I began getting up at six every morning to help Nana out with her first jobs of the day. We opened up the shop doors on the front of their house to drag in the heavy crates of milk left on the doorstep in the wee small hours, while we slept. They were very hard going and one morning as we struggled to move them, I was shocked to hear Nana swear, she reckoned, the crates would make her,
‘bust her b……y gut!,’
then she quickly added on, ‘sorry Coral’.
Our first customers of the day, were workers heading off to their jobs, wanting morning papers and smokes before waiting for their town bus at the stop across the road.
Nana showed me how to do serving in the shop and told me to always use my manners and be polite to the customers. She only allowed me to add up in my head and give change for not many things, but when customers got more items, she said it was important to write down the numbers on her little paper pad to be sure. I also learned how to weigh up in the scales that were just like dad’s old veggie truck ones.
Customers could chose which loose biscuits from a row of tall silver tins with pictures of their insides stuck on the front, or lollies out of big fat round glass jars along the counter, they wanted. I weighed them up, figured out the money, and tipped them into the right size brown paper bags. For a special treat, Nana sometimes let me weigh us kids up some lollies, and I did cheat a little and let the pointy hand on the dial go over a wee bit.
The funnest job I did at Nana’s shop, was getting the bus into Christchurch town to pick out a fresh batch of the latest magazines and comics for us to sell in the shop, from, ‘Gordon and Gotch’. This was like taking a trip into Aladdin’s Cave for me, until I went there, I never knew there were so many in the whole world.
The miles of tables in a huge room, were covered in books, magazines and comics all laid out in rows and I walked up and down browsing to choose out my favorites. I could have stayed there all day just reading. When my picks arrived on the bus the next day, Nana allowed me to borrow them out of the shop for a read, but I had to be very careful not to crease or mess them.
My best time of the day at Nana’s shop, was eight o’clock each night. Auntie Bonnie was away out to her cleaning work at the hotel. Nana and me had shut and bolted the shop doors, turned the lights off, and put the little kids in their beds. They were soon out to it, fast asleep.
There was a bit of a drama getting the kids to sleep one night, after they were scared seeing a big rat sitting on a high shelf in the bedroom. Nana had to fetch the cat inside and he knew exactly what to do. She sat him up on top of her big wardrobe and pushed it over, near to the rat. It took him no time at all to pounce and drag it off outside.
Now it was just the two of us we could relax. Nana who was very big on her cuppa’s and kept the teapot on the go all day, brewed herself up a fresh pot and made me a hot cocoa. Along with our drinks we nibbled her ‘favorite’ bickie, round wine biscuits. They never really had wine in them but were actually a bit dry. She ate them because, ‘old Doctor Fox’ at New Brighton, had told her to keep her weight under eight stone, to help her dickey heart.
I liked to sip my, too hot cocoa, from a spoon and dunk the round wines while sitting with outstretched legs and feet up on the warm bricks of the fire. We had to keep the fire going all day to get our hot water. Some nights Nana would fetch me a couple of special, chocky bickies from the tins out in the shop.
One night, while Nana was in the blacked out shop getting my biscuits. I thought it would be a joke to hide behind the curtain door, and jump out and boo her coming out. Trying desperately not to laugh out loud and let on, I scared the living daylights out of Nana. After giving a big squeal, she said not to do that again as getting a big fright shock could have stopped her heart.
After draining the teapot dry, Nana liked to read the tea leaves left behind in her empty cup. This was a big ritual done with great flourishes. First she held the cup high up in the air, and twirled it around in circles three times before returning it upside down on the saucer. A short spell later, it was ready to be picked up again and turn over for a real hard squizz.
She, ‘fore-told’, the meanings of the messages all over the cup’s insides from the sprinkled patterns of tea leaves and sugar dregs. Big loggy bits were parcels arriving, smaller bits were letters in the mail, pathways of leaves were great news, a trip was coming up soon. Other blobs signaled the coming and goings of visitors, and she always saw something to say we were coming into money, nearly everything you could think of, Nana saw.
I was never quite sure if any of it ever came to pass as after a few days, I quickly forgot her predictions. Nana’s superstition told her in other ways what was going on, beside the tea leaves and itchy palms, coming into money, I told you about already. Burning ears happened when someone was talking about you, pimples on your tongue, told on you for lies and she also thought that fantails and yellow Kowhai flowers were bad luck if they came into your house.
‘Mother Shipton, an old lady, from the very, very, ‘olden days’, who wrote rhyming poems, called prophecies, predicting things to come long after she died, like the invention of cars and aeroplanes was popular with Nana and she read aloud to me, bits of her words.
Cuppa’s over, Nana tipped the day’s takings out on her little table and showed me how to help her count up. First we counted and stacked the coins into ten shilling piles. Then there was a tricky bit, rolling up the coin stacks inside strips of brown paper to take to the bank. Nana cut up the paper strips to the right size from brown paper bags then chopped off the corners to make tucking in easier. Now we had to carefully pick up the piles of coins and lay them on their edges on the paper strips to roll up.
It was actually very awkward to keep it all together, without losing your grip and having them fall apart. The secret to ending up with a successful paper roll of coins, was tucking in the paper’s edges tightly with a fold as you went. If it all collapsed you were back to square one.
The only thing left to do after the money, before we turned in for the night, was to have a quick hand of cards. As far back as I could remember, I had been playing cards with Nana, which she was very cunning at. I had already figured out it was important to stay awake up to her and keep my wits about me. I kept my poker face on when she tried to bluff or distract me. It was hard work when she dealt me a good hand and I was excited with my cards to not let on to her. Just in case she could read my mind, like she did the tea leaves, I tried to not look in her eyes.
During our playing, we used piles of matches for the betting, and I never figured out how Nana somehow kept on winning, she seemed to get lucky with full houses, straights or royal flushes. As we played I got to hear lots of her ‘Olden Days’ stories.
She loved the ‘Royal Family’ and knew them all, going way, way back. Her favorite royal had been the old Queen Mary. Some of her ‘Royal Family’ stories gave me the shivers, like the one about the two little ‘Princes’ in the tower of London getting smothered to death with pillows over their faces. That one stuck in my head and made me feel sad.
Saturday night’s after closing up and the kids were asleep Nana’s old card cronies would turn up for their weekly sessions of poker and euchre. Euchre is a game where you keep track of your wins, called tricks, using the five and six cards. Nana would tell me, not to put the horse on top of the jockey meaning the biggest number, six, went on the bottom. The Saturday night games made the betting much more exciting as matches got swapped for real pennies. Whenever anyone took a toilet break, I got lucky and was allowed to sit in and play their hand for them, which was great fun, and made me feel real grown up.