A Matter of Course

Not much thinking is needed to realise that what the current younger generation sees as an expected right or resource may well have been entirely absent two generations ago. And what were accepted practices then, may now — sadly or gladly — be absent.

My most shattering eye-opener was at a family reunion when Dad gave a speech starting “I was born in a house with a dirt floor…” Huh? Forty-five years later he’d erected a fine two-storeyed house where they lived until his death after another forty-or-so years.

As a youngster in the 20s and 30s my father was one of eight children. Such families had to eke out what they could in those Depression days, yet families shared resources easily, without embarrassment and without official agencies. When there was no work to be had, there was Government assistance of five shillings per week. A loaf of bread was sixpence.

Relief Work on the roads consisted of toil with picks and shovels. Eventually this dwindled to one day per week, and married men with families were given preference.

Accordingly, my grandfather cleared gorse to gain an area where he could plant vegetables. They lived off the garden, and trapped rabbits with a wire noose. Leftover vegetables were sold or given to the needy. During that period from 1928 to 1936 there was a real spirit of looking after each other, and never blame or difficulty with accepting help.

Farmers nearby let my father and his siblings fossick for kauri gum after any paddocks were ploughed. Whatever they found, they sold. From somewhere my father learned how to make an effective cleansing liquid by boiling eggshells with washing soda. He strained this into bottles and sold the product.

“Shortage?” “Hardship?” Mention either word to children in those days and they would have stared at you blankly.

Conditions back then would certainly not have satisfied today’s requirements for State Housing. Three kids slept in the same bed, which sagged in the middle. They had a sleep-time rotation system: the one whose turn it was to be in the middle determined on which side each child would sleep, and if he turned over in the middle of the night the others had to do the same.

The local midwife sometimes lodged with them (in that house with a dirt floor), using horseback to make visits as required. And if any children had school-sores they were bathed and had boracic acid applied to draw out the pus.

At one stage my grandfather worked for a farmer, the chairman of a County Council in the Waikato River area. Since the boss administered three farms and ‘run-offs’, he had an old truck to get him from one to the other. Another of the workers was Dad’s Uncle George, who taught Dad to drive that truck.

My father left school at fourteen, and the day he was fifteen he got his driver’s license. When his father (by then in his late thirties) bought his first car — a Model A –he had to learn how to manage it from his son. The only tractors those days were steam-driven engines.

Owning a truck made it easier to use natural resources. One farm had a pumice-pit, presumably a relic of the eruption which had created Lake Taupo in the distant past. They would chip away at it, and carry off the pumice to use on cattle races and driveways.

These days we don’t expect to have to do what they did, and then again there are things we now take as a matter of course, which nobody in those days would possibly have dreamed of.

And so Time passes, with its changes.



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