It was standard practice for most working people to have a hot, main meal in the middle of the day and this seemed to apply to school movements. I would walk home for lunch (we always called it dinner) each day and back again for afternoon school. We had an hour and a half and this gave adequate time for a midday break. We called our evening meal ‘tea’ and supper was a drink and bikkie at bedtime. Mum was a wonderful cook and never lost her culinary skills, though our financial circumstances must have stretched her imagination to the extreme. Breakfast was usually Weetbix and hot milk, porridge, sometimes stale bread and hot milk in place of Weetbix, with plenty of sugar. I can only remember hot meat and vegies at the main meal, perhaps cold meat at night with scraps and other leftovers. I loved the straight after school snack of a round of fresh bread crust coated with a lovely thick dripping and plenty of pepper and salt. Dripping seems to be a thing of the past now in this era of healthy living but it didn’t seem to do a lot of harm to people at that time. Rabbit was one of the most popular meats and I think we had it at least once a week, often baked, mostly curried with a heap of vegies. In fact my memory seems to lean towards a lot of curries and stews all filled with vegies.
Wartime must have been extremely difficult with virtually all food rationed. Families were issued with ration books printed with coupons, which were to be cut out and surrendered for the food bought. I don’t think basics like bread and milk were rationed, nor rabbits, but butter, sugar, tea, meat and most grocery items, as well as petrol (which we didn’t need) were and at times things were difficult for most families. I look back now and puzzle how Mum and Dad managed with a young family of four and a very uncertain income. I think it was Mum’s wonderful management that got them through. Dad seemed to always have a packet of cigarettes and a glass of beer on Saturday night up at the Prince of Wales or Shippies.
Mum told me some years ago that Dad went to the races one Saturday, had a few wins (and a few beers), went to the dogs at the TCA ground that night, had more luck, came home giggling, woke Mum and emptied his pockets of money onto the bed. I have always had the feeling that Mum finished the night with a little more than her fair share of the winnings but if that is so, it must have gone a long way in helping to pay for all the bills that were building up at that time.
Mum also had the driest sense of humour. At a family wedding or birthday, someone called as the cake was about to be cut, ‘Make a wish.’ Mum quietly said, ‘Wish for money.’ This has almost become a family by-word since. Many years ago, during one of the family Sunday night card nights at Number 3, one of the boys was talking about a girl he knew with lovely big breasts. Mum quietly said, ‘Anything larger than a handful would be a waste.’ She would often tell our younger kids how she danced in the chorus line at pantomime shows at the Theatre Royal and would then stand on her hands against the wall of the house just to show she could still do it.
Both Mum and Dad were skilled tradespeople – Dad as a furniture upholsterer and Mum as a sewing machinist, clothing maker and in her younger days, carpet layer. I look back now on a tiny yard at Number 7, often filled with lounge suites waiting to be re-upholstered out in the weather and wonder what the rain would have done to the timber joints being glued with the only adhesive available at that time, the old hot melted ‘horses hoof’ glue which was anything but water resistant.
I remember Dad being in and out of work during my early years, which of course was during the 1930s Depression. I recall going with Mum to see him at Palfreyman’s furniture store on the corner of Liverpool and Argyle Streets where he worked as an upholsterer and also remember him telling me he worked on the building of the road to the top of Mount Wellington as a work for the dole project during that time. He told me once that he could remember a family who lived in a tent on the Domain because they couldn’t afford housing. It must have been an incredibly difficult time but they managed to keep their head above water and the family intact.