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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 17 - How To Be A Teenager

“I was still reading Seventeen magazine to try to get an idea of how a teenager should act. I was eagerly awaiting my teenage years and turned 13 a few months into my third form year. I imagined that I would be popular, be asked out on dates, have lots of boyfriends and be very happy. In actual fact, I had no idea of how to meet a boy or get a date and acne slowed me down a lot…’’ Gayle Woodward writes of those difficult early-teens years.

I enjoyed the third form, except for the Phys Ed classes and made good friends with Lesley Holmes as well as keeping up my friendship with Marian. Lesley had to walk past my place to get to school and would call in to collect me each morning so we could walk and talk together. The confidence that I had displayed at primary school was being dented by the changes in my body at puberty. It was good to talk of such things with a friend who understood the problems.

I was taller than most other girls and skinny, small breasted, with wide hips and heavy thighs. My hair and a wide smile were my best features. However I did not have many reasons to smile, and controlling my hair was a problem. My hair was silver blonde and straight, which in a few more years would become highly fashionable, and I had to use a type of setting lotion which we called ‘glue’ to get my hair back off my face so it could be clipped in place. When I washed it, I would use rollers to get the curls I so desired. However, I used rollers that were too small and got frizz instead, the curls of which would fall out after a couple of hours.

My lack of confidence was not helped by family members and family friends commenting “Mary is the pretty one. Gayle is the brainy one.”

I was still reading ‘Seventeen’ magazine to try to get an idea of how a teenager should act. I was eagerly awaiting my teenage years and turned 13 a few months into my third form year. I imagined that I would be popular, be asked out on dates, have lots of boyfriends and be very happy. In actual fact, I had no idea of how to meet a boy or get a date and acne slowed me down a lot. My hair became very oily and was a chore to keep clean. I tended to be shy because of the way I looked, was very self conscious, and tried to keep out of the limelight.

I was determined to one day become a teacher of primary aged children and to this end, sought out babysitting jobs in the neighbourhood. (I had seen this in ‘Seventeen’.) The Dow children lived across the road and I got some work sitting for them at night, when their parents went out to business parties. I was always fearful that one or other of the young children would wake up and I would not be able to settle them. They might cry!

I also volunteered to be a Sunday School teacher. I was a keen and devout member of the Bible Class at the Glendowie Presbyterian Church and went on a memorable weekend camp with our adult leader and the other girls to her bach on the North Shore. As a Sunday School teacher, I worked hard to produce lessons for my very young charges, with lots of handcraft involved and according to the Sunday School curriculum. I enjoyed working with a small group of youngsters and felt I had made the right choice in choosing teaching for my career.

With all this and my Girl Guides too, I was very much the ideal teenage daughter. At Guides, I worked hard for badges although as they were often home craft badges and that was never my strong point, I had to be seriously coached by my mother in order to pass. The Guides were an excellent way for girls of the early sixties to get excitement and practical learning into their lives. We learnt about knot tying, making fires and cooking outdoors, semaphore, planning and trekking.

A memorable occasion was the Guide Camp we went to in the Waitakeres at Otimai. This was a purpose built camp for Girl Guides with bunk rooms and spacious halls for inside games and ceremonies as well as large lawns and bush walks in the grounds outside. Mum came along as one of the camp cooks and spent most of her weekend in the kitchen peeling, preparing and cleaning.

We were organised into teams for outdoor activities, where we had to build sleeping frames and tripods to support a billy over a fire lit with only one match. I came up against girls easily as bossy as me and hated not always being the leader. On the Saturday night we girls were very excited after ghost stories had been shared at campfire. After lights out, giggling and story telling continued. Leaders came in a couple of times to warn us that it was quiet time now but whispering and giggles would start up again.

All at once the door to the bunk room was flung open to reveal a torch light held by the Area Guider, the big chief. She waved it around the room and alighted, to my great shock, on me. I was told to collect my pillow and sleeping bag and follow her out. I tried to tell her that I was not the only one talking but she would not listen. I was to sleep in the big empty hall on one of the window seats around the edge. I cried. She was not swayed.

Another leader came past to see me, found I was crying and went to get Mum from the kitchen. She came and quietened me down but could not get me out of this predicament. I cried myself to sleep that night, frustrated with the unfairness of it all.

Once, our Guide leader took a small group of us on a hike to Waiheke Island. We landed at the wharf at Matiatia, a place I loved, but instead of boarding a bus, we Guides went straight ahead over a stile and into the farmland. After an hour’s trekking we came upon a sheep, bogged down in a muddy water hole. The poor animal was exhausted with struggling to extricate itself.

Our lovely Guide Leader Captain had a very exciting ‘guiding’ idea. We would all take our belts off and they would be buckled together in one long line. This could be passed under the sheep’s body and we could work together to haul her out. She exploded out of the bog with a ‘Swoosh’ and shook herself. We all got covered in mud and our belts could not be worn again that day. But it was very exciting and very practical and we were all very proud.

At Onetangi that year, I first discovered that I had my period. We had no sanitary gear with us so a quick trip to the drapery store produced the sanitary belt and the local shop some pads. I had been eagerly awaiting this event, having had friends who told me about their own first times. I was, however, pretty horrified with the mess of it all and was not prepared for the tummy pains that arrived with it. I was fastidious and likened to the princess in the fairy story who could feel the pea under all the mattresses.

I drifted through my early high school years, beset by homework, which I did diligently, and exams, terrified by the speeches we would have to give in English classes, mortified by having to speak French or Latin in our language classes, horrified when called on to answer a question in class while daydreaming the lesson away. I continued to write and had works published in the School Magazine in the Third Form and the Fourth Form.

I read and devoured novels such as those by Neville Shute and American works like The Grapes of Wrath, A Member of the Wedding or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.


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