After settling in to our brand new house in Wainuiomata, (Nappy Valley), the two eldest children were old enough to be enrolled at the ‘Jack and Jill’ kindergarten. It was across the valley in the old Wainuiomata village, and all the Kindy kids from our side, traveled to and fro each morning on the bus. I was grateful for the few hours break it gave me.
Hoping to end the yearly cycle of babies, the doctor when asked recommended a new device called a diaphragm. This was a round rubber cap, you smeared in some sort of jelly and inserted inside, supposedly to block the good swimmers from completing their journey.
As money allowed we set to work finishing off the property. Putting in a driveway, and building a boundary fence, was helped along with neighbours who volunteered for, mixing, wheel barrowing and pouring concrete. Home-made concrete fence posts were created in steel moulds, painted inside with old car oil, for easy release. After terracing the steep hillside behind the house we planted a veggie garden and put up a garden workshed.
Our neighbours on one side, were Mr and Mrs R, a large Catholic family with five children, and on the other side, another ‘spec’ house was in progress. Mrs R and I became friendly having quick cuppa’s and chats in the middle of the morning while the kids were having their naps. On Wednesday nights, we both escaped, husbands, house and chores together and went up the road to the local school to play ‘Housie’. Getting together with the mostly young mothers in our neighbourhood refreshed us, and of course we sometimes won ourselves a bit of extra money.
Mr and Mrs R’s, youngest child, a little girl named Diana, had been born with Spina Bifida a disabling condition, and also Hydrocephalus, water on the brain which gave her an overlarge head. Despite her many health problems, Diana was an exceptionally happy, always smiling, loving little girl. I admired how very patient and cheerful Mrs R, was, dealing with Diana’s complicated medical problems. Her bowel also never worked properly, so her mum had to put on gloves and clear it out.
A couple of times Mrs R appeared to have a black eye but not wanting to embarrass her, I never let on I noticed. Once when it was really bad she told me a dumb story about walking into a door. I guessed it was really her husband, a large Dutchman, who liked his drink. He was also very hard on their little kids. I was shocked to hear he put little Diana inside their dark hall closet, while seated in her high chair, for punishment.
After the builders were finished completing the house on our other side, painters came and painted it a brilliant, bright, blue colour. Sticking out like a sore toe among the more plainly painted houses, lining each side of Wellington Road, we were all agog to see who our new neighbours liking such strong colours were. My red Venetian blinds, I had decided to put up on my windows, had been a source of gossip for the passengers on the buses going past, now the bright blue house became the center of attention.
The new residents who shifted in next-door to us in Wellington Road, turned out to be a Samoan family of exceptionally large proportions, who dressed in traditional clothes and walked around barefooted. This was the first time most of us ‘Pakehas’ had ever seen anyone from the ‘Islands’, up close and personal. Men dressed in skirts, and plump little brown kids, running about playing outside in their birthday suits, stark naked, rain, hail or shine, were a couple of many eye openers, that drew, ‘tut tuts’.
The strange to our ears music of the islands, sounds, rhythms, and drumming, became the background noise of the street, that blared out at ninety decibels morning to night. It appeared like, they wanted to recreate their spot of quarter acre paradise into what they had on their South Seas Island. Our greatest culture shock though, was them, keeping and slaughtering pigs and chooks right there, in their suburban backyard.
Every time they had one of their regular celebrations, the men, naked except for little loin cloths, almost hidden by folds of extra skin, armed themselves with huge, broad blade slashers and set about killing and preparing the animals for eating. It was like my memory of dad’s, Christmas, chicken dinner, slaughter, blood all over the place. None of us had ever expected to see anything like that in our nice new subdivision.
March of 1964, I reached a milestone birthday, twenty-one and was now officially grown up, but as a mother of four, so young, felt old and tired beyond my years. My husband, not one to remember special occasions, left for work without a mention, leaving me a bit down and feeling sorry for myself.
Mid morning, my spirits lifted and I was cheered up, when mum and Nana surprised me by, arriving carrying a scrumptious cake for us to share for morning tea and bearing gifts. Mum’s gift, an upgrade for my ten year old silver school watch, was a lovely new gold one. Nana had a new winter coat with a large black furry collar, (sort of like her old fox-fur) to keep me warm for the coming winter. New clothes for myself were few and far between.
For the past few years, I had been driven to the point of desperation from the excruciating pain of rotting teeth, they were just crumbling away and breaking off like chalk, but I was terrified of going to the dentists. Mrs R, reckoned this was because babies drained all the calcium out your body when you were pregnant. After trying out all the old wives tales possible, like stuffing crushed cloves or asprins in the holes, or trying to pull them out with the pliers, nothing helped.
Whenever the little kids’ baby teeth became loose and wobbly, their father would try and convince them to let him pull them out, with a string tied around the tooth and the other end tied to the door-handle, ready to be slammed shut. But he never got any takers game enough to give that a go, so we never figured out if it would work.
I decided to overcome my fear and have all my teeth removed in one foul swoop and replaced with plastic ones. Vivid memories of assisting mum home on the tram, her swollen up face swathed around with a scarf , looking like death warmed up, after teeth removal under gas, at the public hospital, made me too frightened to have my extractions done there. Instead I went to a ‘specialist’ up on ‘The Terrace’ in Wellington, who put his patients to sleep with an injection.
Coming to after, was a really surreal experience. Unable to believe, half an hour had passed with me away with the fairies, and the teeth were gone, I was confused and asked when they were going to take them out. It was the best decision ever, a few weeks later, the gums were healed up, that horrible pain would be no more, and I had my new plastic smile. I had to have a secret grin to myself when hearing comments about what lovely teeth I had.