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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 67 - On The Beach

“I found a note to myself written in a diary for that year. It said, “No car for Jeff. Wet clothes on floor, food rotting in bags and bins”…

Gayle Woodward, continuing her wonderfully readable account of family life in New Zealand, tells of the delights of bringing up teenagers.

To read earlier chapters of Gayle’s story click on Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine in the menu on this page.

When I went alone to parent-teacher evenings at the secondary school, I found out that Jeff was not putting much effort into his sixth form schoolwork, much as I had imagined from the lack of homework he did.

I had a strong conviction that he should leave school and become an apprentice in some trade. He seemed to be wasting time with academic studies although I knew he was an intelligent young man. I believed that a more practical training would be beneficial. He thought this was a good idea too and announced that he thought a job in the electrical trade would be good.

The deans and other teachers at the school were horrified that a mother should give up on her son’s formal education but I did not waver and it was reluctantly decided on the school’s part that that Jeff would leave school at the end of the year in December and look for work.

At home I was constantly nagging the boys in particular to clean their bedrooms. We would find a lack of drinking glasses in the kitchen cupboards. These could be found lying around on bedroom floors with dregs of mouldy orange juice in the bottoms of the glasses. Jeff had passed his driver’s licence and was always keen to use my car to get to work or sports. I found a note to myself written in a diary for that year. It said, “No car for Jeff. Wet clothes on floor, food rotting in bags and bins”.

Karyn became sick during the middle of the year. She was pale and weak with a sore throat that drugs could not shift and she slept all afternoon on returning from school. Blood tests showed she had contracted glandular fever. I worried that I would not be home with her during the day, but my mother came to the rescue. She drove each day to sit with Karyn so I could be at work. Karyn slept most of the time so the days would have been slow for Mum. The disease was with her for almost a year. She went back to school for half days only as she recovered but still slept during part of the day.

In the summer holidays which followed Christmas we managed to rent a beach bach on my adored Onetangi beach. Jeff, who thought he should not have to holiday with us, was allowed to ask his good friend Danny from Upper Hutt to join us at the beach. We had also borrowed a boat and Woody was able to take the boys fishing and snorkelling from the boat in the sparkling and clean waters of the Hauraki Gulf.

One memorable afternoon Karyn and I were resting at home watching the ‘men’ taking the boat out for a spot of diving. They drove the boat on its trailer to a slope of grass where they could manhandle the boat and trailer down to the water’s edge. We watched them push the boat into the water and then clamber aboard; the empty trailer was dragged back onto the soft dry sand. The motor was started and we looked on anxiously as the boat soared up in the air as they crossed the gentle breakers.

All went well and they motored smoothly along until they were opposite our window. Then the motor stopped. Suddenly Jeff stood up and dived into the water. We were puzzled as he began to swim into shore. At the sand he stood up and ran to the grass area where they had left the car.

Karyn and I rushed outside to see what he was doing. We were amazed to watch him jump into the car and move it to a safe park, turn off the car engine and shut the back door of the station wagon. He then ran back to the sea and swam back to the boat. The ‘boys’ had been embarrassed and shocked to look back to shore and see the car left blocking the road with engine still running and doors open!

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