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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 2 - Lace Gloves And A Straw Hat

"My gloves were lace and my hat was straw, a gold locket was around my neck and a gold bracelet and signet ring completed the picture...'' In the second episode of her story of family life in New Zealand, Gayle Woodward recalls the delight of being taken on shopping trips by her grandmother.

A real treat was being taken by my Nana on the bus to Queen Street to shop and look at things everywhere. She told me I had to learn to be a real lady, and with my hat and gloves I thought I did indeed look like her. My gloves were lace and my hat was straw, a gold locket was around my neck and gold bracelet and signet ring completed the picture.

The best part was getting a photo taken by photographers who hung round on Queen Street searching for the couple in love or the proud grandmother with grandchild dressed to the nines in hand. That way they could always expect a sale.

We would maybe go to the movies, or have afternoon tea in the tearooms at Smith and Caugheys. I felt so grownup on those outings and was on my most gracious and good behaviour.

When Mary and I went to the city with Mummy and Daddy, it was most often to the Farmers store. We could catch the Farmers Free Bus to go up the hill which I thought was really wily. Inside the store it was so exciting to go up in the lift. The clanging doors would close and an attendant who had a very high stool to sit on would reel off the different things sold on each floor as we passed them on the ascent “Hardware, Drapery, Ladies Underwear”. We always thought that Ladies Underwear was the rudest thing and therefore the funniest to call out.

On the top floor of the multi-storied building was a dining room, which had a cafeteria-style food selection. I did not know of another place, which would have so much food on offer. It was so hard to choose because you did not want to be accused of having ‘eyes bigger than your stomach’, and knew you would be expected to eat everything you chose.

When we had finished we would be allowed to go out to the play garden, which had pedal cars if you were lucky or bossy enough to grab one, which were pedalled as fast as you could round and around this concrete area. There was a white parrot in a tall cage. His name was Hector, and he was a favourite with all the kids because he could talk. Going to the Farmers Play Garden was a highlight of any trip to town.

At home, I was still content to play alone when no one else was there. I had a swing in the backyard on which my Daddy would swing me before I could manage this myself. He would sing to me as he pushed me higher and higher, and the swinging sensation and the rhythm of the songs seemed to me to work together really well. When I could swing alone I kept up the singing not caring who could hear me. It was all the better if somebody did. I enjoyed being the centre of attention and often made up my own songs. Apparently I finished each swinging and singing session with a rendition of God Save the Queen.

All the while that I played my imaginary games, my mother’s work carried on around me. Mornings would start with bread making and the washing could take hours. At first it was done in a copper, which heated the water to a very high temperature so that the clothes had to by taken out of the water by a long smooth stick. They would then be placed into the first of two concrete tubs, both filled with cold water. The first tub was a rinse from which clothes were threaded through a wringer hand-wound into the second tub. This water contained a ‘blue bag’, which was some sort of bleach.

It was a dangerous pastime as while items were being threaded through it was easy for fingers to get caught in the mangle also. An electric washing machine was a welcome addition to the washhouse because the wringer worked automatically when a lever was turned. Clothes were still wrung and placed into two separate tubs for rinsing and bluing but it was easier. This was a very vicious wringer and fingers could be pulled in quickly. It had a very noisy release mechanism, which pulled the rollers apart. I was more scared of the noisy release than of the wringer.

At ten o’clock in the morning, all would stop. A cup of tea would be made and we would all sit down to listen to the radio serials: Portia Faces Life and Doctor Paul. I thought the music that preceded these sessions was more interesting than the stories told.

After the serials had finished there was bread to be kneaded and put in to bake. The afternoons would be taken up with drying the clothes, shopping for meat and dry goods or cleaning. All the time she would be planning meals and entertainment for us.

She was an inspirational mother who made both of her daughters into the mothers and grandmothers they are today. She enjoyed school holidays and had the weeks planned. We never got time to be bored, as one day would be an exciting outing to the movies, the Zoo or to the Farmers Roof Garden and the next day would be a quiet one at home with cooking lessons or playing.


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