On our trips in the Wellington area, we loved catching up with my Nana living in a tiny council bedsit at Kilbirnie, which my mother had helped her to furnish comfy cosy. She would often remark to me, how grateful and happy she was to have qualified for her own little pensioner flat, after years of living in boarding house rooms.
On her bed-side table, Nana kept an old fashioned wind up ticking clock. She said, hearing the ticking gave her company. Hanging above her bed, she had a photo of ‘Mother’, as she called her own mother, but I never saw a picture of ‘Father’. I would stare intently at my Great Grandmother Jones’ picture, looking for any family likenesses.
She was a big lady with heaps of thick, dark bushy curly hair. It had become a bit of a family tradition, checking each new addition, to see if they had, as we coined it, the fat hair, bushy curls of varying colours, she passed down or the thin hair. My mother got thick, her sister thin, my sister got thick and I got thin.
Even though she was managing on a very tiny pension, Nana somehow managed to stretch her small roasts and veggies enough to share a meal for all of us. She also liked to surprise us by breaking out her trademark, Queenie cakes.
These were yummy little cakes with insides sprinkled through with sultanas. They were delicious washed down with cuppa’s and the kids sat for ages using their teeth to scrape the last crumbs off the little paper cups. Nana never used recipes, she said her recipes were all in her head from doing years of cooking at the hotel.
During her shopping trip up town in Kilbirnie, Nana stumbled and fell when stepping off the footpath, and hit her head. She couldn’t understand why, the other pedestrians kept walking past, leaving her laying in the gutter calling for someone to help. She wondered if it was because they were thinking she was drunk. Eventually someone did call the ambulance to take her to the hospital.
Nana loved to travel out on visits to her various family members and being a big fan of, the ‘Newman’s Buses’, (she knew all the bus drivers by name) she always booked her tickets with them. I was pleased whenever she came for stay overs with us in the Wairarapa and made sure she got to enjoy her occasional shandy. For a short period she took up smoking ‘Cameo’ cigarettes, because it gave her something to do. She told me, she wished she had learned to knit like my mother to keep her occupied.
It was deja-vu, watching her get my kids to sit on top of her suitcase lid and squash it down with all their might, so she could get the catches closed, just as I remembered doing when young.
The first day of spring, September 1st, 1975, the arrival of our lovely wee baby girl becomes the icing on our happiness cake. Her father, not allowed in to see her actual birth, waits outside in the Masterton hospital corridor.
Having his first hold and over the moon at being a second time dad, he laughingly says, ‘not bad for an old fella’ referring to our twelve year age gap. After studying her tiny six and a half pound frame, he nicknames her ‘Sparrow’, because she resembles a scrawny little bird.
I was especially pleased to find maternity home care had come out of the dark ages. My baby and I are, ‘roomed in’, the current new idea, which means her bassinet is placed beside my bed and allows me to care for her whenever she needs it.
As with my other babies, I give her a good check up, making sure all the essential bits are there. Noticing a little raised red lump on the top of her foot, I decide to get it checked out by her father’s sister, our local plunket nurse.
My Nana who is now nearly Eighty, arrives on ‘Newmans’ to keep house and oversee the older children while the husband returns to shearing his sheep.
When I notice that the lady in the bed next to me in the ward, has the underwear missing from my locker in hers and is wearing them, I feel sorry for her and decide to keep quiet. However, we did nickname her, ‘Mrs Pinch your Pants’ for a laugh. After seeing the nurses confiscate her big bottle of Fanta because it contained alcohol, I realized she has problems.
Back home again, the other siblings all squabble to have holds of the baby and at the nightly pool competitions, she gets passed from hand to hand as we take our turns. The ten year old sister when not at school wants to carry her around constantly.
Acting like he has somehow accomplished a miraculous feat, proving he still has what it takes, her father also pays great attention to his new little daughter. He insists her bassinet is placed on his side of the bed and any whimpers in the night has him immediately getting her up, for pats on the back or feeds. When she refuses to go off to sleep, he drives in circles around our block in the car, until she nods off.
Nana never ever failed to remember birthdays and Christmas, always posting cards with a ten shilling note inside for the children and ‘Golden Kiwi’ tickets for the adults. She also kept us in a supply of washed and dried bread bags for putting the school lunches in by mail. Even though we never hugged or kissed in our family, each one felt special and loved by Nana.