I Remember…

by Ann Hennebry (née Gregorie)

I can remember my third birthday, with my new silk dress and matching knickers, which Aunt Mary had sent me from England. Though oddly enough I recall this as if I were looking back at myself at the head of the table from over by the fireplace.

Our house was warm and welcoming with wooden floors and rugs. I loved the huge mantelpiece in the sitting room which spanned the entire width of the room. There were bookshelves under the mantelpiece on either side of the brick fireplace and in these many treasures lived. The wonderful Alice in Wonderland and the old books which felt like velvet when you touched them.

There was a wonderful chaise longue with a curved head and wheels at one end, and long handles and legs at the other, and which must have had padded cushions on the seating part. Pop made a storage unit for their bedroom. It was made from tea chests — two upright chests with a horizontal one between them — all mounted on castors and covered in a pretty cretonne.

The garden was so much a part of our lives — the huge lawsoniana on the back lawn in which Pop kept the meat safe — dark and mysterious. The hedge with a space through which one walked to the vegetable garden and orchard. The wonderful row of fragrantisima in the front garden from which Mum picked bunches and bunches of blossom in the spring. The stylosa by the sitting room chimney along with the prolific passionfruit vine. All "picking" flowers — Mum always loved to take posies to her friends.

Our drive seemed to go on forever — down hill past the liquidambar, past the packing shed, past the Boyd’s dark and mysterious house, past two huge eucalypts on the left, to the gate with its cattle-stop. I didn’t always go down to the gate when I went to school, but hopped over the stile into the Headmaster’s garden and thence into the school grounds.

It always seemed to be summer — there was the walk through the tall grass past another liquidambar tree down to the hen house to feed the chooks. We had the three bantams called Robin, Robina and Robinetta (all named after Aunty Robina James in Wales), which used to lay special little eggs for me.

The forest that bounded Tylee’s Hill was my playground. I spent happy hours up by the dam that Pop formed on the hillside to supply water to the house. I imagined fairies and pixies in amongst the moss and ferns that grew alongside the pond and the little trickling stream. I must have been rather a loner as I don’t remember sharing this magical time with anyone.

It was a long trek up to the "top" nursery with morning or afternoon tea in a basket for Pop. Past the horizontal bar that Pop had built for David, past the red-cap toadstool village and along the path that wound up through the eucalypts and into the much darker macrocarpas. Then out into the top nursery and the sunshine — always sunshine.

I had wonderful birthday parties — Mum would go to so much trouble — with treasure hunts in the garden and special prizes wrapped in beautifully coloured crepe paper.

The Andersons’ home at Ngaturi, from which Mum and Pop were married, had a huge patch of lily-of-the-valley from which I was allowed to pick a posy in the spring and from which I was able to have the flowers for my own wedding bouquet.

I guess David doesn’t feature much in my early childhood memories. He is seven years older than I am and age differences seem so much greater when one is little. I was the "incubus" and a great pain to David and his friends. By the time I was nine he was away at Wairarapa College in Masterton. I knew him as "Mac" as a child, to differentiate him from Pop, I guess, as his name was David too.

I was too young to remember much about the war, but I do remember the Millers visiting us one day and telling Mum and Pop that John had got his wings — he was serving in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. They showed us the white "air crew" flash that he would wear on his forage cap.

Uncle Eric lent us his radio while he was serving overseas in the Pacific Islands with the New Zealand Army. It was huge and brown and sat in the corner of the sitting room by the dining room door.

Pop was in the Home Guard and regularly went out on exercises — it was serious stuff. But the locals were much more interested in Karl Haas, who lived up on the Mangamutu Hill and who was widely believed to be a German spy sending Morse Code messages from his windows at night! Goodness knows to whom.

Aunt Barbara, who taught at Marsden School in Wellington, used to come and stay in the school holidays in the latter part of the war while Uncle Eric was overseas.

I remember Mum waking me in the middle of the night (it seemed) with the news that the war was over.

After the war Mum used to send food parcels to Uncle Perce and Aunty Robin James, her brother and sister-in-law, in Wales. She would painstakingly wash and unpick flour bags and then sew them up again with the food inside. I have a photo of us both by the vege garden hedge, each with a parcel in our arms.

In return, magical parcels arrived from Barry with crackers, books, paintings of Welsh wildflowers by Uncle Perce, little paper marbles that when dropped into water would blossom out into wonderful flowers — and many other exciting things. I remember a string of grey pearls for Mum.

When I was nine we moved down into Scotty Robson’s house while we were waiting for our new house to be built. Scotty Robson was a real rough diamond who used to do the most exquisite smocking.

It was a huge old colonial house with a bathroom tacked onto the back as an afterthought and with the "outhouse" down the garden path. It seems sacrilege now, that all the beautiful old leadlight windows and doors, the native timber mantelpieces and the tiled fire surrounds went to the rubbish dump. At that time the fashion was for rounded corners, art deco fire places and "blonded" timber — almost crude compared with the overly-ornate Victorian colonial style it replaced.

There was a huge wash house and store room across the back yard and numerous other out-buildings. However, it was all demolished soon after we moved into the new house and the area became part of the new nursery.

I was ten when we moved into our new house and I remember Mum insisting on having a copper installed — but not long afterwards she succumbed to the joys of a washing machine. The house was also meant to have a shower room, but Mum and Dad weren’t quite ready for that either, so it became a store room. The house was carpeted throughout, which was quite innovative — wall-to-wall carpeting being very new.

I was growing up and still helping Pop — or rather being with him when he was weeding the seemingly endless seedbeds (still sunny you see). He used to sing to me and I thought he had the most wonderful voice (perhaps he had — but no, that brings back memories of being in church beside him and his voice would change up or down an octave in the middle of hymn depending on the scale). "Waltzing Matilda", "A Young Airman Lay Dying", "There’s a Long, Long Trail a’Winding", "Oh Mary, this London’s a Wonderful Sight…" — stirring stuff!

We had Bill Fulcher by then to help Pop in the nursery. The trees were still painstakingly packed in straw or sphagnum moss (which we collected from one particular spot out Mangamaire way), then into sacking and sewn with twine and a packing needle. Pop and Bill would come in for morning and afternoon tea and Mum was always ready with scones or cakes for them. It was from this time that I remember Pop’s dreadful habit — he would pour his tea into the saucer to cool more quickly and then slurp it loudly with his eyes twinkling over the top of the saucer.

Mum was also a great "preserver" and I remember shelves and shelves of bottled peaches, pears and plums, and jars and jars of jams, chutneys and pickles and bottles of our favourite tomato sauce (which recipe I still use in my now occasional pickling sessions).

We used to go to Palmerston North regularly to visit Gran and Grandad. I remember the large and dark entrance hall with the swords, pistol and wooden mere (carved wooden club), so exciting and mysterious, the little cupboard above and to the left of the gas fireplace in which was kept a little "jumping jack" toy which Grandad allowed me to play with.

Grandad had a huge wind-up gramophone (His Master’s Voice — I can remember the dog on the underside of the lid). He let me choose records from the cupboard underneath — my favourite being "Ramona" — and I would dance to them.

I remember Grandad weaving camouflage nets in the backyard, they seemed to me to be like huge spiders’ webs.

The trains passed close by the house and rattled the windows as they went by.

Gran used to take me into town on the bus to have lunch at Collinson’s and Cunningham’s. One special day she bought me "In Nature’s Garden" from Bennett’s Bookshop. I still have this book and still feel an odd sensation of bliss when I pick it up.

I remember sleeping with Gran in her big bed, because Grandad was ill and sleeping in another bedroom, and watching her carefully letting down and brushing her long, fine grey hair.

Aunt Sylph (Gran’s younger sister) came to stay from Australia and I was very impressed when she had to go to the bathroom to take out her teeth after eating Gran’s famous seed-cake — the seeds having become stuck in between her teeth.

Gran was very proud of her garden, especially the iceland poppies in the front garden, the cinerarias under the trees and a huge daphne down the side garden.

I remember staying with Uncle Eric and Aunt Barbara at Gorge End. One morning in the breakfast room, all gold and yellow with the sun streaming in and a bookshelf with "The Secret Garden" sitting in it, and playing "Black and White" and "Scissors". I solved the "scissors" problem but not the other and rushed sobbing out to my bedroom. Uncle Eric came in shortly to tell me the secret. Martin was a small baby, so I must have been about ten.

On Christmas Day I used to "entertain" everyone with songs (who me?), using the window alcove in the sitting room, which had heavy red curtains, as my stage.

We always had Christmas Day out on the farm. Our contributions were the fresh garden peas and the new potatoes for the Christmas dinner. Our first job (after opening the stockings) was shelling the peas — before heading out to Gorge End in the old "butter box", our ancient Austin car.

It was on a Christmas Day at Gorge End that I first met Dan Hennebry, who was working for Uncle Eric. Aunt Mary insisted on placing Dan and me together as often as possible. I was about fifteen and Dan must have been a very bored twenty three.

Years later, when Eric and Barbara returned to Gorge End after their stay in Masterton, Dan and I visited them with our own children. Dan was by now, of course, working with my father in the nursery.

We had many happy times together in the swimming pool and with the horses.