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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 1 - A Sheltered Life

"I was dressed in a frilly party dress and thought I was just so pretty. Someone, perhaps my Nana, placed a fur stole around my shoulders and I stroked the fur and smiled at myself in the mirrors...''

Gayle Woodward was born in post-war New Zealand. At an early age she acquired a love of books. Writing became an important part of her life.

She was a member of a close-knit family. Her parents made wonderful toys and encouraged imaginative play.

Gayle is writing her life story - a story of a happy childhood, of an awkward teenager who became a confident young woman, of courtship, marriage and motherhood.

Week by week, her story will be featured in Open Writing.

I was born 15 months into my parents' marriage, a marriage that by all accounts did not have a very auspicious start.

They were married on the 10th January 1948, and to try and save money to build a house on the section they had purchased in the new suburb of Glendowie, they moved from rented accommodation to stay with each of their own parents in turn. How they managed to establish a new relationship under these circumstances is a mystery, but it was probably due to my father’s patience and understanding.

However they saved hard and were soon able to get a house started, a garden established and trees planted at 38 Whitehaven Road in Glendowie. There were restrictions on the plan of the house, the number of bedrooms and types of materials used. There were difficulties with builders and bricklayers. However, by November of 1948 they could move in with Joyce, my mother, pregnant with me.

I have been told that I was eagerly awaited but Joyce was ill with morning sickness, and further problems occurred when my maternal grandfather was admitted to hospital with what proved to be bowel cancer. He was sent home to die and my parents moved back to mother’s old home to help care for him.

During this period, as they moved to and fro from their own house to the Kirkman residence, I was born on 28th April 1949. I was very much loved and welcomed as the first grandchild and although it was difficult to breastfeed and keep me to a peaceful routine, we were there as Papa’s illness progressed. It was always a family legend that I said his name, Papa, just before he died in November. I would have been 7 months old.

My first memory is of my maternal aunt’s wedding in December 1950. I was then 18 months old and was asked to give a horseshoe to the bride. My mother was the Maid of Honour so we were there at the preparations, as all the women got dressed in their finery. I can remember the three-mirrored dark oak dressing table, and how wonderful it was to smile at oneself and have three images smile back.

I was dressed in a frilly party dress and thought I was just so pretty. Someone, perhaps my Nana, placed a fur stole around my shoulders and I stroked the fur and smiled at myself in the mirrors again. I rushed off to show my Daddy in the other room, when suddenly I noticed to my horror a little fox’s head at one end. The wedding went on into the evening and I kept going, charming people with my growing vocabulary and loving being in the limelight.

I loved to dress up and would often parade around the house in high heel shoes, hats and stoles (but never again in a fox’s head stole). I was a self sufficient little girl, given to exploring and finding my own games. At one time I was sitting on the warm concrete path in the backyard when I noticed some dried worms next to me. As young children are wont to do, I began eating them. Mother was horrified and screamed at me to spit them out. I was rather frightened as this was the first time I had ever been growled at. I was paralysed with fear as she gouged them out of my mouth with her fingers. To this day I have a deep abiding fear of worms, snakes and other creatures cylinder-shaped.

I loved being read to and would often bring a book to one or other of my parents. There seemed to be books that Daddy could read best and other books that were only for Mummy to read. My favourite ones were the little child-sized Mary Mouse books about a family of mice. I loved those books so much that when my little sister arrived I thought there would be no better name for her than Mary. I am sure that to avoid any sibling rivalry that may have occurred when a new interest usurped the attention of my parents they decided to appease me, and because this was also the name of our Nana that is what she became.

She was rather disappointing as far as I could see. She slept when I wanted to see her and one always was being asked to keep quiet so as not to wake her. It annoyed me that she would have many close cuddles with Mummy and I seemed to be absolutely ignored at these regular times. She was a quiet little baby and Mummy took a long time to recover from the birth and I began to think that baby Mary was the cause of the loss to me of my happy and attentive mother.

I began to play alone and an imagination grew. I had a baby doll which slept in a doll’s bassinet with real sheets like baby Mary. One night after he had come home late, Dad slung his trousers over the doll’s bed. In the morning when I came into the room to collect my baby I was horrified to find that she could not breathe with air denied her because of the trousers. I screamed at Daddy, “Don’t you ever do that again! My baby can’t breathe!” And, “Be tidy! You have to look after your babies!”

As a three year old, I was taken to the movies to see the Movietone news film of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. I thought this was the pinnacle of glamour and excitement and I decided that I would be a princess and start practising for the day when I could be crowned. I became a princess, and the ability to ‘believe’ started here. I played coronations with an old wicker chair for a throne, a toy broom the sceptre and a ball for the orb. I had a cardboard crown and an old curtain or piece of material for my ermine robe.

I would sit on my throne and in my very vivid imagination could hear the crowds cheering and see flags waving. Very much the loyal royalist I always finished this game with a very loud version of God Save the Queen. This had recently been changed from the God Save the King and I thought it was so much better to have a queen instead of a king as monarch. After all, Fairy Queens and real Queens were one and the same to me.

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