.
Wondering what was going on we joined in and got to hear that the dairy was selling, ‘bubble-gum’. To our ears, this seemed like something with magical properties, we could only imagine when we read about it in the ‘Archie’ comics. Word must have gotten around, because at the dairy we had to stand around in a queue stretched out onto the footpath waiting, with eager anticipation, for our turn to buy and try.
All the way home we chewed and chewed and blew and blew until our jaws ached, trying to get the trick of bubble making worked out. Mostly, they would collapse all over our faces, to be scraped off and start all 0ver.
I decided to take a detour on the way home from school one afternoon and go a few streets over from Aunts, to Nelson street, and try to find the house where I sort of remembered visiting my Grandfather. It seemed ages ago now mum and me had done those big walks with me on my blue three wheeler looking for dad. I found his house, and stood around on the footpath outside hoping to see him, as I was too scared to knock on the door.
When school broke up for the Christmas holidays, my sister and I were excited to be going home to mum’s new flat. I was very sad to be leaving Aunt’s house, she had been very kind, just like a real ‘Auntie’, to us. She made us feel just like we were her family, and never got mad or biffed. I was hoping mum had some Christmas pressies hidden away for us like Aunt did for her kids.