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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 7 - My Hero

"Daddy was my hero. I had absolute faith that he could make anything right, from broken toys to bee stings...'' Gayle Woodward continues her engrossing story of growing up in New Zealand. To read earlier chapters of Gayle's autobiography type her name in the search box on this page.

My sister and I played together, but not cooperatively. Our dolls were as loved as babies. Both our baby dolls had hand-knitted layettes and beautifully sewn clothes, decorated with crochet and lace. Because I liked the colour blue, my babies were always dressed in pale blue, while Mary’s were dressed in pale pink. We played completely different games, talking to ourselves, describing what the baby was doing and what would happen next.

Another favourite game was Dress-up Dolls, cardboard figures dressed in underclothing, which stood up with a cross-like stand. The clothes to dress these dolls came printed on sheets of paper, to be cut out carefully, making sure you did not cut off the tabs, which would bend around the figure to hold the clothing on. Dress-up Dolls needed houses because they were thought to be teenagers and therefore quite grownup. We stood books opened out and on end and made many-roomed houses on our bedroom floor. It would make rather a mess with every book in the bookcase in use, but everything had to be tidied up, even if you’d just finished building by 5 o’clock because “Daddy will be home soon”.

We could see this as quite logical and although we grumbled, we always cleaned up for Daddy. Mother would comb her hair, put on lipstick, change her dress and we would have to tidy away all our toys. It was fun to walk along the footpath to meet Daddy coming off the same bus each night. His tweed sports coat was comforting and rough at the same time. He was always so pleased to see us.

Daddy was my hero. I had absolute faith that he could make anything right, from broken toys to bee stings and prickles in my foot. It was he who came when the ‘night terrors’ came to me. He would show me that nothing was in the room or under the bed and took me outside to see the beautiful stars.

When I awoke, one night in my tenth year, to see my cat Tammy’s yellow eyes shining at me from the end of my bed and then heard the sound of her licking herself clean for a long nap, it sounded like the smacking lips of a monster which, along with the yellow eyes, made me scream in terror “Daddy!” He would come running. “Tammy’s licking herself!” I cried. He did not laugh at me. He took the cat outside and settled me down again.

My imagination made everything so vivid and real to me. I do not know whether I had lived a real life or an imaginary life, most of the time. At age eleven, after I had moved into the ‘sun porch’ bedroom, Mary began sleepwalking. I awoke a few times to find she had gone looking for me, after I had moved out from our shared bedroom. She would be staring down at me from beside my bed. The eyes of a sleepwalker are vacant and eerie and I started up my screaming again “Daddy!” I knew it was Mary, but not the Mary I knew.

Daddy would take Mary back to bed and settle her down after my scream had woken her, disorientated and frightened. Then he would return to me and make me feel safe. I took to dragging a sofa across my doorway so she could not visit me in her ghostlike sleepwalks.

Christmastime was a magical time in our household. Even when I began to doubt the existence of Santa Claus, I could still summon him up by believing and then hear the reindeers' footsteps on our roof. There would be baking – fairy cakes in paper cases with icing and decorated with silver cachous, shortbread, a Christmas cake, which filled the house with a warm and fruity smell as it cooked long and slow with burnt paper sticking out over the top of the cake tin. There would be a ham baked from its smoked state in a flour casing.

There would be a Christmas tree and Christmas cards to write. Then when the cards arrived at our house, I loved to get the mail each day in December and try to guess who the card was from by the handwriting.

Our tree was a real one, sitting in a bucket and the lights were electric candles. The power point for the lights was at the other end of the lounge to the tree and it was a favourite joke for anyone who touched the candle lights, to find that they all went out. Secretly, and it took me many Christmases to find this out, my father would flick the switch when anyone came too close. They would move away in shock and he would surreptitiously turn the power on again.

On Christmas Eve, we would leave some little cakes and a glass of milk for Santa and some silver beet and grass for the reindeers. On Christmas morning, our pillowcases would be bulging and the bigger gifts left around the fireplace. Always there was something left from the fairies and we knew they had been there by the glitter trail left throughout the house to the door.

One Christmas Eve I told Mary that we could prove whether it was Santa or fairies or Mummy and Daddy that got the presents for us. I took her into my bedroom and we whispered out the window that we wanted fairy wings and wands. I said with authority that our parents would never have time to make these things by the morning so if we got them, it would be the fairies that had made them. I believe that the idea had been sown in my fertile mind weeks earlier and that the parents made a joint effort to bend wire, fix gauzy material on to the wire, cut out wooden stars for the wands and spread magic glitter over all for many nights after we had gone to bed. And I imagine that with my marathon reading efforts under the blankets it would have to be very late at night if I wasn’t to know.

Of course, in the morning, there was the glitter trail leading us to fairy wings and wands, just as we had imagined they would be. Mary threw me such a look of relief that I began to feel mean to have sowed the seeds of doubt in her mind. I still had slight doubts but decided it was better to keep quiet about them. I added cunning to my naivety.

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