Most of my school holidays from the age of 7yrs until we left the King Country when I was 13yrs old were spent with my Grandmother. (Nana)
Breakfast in bed, a luxury never allowed at home, singing together and hours spent pouring over old photo albums and reliving her childhood, these things I remember so clearly. This woman wrapped me up in a cocoon of love and safety. She taught me to look at the smallest things on our long walks, insects, leaves and stones gathered up and arranged neatly on the table, where we discussed and marvelled at the beauty. Sitting out on the front steps in the sun, brushing her long white hair, plaiting and re-plaiting, tying it up in all sorts of strange ways – she even used to let me pluck her eyebrows!
Every week day morning at precisely 10.00 am we sat down with a cup of tea and usually a large slice of deliciously light sponge cake, made with blue shelled duck eggs, baked in an old coal range, to listen to `Doctor Paul` and ` Portia faces Life`, both long running radio serials which my Nana never missed and I became enthralled with. For an hour we forgot where we were, the sound of dogs barking and my Grandfather's gruff voice bringing us back to reality.
The farm house was built at the end of a very long driveway which meandered up a steep clay hillside. Planted in large groups were many exotic trees including wonderful Liquidambars which glowed red, yellow and orange in autumn. I can never see these trees now without instantly being transported in my mind, back to my Grandmothers home. After the leaves had fallen the hillsides were smothered in huge yellow daffodils, another memory I treasure. Nana and I in our coats and gumboots early in the morning picking armfuls of sweet smelling daffodils for the house and to give to her elderly neighbours a mile or so down the valley.
Nana had a pet Paradise duck called Milly. This spoilt pet followed her everywhere, even inside if she could. Every May my Grandfather and 2 uncles, Paul and Ian, would go duck shooting on the dam at the back of the farm, one year they brought home this tiny duckling – an unusual thing for these men to do as they were not really into pets, except maybe for the fox terrier the boys had and even she had to earn her living by chasing rabbits out of burrows to be caught in a net. My Grandfathers working dogs were certainly not made a fuss of, they were never allowed inside the back gate.
Milly however, became Queen of the house and garden, the dogs were very wary of her , the cat never went near her after the first and only run-in they had – the duck won! Milly was so expressive, she had a large repertoire of calls and she was a very good watchdog. If she didn't recognise someone they ended up dancing from foot to foot trying to escape the peaking beak and strong flapping wings. She adored my Grandmother, they could often be found sitting together on the front porch in the late afternoon sun, Nana snoozing and Milly dreaming with tiny soft noises.
Paradise ducks mate for life, when Milly found her mate and eventually left, Nana missed her very much but I think the slugs and snails in the garden were happy she had gone.
My two youngest uncles are only 4 and 5 years older then me, my Mother being one of the oldest of the eight children my Grandparents had. These two boys used every opportunity they had to tease me unmercifully. If they weren't sitting on me and tickling me till I cried, they were frightening me with awful scary stories. I remember their outside bedroom with the walls covered in deer and pig heads and their guitars and mouth organs I was told never to touch – well, that proved an irresistible reason to sneak in while they were not there and touch these forbidden musical instruments. They were both crack shots with a 22 rifle and also deadly with slingshots, practising every day with tin cans lined up along the fence posts. Possum shooting was an experience with these two boys, being allowed out after midnight into the dark, thousands of stars and the sound of silence, a huge adventure. The foxy would bail a possum up high in the poplars or macrocarpa hedge with a lot of hysterical barking, a single shot and dull thud as the dead animal hit the ground – another skin to add to the pile that would be sold to the local buyer for one shilling each. For the mighty privilege of being there I had to carry the smelly, blood dripping carcase home, running to keep up with the boys but never complaining..
My Grandmother died in Sept 1982, I was heavily pregnant with my 2nd daughter.. I still feel her loss keenly, a week later Pip was born, my tiny daughter who has her Great Grandmothers name in hers, Phillippa Claire Gwendoline and who has inherited the same gentle nature and sweet smile.
I see the likeness of my Grandmother in my three daughters faces, I see the gentle smile and bright eyes and feel the loving nature. I know she watches over me, and often feel her presence. I remember the words she spoke and I am forever thankful she was in my life.