Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lucky Me When I was Young

Lucky Me – When I was Young.

I am fifty-one now. It feels right but still a bit strange to think about.
When I was a kid our toilet paper was yesterday’s newspaper, torn into bits and stored either on a wire or in a cardboard box, in the outside toilet.

Nothing wrong with newspaper at all. So, people bought newspapers regularly…needs must. So no one had to buy toilet paper.

Phenyle was the disinfectant we used, and nothing survived it, so we all stayed well…and you knew if you had worms because they were there looking back at you, when the toilet pan was full.

Our toilet moved from side to side in strong wind and no amount of fixing or propping up seemed to sort this problem out.

Mum used no hair conditioner ever, but had lovely dark glossy hair. She used no face moisturiser but had smooth shiny skin at sixty-five. She never wore commercial deodorants, ever; but not once in my life can I remember her smelling…definitely a low cost upkeep woman my mum.

Dad was stocky and had big muscles and broad shoulders and he worked hard – fencing, woodcutting, painting houses, on top of his regular job at the abattoirs. On his holidays he repainted our own house a few times and dug huge vegetable gardens. The large yard was always neat and mowed.

Dad did a Milk Run out amongst the dairy farms near Glenbawn on some Saturday mornings at one time. I went with him and felt sorry for him having to lift those huge Milk cans from the stand to the back of the truck. I couldn’t even shift them. I loved going on the milk run with him, and no doubt talked his ears off…can’t remember what we talked about. I was too young to remember specifics, just the feelings.

Some Sundays he sat in the sun at the wood heap reading the papers, and enjoying peace.

We had baths on Saturday or Sunday and washed our hair from a dish on a chair in the back yard. There was sunlight soap in the early days. We had washes through the week and were always clean, except when we were not clean, but always when we went outside the yard. We were given a tablespoon of Olive Oil on Sunday night for digestion, and seldom got sick, except when we were really sick, and when we wanted to be sick, to get out of school.

Mum was okay with this occasionally.

Dad would use those big muscles to clean up the house on Sunday Mornings so Mum could go to Mass. He would cook Lamb’s Fry on Saturday mornings sometimes, which we loved. He would do shopping for mum when needed and made wonderful birthday cakes with lollies on top.

There was no “women’s work” attitude in him. He was a real man and didn’t need to be macho to prove it.

His shed was organised and Spartan and solid although the Scone Council wasn’t happy with his building it. One day he drove through its big double doors, after a few beers, but it was fixed up by night time. No worries.

When I was a kid, we had two large wooden tables in the kitchen. One was for ironing and cooking. The dining table was covered with a kind of lino, which was an interesting pattern and under which I could hide my crusts. I never wondered where they went after that, but they were always gone later on.

Never did get curly hair maybe had to do with eating crusts after all.

We did our homework at the other table.

We listened to the radio there; “Dad and Dave”; “Dexter Dutton”; “Police File” and “Dossier on Demetrius”, amongst others. There were Birthday parties, Christmas dinners, tears and fights over washing up, many of which I picked so I could get out of it.

Family gatherings were held in the kitchen We were sent outside with a bit of cake to play and they talked and gossiped unhindered. We didn’t expect to stay inside but some of us did eavesdrop just outside the door till that got too boring or we got caught. Usually me.

In the kitchen we watched Dad sneak up behind Mum and undo her apron strings when she was ironing, and listened to her laughter when he did it over and over and called her “Margo” which she hated.

In the kitchen I regaled mum with what had happened at school or wherever and talked about everything and she listened, and I knew she listened. She did this for all five of us. She was an interested mother, and that made her interesting to me.

When I was young that kitchen was a rich and glorious place at times. Sometimes I got my just desserts there, which never did me any harm at all.

When I was a kid, kids got school sores and boils but never nits. They just didn’t seem to be around. We wore school uniforms, without question, the great leveller, and most of us wore ours till the serge was shiny at the back and would no longer pleat. We were happy with Vegemite sandwiches and water for School Lunch, and I loved the “Free” milk we got at playlunch, with no flavouring needed.

We ate watermelons outside on summer evenings and watched the stars come out. Fish and Chips was a permanent fixture on Friday nights and Tony and Joan Tosalakis did a roaring trade at their Astoria Café. The fish and chips were affordable for all families unless the father drank too much or gambled. There were some very big families. I wasn’t aware of this though. We always had Fish and Chips.

All my stuff would’ve fitted into a small suitcase, except for my rock collection. I liked to dig for treasure and was allowed, as long as it wasn’t in the centre of the yard. Why would I want to do that?

When I was young, I knew Dad loved Mum and she loved him. He was happy to take her to see Aunts and Uncles, and we seemed to visit Mum’s people more than Dad’s. Dad became part of Mum’s family in a way she never became a part of his. She tried – but it was just how they were at times.

When I was young I wet the bed nightly till I was nine. Whew! Mum never made a big deal out of it and never roused on me for it. I was never afraid of her reactions on any subject. In fact I seldom saw her angry, although she had to be. I am sure I was a bit of a trial at times, but she would say, “Therese you are such a card!” and that sounded like approval to me.

Mum was a lady in a way neither money nor training could achieve. It was an internal state of being with her. A graciousness and gentle feeling around her, that allowed her in later years to get away with wearing yellow beanie, with brown coat and purple tracksuit pants and only raised a little curve of the lips from all of us.

She was just lovely and I was lucky.

Dad did get angry at times…a short fuse but it burnt out quickly and was gone just as quick. I saw him once trying to go crook on us but unable to hold a straight face at our expressions… so any trouble was soon sorted and it felt clean, not as if any one of us was treated unfairly.

Very important when we are young.

When I was young our drinking and hair washing water came from the tank; our meat from the meatworks a block away. Meat came from sheep, cattle and pigs, which were trucked in by road or train and which we would hear when they parked outside our house at night time. No illusions there. We had no sunscreen, wore no hats and had no Zinc cream. We wouldn’t have worn it if we had any. That looked a bit namby.

When I was young people could be intolerant, stupid, cruel and narrow. People gossiped. Just like they do today and have always done. Like hens in the chook yard, they instinctively looked for the sick hen to peck. Mum said they acted like this because they were ignorant.

Unmarried mothers hardly existed because they were forced to hand over their babies or had them stolen from them. Parents endangered beloved daughters by arranging backyard abortions, from which some died and others were maimed for life. Society turned a blind eye to the suffering and human rights abuse of these young girls and women.

Young men were always blameless and encouraged quietly behind closed doors to sew their wild oats, condom free. They were men after all and men have these needs.

Boys were “young and adventurous”. Girls were “fast and loose”

It was wrong.

When I was young some fathers, uncles and brothers abused wives, daughters and children. Most women pretended that this didn’t happen, to save the marriage. The marriage had to be saved at all costs and was often more important than the reason for marriage.

Children in such families were punished instead if they complained, or they learned to shut up.

But when I was young I didn’t know any of this because I was young. I had good parents and family to whom children were important and women were treated honourably. There was a lot of love in our family and we were treated with respect for our differences to each other.

Lucky me, when I was young.

Therese Mackay – June 2005

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