When I was a child

When I was a child I was small and afraid

I spoke when I was spoken to

When I was a child I didn’t sing in the house,

I didn’t sing in the car

When I was  child I learned to hide

at the clicking of the front gate

When I was a child I was small and afraid

I didn’t go into the hall when the lights were out.

When I was a child the dark was full of monsters

When I was a child I was small and afraid.

 

Now I am an adult

and I dance on your grave.

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Packed lunch.

A few years ago as a friend and I were walking our dogs on Orewa beach I mentioned to her that I felt somewhat bad as I hadn’t made lunch for Ron before he went off to work. She looked at me in astonishment and exclaimed that she thought he was quite old enough to get his own lunch ready in the morning. She was of course absolutely right but then I unfolded the reasons making his lunch was important to me and at the end of my explanation she smiled and said “you really should write these stories down”. So here’s one from the family album for you.

We grew up in South Auckland, in Otahuhu and both Mum and Dad worked in factories for pretty minimal wages. Dad didn’t work within his trade (painting and decorating) but as a welder and metal worker in a factory in Ellerslie. Mum worked part time as a cutter in a clothing factory on a very casual basis, her going to work often depended on whether she got up in time and if she felt like going in, on several occasions if they had a lot of work or a rush job Mum’s boss would actually have to come and pick her up and take her to work himself . I know for many years that Mum was unknowingly paid as a ‘white worker’ which was an unskilled rate and it wasn’t until the union rep visited unexpectedly and found her doing all the cutting that it was discovered she was being grossly underpaid and this is why her boss had no problem with her missing days, especially if the union rep was due to visit! Anyway Mum’s work attendance improved dramatically after she received some compensation and a better rate of pay.

All that aside, you get the picture, we were not a wealthy family. However in the 60’s and 70’s in Aotearoa it was possible to have a home and feed and clothe your children quite adequately on factory wages.

In those days before plastic bagged everything our bread arrived in waxed paper, our milk in glass bottles at the letterbox each morning and you could get a very filling school lunch for a few pennies or later a few cents from the school lunch ladies.

We Edge girls did not however have regular school lunches.

We would be woken up every school morning by Dad just before he left for work and then each of us would find our school clothes and appear in the kitchen being very careful not to wake Mum up as that could mean a yelling at or if she was in one of her more volatile periods, worse. We would scour the cupboard for some breakfast cereal but if it was towards the end of the week it had usually run out and we knew that there was no point asking for more, if there was bread we could make toast but then there wouldn’t be enough for lunch. If it was early in the week and there was some corn flakes or rice bubbles left we then had to take into consideration whether there was enough milk left for Mum’s cup of tea, if we took the last of the milk we would be in real trouble.  So breakfast was often a non-event for us as children.

Dad was allowed to take 6 slices of bread and butter for his lunch each day, there were no fillings for him either and we knew enough to make sure his lunch was taken care of first. None of us owned a lunch box so if we could make a sandwich or find some crackers to take there was only waxed bread wrappers to wrap them in and they would invariably end up in a crushed mess at the bottom of our lunch boxes.

On Fridays we got lunch money  for a hot pie as Thursday was payday for Mum, I loved Fridays.

So that was how our school days unfolded, often without breakfast or lunch.

On occasion, when Mum was in a good mood one of us would mention to Mum that the other kids seemed to have lunch money everyday or their Mum’s would make lunches for them, we were always told that it was our own fault we didn’t have lunch and that (despite the evidence to the contrary) there was always plenty of food in the house for us to make lunches with, we were pronounced lazy. Likewise if we had the courage to tell her the cereal had run out she would accuse us of eating too much at the beginning of the week and so again it was our own fault. If as we got older we would point out that in fact we hadn’t ‘pigged out’ at all and she would tell us that they simply couldn’t afford any more. That seemed to settle things and we accepted that there just wasn’t enough money. Often when the subject of breakfast or lunch did come up and Mum was feeling voluble she would regale us with stories of how terrible life in the orphanage had been for her and how they were so badly fed that some children actually died of malnutrition, she would usually end up by telling us we were much luckier than she had been and that would close down any discussion. As we got older it did occur to me that had I had her childhood I would have wanted to make life better for my own children and I grew resentful.

I recall that one day I actually asked her if she loved me as I really couldn’t tell if she did.

I am grateful to this day for the mothers of some of my school friends, word must have gotten home that I never had any lunch and quite often a friend would offer me an extra sandwich they just ‘couldn’t eat’ or would spend their sweet money on tuck shop fare and share it with me. I look back now and realise they did that out of kindness for a friend they realised just wasn’t getting enough to eat.

When I got older and had my own children I couldn’t bear the idea that they went to school hungry or didn’t have enough food in their lunch box to get them through the day, providing enough to eat became a very important way for me to show them that I loved them. This didn’t mean that I kept making their lunches for them when they became teenagers but even then I always made sure there was plenty of sandwich makings, fruit, chippies and biscuits. I always hated it when they brought home left over food but it was still better than wondering if they had enough. Wasting food had been a sin when I was young.

The kicker came 3 years ago when I had to go through all the accumulated detritus that was stored in every nook and cranny of Mum and Dad’s house in Kerikeri. There was so much paper hoarded that I ended up having to go through everything to sort out the total crap from the important from the sentimental and I came across several little note books. It turned out that part of Mum’s bi-polar disorder was a need to hoard not only paper but money too. All through those years we were growing up hungry Mum was squirrelling away every bit of money she could lay her hands on. We knew Dad handed over his pay packet every week and got back ‘pocket money’ and she would tell us he was ‘no good’ with money and we accepted that it must be so. I don’t think Dad ever actually knew how much Mum earned as it was all saved. Now the irony is that because they had some money saved, never took a holiday, bought new clothes or fed their children adequately the government is taking it all back off them at $1050. per week to keep Mum in a dementia ward.

If only they could have indulged a little, taken that holiday, eaten a little better and enjoyed living each day instead of constantly worrying about money, perhaps they would have better memories to share with each other now.

 

So there’s a reason I used to make Ron’s lunch for him, to me it’s an act of caring, it’s me saying “you may be out of my sight but you are in my heart”.

 

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Burning fuse.

Forty three years ago when I was a bright and starry eyed teenager a friend of my boyfriend’s mother, who also happened to be an astrologer, asked for my birth date and time and then proceeded to work out my astrological chart. I was a highly superstitious and emotional teenager and carrying way too much baggage for my tender years so a ‘foretelling’ was eagerly taken on board as it offered some hope for a brighter and less traumatic future. She counselled me that the things my chart revealed were strong possibilities and revealed character traits that she said were a part of my very soul. In my naivety I eagerly looked forward  to some of them working out, others not so much.

She told me many interesting things most of which I have now forgotten, but three of these prophesies stuck with me through the years, persistent in their clarity (I can still hear her voice in my head) and worrisome in there substance.

The first of her pronouncements that come to mind was that, in her words,  I would have “two great loves”, she didn’t know when or where but she insisted that I would only love truly, madly, deeply twice and that those feeling would endure for my life time.

She then followed this up by telling me that I would never be really fulfilled in any relationship and that she thought I would be happier if I contented myself with living a solitary life!

Cow, I was 18 years old. All through the ensuing years these words haunted me, as I entered a relationship full of hope and joy her voice could be heard whispering from some deeply hidden place in my mind reminding me that this wouldn’t, couldn’t last and would inevitably end in tears and pain.

Don’t for a moment think that I accepted this woman’s words as an indictment on my life, I challenged the hocus-pocus on every level, I am, and was, an intelligent adult who knew that to think the stars had any influence on my character was just silly. I value learning, questioning, research, science and good old common sense, but………..

As my life has unfolded I have had many wonderful relationships and have loved truly, madly, deeply in most if not all cases. While it is true that only one of these loves has had what it takes to endure past a few short years I can honestly say that the breakups were not all due to some star bound cause in myself. For many years I was too young and  ill equipped to understand what my weekness’s, strengths and motivations were and I was unaware of the influence early trauma had on my ability to make healthy choices in a partner. Likewise my lovers had their own baggage and through no actual fault of either of us these points of weakness were too pervasive and influential in our lives. I am a slow learner and it took time, I honed the skills to help me through the difficulties and eventually I developed the ability to be in a mature loving relationship with another mature adult, each of us different and able to love the difference in the other.

Now jump forward many years to this stage of my life.

This year three of my friends have died, Jacquie was 82, Lynne 64 and Geoff was 67. They all lived vital full lives packed with achievement and love. Jacquie’s passing was not so unexpected but Lynne and Geoff were, in my opinion cheated out of many happy and productive years. I have found their deaths both tragic and painful and have retreated into myself many times to reflect on ‘what if’.

I am prompted to think about what I will leave behind, who will remember me? Who will miss me? What will my legacy to this world look like? All of this leaves me feeling like time is running out, the sand is slipping through the hour glass and there is more at the bottom than left at the top and I still haven’t left my imprint on this world. When I voice these fears and concerns my loved ones point to my great DNA, after all Dad is 91 and Mum is 88 years old, I should be comforted in knowing that I probably have 30 years remaining in which to achieve my ‘great work’.

Thirty years seems like such a small amount of time in the great vista of humanities achievements but it does provide focus. Part of me wants to rush off back to university and keep learning (there is such joy in learning) but the grown-up part of me just wants to get on with it. I just can’t figure out what ‘it’ is.

and then I cast my mind back…..

The third thing I remember being told (and by no means the least), was that she pronounced in terms most definite I would die when I was 67 years old.

She went on to say that my death would be somehow ‘spectacular’ in it’s unfolding.

When I was 18 years old this seemed like something that would never happen.

 

Her-itage.

Since I don’t know how long, I have been interested in my Grandmothers lives, probably because my own Mum was brought up mainly by her Gran (my Great Gran) and always spoke of her with love and longing.

My Auntie Sylvia got Mum interested in our family genealogy about thirty years ago and together they painstakingly tracked down many of our antecedents without the help of computers or the internet. Auntie Sylvia did eventually get a pc and loaded all the data onto a CD and posted it out to me so I could share in the journey of discovery they were so engrossed in. When the disc arrived I popped it into my imac and discovered to my Mum’s dismay that it wouldn’t open on my system. I didn’t think much about it and stuck it out of the way in my desk drawer, until about 2 years ago when I got a new imac and decided to give it another go and voila! there it all was. I was at first overwhelmed at the depth and breadth of my Aunt’s research, she had created an amazing record that spread back hundreds of years.

Today I have found a new enthusiasm for this research in part because of the results of a DNA test that family members, a good friend and myself completed. The results were astounding, we discovered that Mum, myself and my son were all distantly related to my very good friend who had been adopted in London in the 1950’s and had absolutely no clue about her birth family!

The good news for her was that the DNA also threw up some second cousin clues and eventually she discovered who her birth mother was and where her family had all come from. The very interesting part for me was that we are not related to her cousin on that side and so we possibly hold some clues to the origin of her birth father.

So started my renewed enthusiasm to find out something/anything I could that might lead to the identity of her Father. Hah! how naive could I be? Our relatedness is distant and points to us sharing 4th or 5th great grandparents.

At times I get overwhelmed with the enormity of this search, tracking down siblings, partners and the offspring of our ancestors can be difficult and at times impossible as they spread out around the globe. I am really grateful to my cousin Lynn who had done lots of research and sourced birth, marriage and death certificates to verify many of our family connections and also to those un-met distant cousin who are researching their part of our shared ancestry.

However the reason I am writing this today is to express my gratitude to all the Grandmothers who came before me and my sadness that there is so little known about their (sometimes very short) lives. The grandfathers retain their names, and their occupations are noted in census’, military records, maritime records, miners lists, newspapers, probate and parish records. There are many stories that surround the lives of our fairly well documented Grandfathers. The grandmothers are noted only as ‘wife’, ‘widow’ and ‘spouse’ and often even their maiden names are absent from the records.

Many of my grandmothers had up to 18 babies with too many dying before their 2nd birthdays, those babies that survived were often given the name of their deceased predecessors, perhaps it helped with the grieving to rename them in this way. Some of the Grandmothers died in childbirth or within a few weeks of it, leaving widowers who married very quickly, probably out of need for a mother for their children. Many of the grandmothers were under the age of 16 when they married and then inevitably had a child every year until they or their husband died or for the lucky few they became too old to have any more. In the few cases where a grandmothers signature was required (on a marriage certificate for instance) she would leave her ‘mark’ as very few of my grandmothers could read or write.

I am also curious about whether these amazing courageous women even wanted to marry, it’s only recently in the last 100 years or so that women had any choice in who or if they married, how many of my grandmothers were ‘given’ by fathers to husbands they neither knew, liked or wanted.

So as I work in my studio, from the secure knowledge and privilege of a tertiary education, knowing I will not die of hunger or one day have no home, that I don’t ever have to travel to unknown lands to give my children a chance at a better life, with the support of husband and community and the sheer luck of living past childbirth (I had puerperal fever), I am grateful to each and every one of my Grandmothers as without their determination to survive and keep their children alive I would not be here today.

My new print work is made with them in mind. I see them in my minds eye standing at the entrance to the copper mines, or pacing the shores of Cornwall gazing out to sea for the glimpse of a sail, and also in their modest homes wondering always  “will he come home tonight?, will I be able to feed my children? or, will we end up in the workhouse?” I acknowledge the courage they must have had to keep going on after the deaths of their babies, the famines, and to board sailing ships and travel for months to strange and hostile new worlds, to endure the workhouses that some of them died in. I am awed that these (sometimes nameless) grandmothers endured through all those hundreds of years and I still carry their DNA today. These are my ‘marks’ left for my Grandmothers.

You are not forgotten and I dedicate my work to you all whether named or un-named, Elizabeth A. Edwards 1902-1983, Florence H. Sumners 1898-1977, Mary Speake 1875-1974, Mary Ellis 1855-?, Elizabeth Shutt 1867-1938, Catherine Tellum 1864-1946, Mary Kempster 1827-1901, Frances ? 1837, Hannah Davidge 1831-1906, Catherine J. Nicholls 1843-1922, Mary Anne ? 1804-1880, Mary Henshaw 1811-1833, Hannah ? 1765-1799, Jane ? 1801, Hannah Broad 1793-1837, Mary ? 1714-1748, Elizabeth Greenfield 1730, Sarah Philips 1714 and her mother in law Elizabeth, Sarah Shoulder 1693, Margaret Lidgitter 1703, Esther Rogers, Mary Webster 1800-1874, Elizabeth Noble 1785-1865, Grace Hocken 1773, Elizabeth Bennatts, Sarah Pooley 1753-1818, Elizabeth Keast 1753-1856, Elizabeth Thomas 1718, Elizabeth Paull 1731-1781, Sarah Knight 1729-1809, Elizabeth Oliver 1704-1763, Martha Lord 1727-1767, Elizabeth Mathews 1802-1893, Mary Remfry 1695-1741, Grace Lydgy 1655-1695, Elizabeth ? 1673, Elizabeth Anne Barbary 1624, Mary Pelleowe 1634-1723, Mary Hill 1707-1774, Zenobia Woon 1700-1743, Suzanne ?, Martha Lane 1690-1777 and Elizabeth Selashaw Shashatt 1580.

 

grandmothers

 

 

Too late!

While driving home from visiting my Mum a couple of days ago, feeling quite depressed and reflecting on how my life had brought me to this place, I decided that instead of just thinking about stuff and getting nowhere with my feelings I should write it down. So here goes.

I am an artist who could be called mid career, if I actually had a career.

I was born in the late 50’s when it was usual to be raised to respect your elders and not question whatever they said and I was expected to grow up and fulfil the societal norms prescribed for a girl/woman of my generation. I went to school, read a lot and eventually left school in the 6th form because my Mother had found me a job. I was bright, good at art, geography, biology, maths and science but the office job Mum found was a triumph in both my parents eyes, they worked in factories and didn’t want that for their children. University was never a consideration, I was a girl, I would work until I married and then have children and settle into domesticity (and complete boredom).

I tried it their way and then after a life threatening/changing incident in my life I realised I needed more and education was the key. I found someone to talk too and eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to go to University to find a different path. About this time my marriage imploded so with the governments help Uni became a reality for me. Like a lot of women returning to education I chose subjects that coincided with my children’s school hours and so I ended up doing a double in Education and Psychology. What followed was 12 years of paid and voluntary work in the field of sexuality,  sexual abuse and rape counselling.

My counselling career came to a sudden end one Friday morning when I received an alarming letter from ACC and, at the end of my physical and psychological strength I broke. I had been a good girl, I had helped, I had raised my kids, I had worked beyond my capacity to recover and I just broke!

Following this at the age of 40 I did an art course with the view to getting a portfolio together and going to study art at tertiary level. After interviewing with all four Art Schools in Auckland I was accepted into two and shortlisted for a 3rd. MIT beckoned and I finished a four year BVA in three years and then went on to complete my Masters with honours by 2002 at AUT.

I have always been described by teachers and other influential adults as a ‘late bloomer’ and I am forced to agree at least in part with that, however if I had been born into a different socio economic family I suspect that I wouldn’t have been quite so tardy.

So here I am at 61 years old with 20 years experience as an artist and officially in mid career.

On leaving art school I persevered getting exhibitions wherever I could, sent work overseas and generally worked at it until about 8 years ago when my eyes started to fail and I developed cataracts. I didn’t stop making art but during that time I no longer had the confidence to exhibit. In the last year my eyes have been fixed and now I’m ready to resume my career as an artist.

However, I have failed to die young and tortured of an interesting disease or an addiction, I am no longer angst ridden, I’m not male and all of these things seem to be failings on my part as an artist. To make matters worse my hair is grey and I am looking very much like the Nana I am and everybody knows that old ladies don’t make real art, are a bit forgetful, are intellectually challenged and are better suited to handing out the wine and cheese at the real artist’s exhibition openings.

So here’s the root cause of my depression.

Did I get to this party too late?