In NZ our summer holidays are over Christmas and we go back to school in February. This is the beginning of our school year. All the summers of all our childhoods seem hotter and longer but this one really was hot and long. We had only been back at school for a few weeks. These were my first weeks of attending Intermediate School. Intermediate was for 2 years then we went on to High School. So I would have been 11. This was very exciting for me. I felt grown up and strong and clever. It did not matter that I had freckles and long curly hair that was impossible to brush. I loved that my bike was a hand-me-down from my brother and so tall that I had to throw my leg over, mount and ride all at the same time or I would fall right off the other side. When a bike is a little too big you have to ride very fast. Going slow meant falling off and falling off a boys bike is much worse than falling off a girls bike because you cannot fall through a boys bike, the bar will get you. So I rode that chipped pale blue bike without a bell, over the bridge and into town all by myself, fast. My little stick legs pumping wildly at the pedals. My mad curly hair bursting out of its rubber band and skinny black ribbon and flying out behind. My school uniform was crisp with newness (being the eldest girl I got the new ones) my white blouse was white as white could be. I was so happy that I could shout. This was the first time I had ever gone to a school without my brothers or sisters being in a classroom close by. I was feeling wonderfully grown up.
This was a typical February afternoon. The sun so hot it was white and the sea so bright you could hardly look at it, the soft waves were long mirrors and the endless sea breeze was a tangle of salt and sea weed. I came roaring home from school on my bike. Shot up the drive, dismounting, dropping and leaping from my bike all in one movement. I was desperate to get inside to see Mum and her new stove then into the sea for a swim.
My mother had just taken possession of a brand new gas stove. It sat all white and sparkly in the afternoon light, crouched like a little god in the corner of the sun filled kitchen. I was eating my peanut butter on weetbix while Mum showed me how it worked. Peanut Butter on Weetbix was an important after school snack. Weetbix looked like slim little flaky wheat bricks (salt and sugar free but in those days this was not a selling point), actually they tasted like slim little flaky wheat bricks too Usually these are eaten with milk and sugar in the morning. But as an after school munch my brother and I would layer about 1/2 an inch of pure butter on top then a good slathering of crunchy peanut butter on top of that. They were difficult to eat because of the shatter factor, they kind of exploded as we bit into them. But we practiced. You see the tilt of the weetbix and the angle of the tilted head was very important. You took a bite and all the flying crumbs fall into your mouth. Of course then you had to be careful of the choking effect which was a regular occurence whilst learning the important skill of eating weetbix with butter. Adding more butter helped. Well this is how I did it. My brother would lean over the sink and kind of cram the whole thing into his mouth with the palm of his hand. I felt that this did lack a certain finesse but I could see how it was definitely speedier. Where was everyone anyway? My mothers quiet voice zoned in and out as I munched.
Mum was demonstrating the gadget that created a spark and how to hold the knob down to light the gas. I had my head tipped back eating the last of my weetbix and peanut butter. The phone rang. Mum immediately straightened, patting her hair into place and brushing her skirt down. Presentable, she left the kitchen to answer the phone. “Make me a cup of tea then, Celi.” she said as she left the room. We had been making cups of tea for Mum since we could hold a cup. Mum had her tea weak and black. Easy.
I stuffed the last of the weetbix into my mouth, licked peanut butter off every single finger and looked around for the jug, the electric jug, to boil the water. But it was nowhere in sight.
Perched beside the new stove was Dad’s Mother’s silver tea pot,(she was the one that made the steak pies). It was gleaming at me. This was the old good silver, not the enamel one we used for every day. This was a gorgeous oval, shiny, silver tea pot with the most dainty little claw feet and matching little claw hinges on the lid and the tiniest silver button on top. It was very beautiful, was frequently polished and usually lived in the DO NOT TOUCH glass fronted cabinet with the good glasses. I spread another 1/2 inch of butter on another weetbix and covered this with a liberal dose of honey. I always had my peanut butter first then the honey. This was the way of these things.
I looked at the silver tea pot, and I looked at the stove. The old electric jug was not there anymore. How was I to heat the water. I played with my mess of hair and munched on my weetbix. It seemed reasonable to assume then that with this new gas stove we just skipped the water heating step. So I put two tablespoons of tea from the green tin into the silver pot and filled it with water from the tap. I carefully placed the silver tea pot on the hob, arranging it so that each of its four legs sat on a rung of the little grate that was fitted above each of the burners. Actually it was difficult to get those little claw feet exactly situated on the grate. The teapot kept slipping sideways but in the end I managed it. Then using the most magnificent spark maker and a little apprehensively, because I was a bit scared of the gas, I lit the fire under the lovely silver tea pot, proudly watched it safely flare with that pretty blue and orange flame, trotted to my bedroom, hauled off my uniform, dropped it on the floor and put on my ‘old clothes’- (clothes for playing in) then wandered outside. I sat on the fence looking at the sea and completely forgot about the whole thing.
In day dreams we never know how much time has past and I was still sitting on the fence watching the sea with my dog sitting beside me (it was a wide old concrete fence) thinking about going to find someone to go for a swim with me, when I heard the sharp footsteps of my approaching mother. She silently grabbed me by the arm and marched me back into the kitchen. A terrible thing had happened. Sitting on the gas stove was the blackened silver tea pot with all four of its little feet melted RIGHT OFF. I followed my mothers pointing finger. On the enamel of the stove under the blackened teapot were four little pools of silver. Like little silver buttons. Little silver mud pools on the pristine brand new stove. The four little clawless legs hung suspended above the little pools, stumps. There was a terrible silence. I immediately regressed to the whine, my mother spluttered, I whined some more, increasing the ptich. She let go of my arm and leaned down. Out and Don’t come back. My Mother’s voice got very low when she was very mad, she could be terrible in a temper. Not needing to be told twice I ran straight out of the house, stepped into my shoes, grabbed my bike and howling rode at speed down the drive, out the gate, and around the block I pedalled as fast I could to my fathers workshop. It took about 40 seconds. I was in terrible trouble.
We lived on a spit of land, well more like a dribble of land really, there was sea on three sides. Our house faced the Bay. If you stood on the shore with the sea at your back and looked past our house and across a tiny strip of land you would see the estuary behind. The estuary that my fathers workshop faced. It looked to me like a tiny tiny bay. The bridge I crossed to go to school rose above and across this inlet. Yachts were moored here. Fishing boats and dinghys. The river that flowed back across the plains emptied out here. Within this small inlet of water across the way was the deep water, where the fishing trawlers tied up. My Dad built fishing boats. His workshop sat almost under the bridge.
I threw my bike down outside my dad’s workshop and still sniveling, walked out of the sun into the heady dim coolness of my fathers workshop. Inside the big dark building full of boatbuilders tools and smelling of the boats and sea and grease and steel, I looked for my Dad.
Now darlings we have run out of time so I will write the rest for you tomorrow. You just pop in whenever you like and I will have it waiting for you. I feel terrible -but there is more to come. Believe it or not that day got even worse for the people around little daydreaming Celi. But Queenie (baby Hereford cow) is calling me and I must go out and fence one more little paddock for her.
I will be here tomorrow. See you then.