This contribution wins the editor’s prize of two dozen bottles of Tui.
The right side of the tracks
A big family meant plenty of fun growing up in the Bay, writes MARY de LANGE.
I clearly remember the day, as a nine or 10-year-old, walking home from school with a classmate and she informed me that my family was really, really poor and that we lived in a poor neighbourhood.
“Your mother has eight children, and there’s not enough food or room at your house, so your brother has been sent away to live in Wellington,” she told me.
That was more than 50 years ago. She may have forgotten the hurtful words, but I wonder if she remembers how I took a shortcut home via the railway reserve, met her as she crossed our corner, with a willow sap in my hand, and gave her a couple of good hard swipes around the bum.
Her irate mother later arrived at our house seeking revenge for my violence toward her daughter, but after hearing my account of the incident, she said she was surprised I had let her off so lightly.
My brother was not sent away. At 16 he was lucky enough to get employment with the Wellington tramways and lived and worked there for the following 50 years.
I was second-youngest of eight I clearly remember the day, as a children – four boys and four girls. There was a 20-year age gap between the oldest and youngest, so by the time I was growing up some of the older members were either married or working away from home and my oldest brother had gone off to the war.
We never at any time felt poor, we were rich in so many ways. We had parents who cared for us and our welfare was paramount as far as they were concerned.
My dad worked at the freezing works as a cooper and sometimes in an abattoir at Awatoto, so there was never a shortage of good meat. He was a great gardener and not only kept us in vegetables, but provided for most of the neighbours and their children as well.
They also raised chickens, grew gooseberries and walnuts, which were given to neighbours who needed them or sold to those who could afford them.
I was always the one chosen to take the basket of produce around the neighbourhood and sell it and collect orders for the following week. Not a pastime, I enjoyed, but I was usually rewarded by the customer with sweets etc. Being part of a large family, we each had chores that were our responsibility, and this was mine.
My mother was a caterer. She was employed for many years at the Pasadena, Rialto and Farmers’ Tearooms.
These establishments served hot meals every day and catered for weddings and social functions, especially balls.
Winter was the ball season when many of the larger ﬁrms and clubs held their traditional annual ball. They were grand affairs with beautiful dresses, men in tuxedos and great banquets at supper time. After catering at any of these events, the staff were allowed to take home any leftover food. We dined like kings.
Our mother was a wonderful cook and could always ﬁnd enough for any of the neighbours’ children, who often happened to arrive at meal times.
I remember her entering a sponge-making contest at the church gala. Her cake was bigger and better by far than the others, but was beaten by a miserable-looking small one. People who voiced their opinion that the contest had been unfairly judged were told it was beaten “because it would not be lady-like to bite into a cake of that size”.
Our mother was a fastidious housekeeper and also the disciplinarian in our home. She was very fussy and our rooms would be inspected, just like being in army barracks.
Three of us girls shared a large bedroom consisting of a wardrobe, three beds in a row, with a small pedestal cupboard between each.
Every Saturday morning our rooms had to be thoroughly cleaned, including polishing our pedestals and if we left any paper or belongings on top of the pedestals it was taken from us. We were not allowed out to play or attend sports until the room passed inspection.
There were several large families in our neighbourhood and our favourite ploy, especially on a Sunday evening, was to go from house to house and when asked if we had eaten, we would say no, then repeat the performance at the next house.
Sunday night was usually chosen as it was a non-vegetable meal and usually consisted of fresh baked bread, scones and cream cakes.
We had the most incredible play area, a natural wonderland of adventure where, when we were not at school we spent every waking hour.
We lived near to the railway line and there was reserve land beside the tracks that extended from the railway station to the Tomoana freezing works. It was perhaps 75 metres wide. Some families, including ours, kept a cow tethered to keep the grass down and supply us with milk and cream.
People claimed little allotments and grew gardens, planting potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes etc. They stored their sawn ﬁrewood there, and surprisingly, it was never stolen.
We built huts, caves and ﬂying foxes, climbed trees, had picnics, slept out in tents and never at any time did we feel threatened or have any sense of danger.
We experimented with smoking by rolling dried hay and dock leaves and lighting them. I don’t recall anyone suffering ill-effects. Some of the grass ﬁres attributed to sparks from the steam trains were probably the result of children, dock leaves and matches.
As we grew older and became more adventurous, we found a new source of entertainment. Most Sunday evenings, just as people were leaving the churches in our area, we would fill a cardboard box with cow dung, wrap it, attach a long string, place it at the railway line crossing in Frederick Street, then hide in the long grass at the reserve. As soon as someone got out of their car and bent to pick it up, we would pull the string and run. Seldom did any one get angry or bother to chase
Photo captions –
HOME SWEET HOME: The house close the [to] the railway line in Mayfair, Hastings, where Mary de Lange was born. It had two bedrooms without a toilet and a laundry with bedroom for the boys attached.
SUNDAY BEST: Ida Godwin, Mary de Lange’s mother, near Westerman’s corner in 1935.
FOND MEMORIES: Mary de Lange.
FIRST JOB: Mary, 15 when she started work as a telegram delivery girl.