(plural family histories)
1. an extension to genealogy in which the life and times of the people concerned are investigated
Family history puts flesh on the bones of genealogy.
Mum phoned Grandma and papa, and told them we would pop down for a cuppa and morning tea. I selfishly want my grandma’s story, I want to know about the life and experience that lead her to sixty plus years of marriage. I want to know her stories so I can have a deeper understanding of the blood that runs in my veins, I want to know our similarities. I want to know her traditions and the memories she holds dear. We took our morning tea party to the front of the house and enjoyed the sun. I sat on the brick stairs, with a cup of coffee in my lap, papa supplied the tim-tam biscuits on the table. Grandma had Papa sitting on her left hand side, Grandma’s hands were fidgeting in her lap, her body leaned towards papa, and her eyes continually peeked at him, her voice held the same wobble I get when I am nervous, she was afraid to move in case my phone didn’t pick up her voice. My whole being vibrated with love for my grandma, my eyes misted over at the details she remembered and what she didn’t recall she would lean to her left and ask Papa for the answer. My papa a proud and determined man, softened as he listened to the woman that he has been married to for 62 years was reminiscing about their early years together. The longer she chatted about Papa, her immediate family and extended family the wobble left her voice and the memories kept surfacing, the conversation had her glowing.
“I was 12 when my brother went away. Jackie, my brother turned 18 and went to Kingaroy for training, then went to Canada and then England. He was flying plains for the air force, he flew planes over Germany, the war finished in 45, and he got home in 46, I think. I mean there was so many troops to try and get home, it took them along time. Bobbie trained as well and was set to go to New Guinea, but the war ended. My dad worked at the post office in parcels post in Queen Street, he would get all the telegrams. If you ever saw the telegram boy in your street, you just felt so sick. That happened one night when I was at Aunty Dot’s. In the middle of the night there was a knock on the door, there was a young man standing there in uniform. Oh, we felt ill. When Aunty Dot answered the door it was nothing. Just a silly young drunk boy, looking for the people across the road”.
A favourite thing, we loved when growing up was Guy Fawkes Night, cracker night. It was great. We would go and buy our crackers and light them up.
“Remember, Remember the 5th of November.”
We would make a big bonfire and let off all the crackers. One night we were all trying to light the bonfire, it wouldn’t light. Later, we found out the miserable old sod at the back had hosed our bonfire. There was also always the bad kids going round and lighting up all the letter boxes”.
“I was 14 when I finished school. The teacher sent us into Brisbane to go to the chemist to buy the toiletries she needed for the week. We went in to the chemist, Della Huntys. We got the tram to go back to school. I forgot it was a one way street. I got off the tram and walked around the front and was hit by a truck. I was in hospital for about a month, then was sent home to recuperate from a fractured skull. Once I was better I got a job with my sister Valda at Leutneggers. I just went in and asked for a job, they gave it to me. I had a job sewing hats, some buy machine, mostly by hand though, they were sold in shops all over Brisbane. So there was half a dozen girls on every table, we all sat in a row and sew. I was there from when I was 15 and left when I was 18, when mum and dad moved to Redcliffe to live. All the girls back then were either milliners or dressmakers. I was never wrapped up in it. I mean it was just a job, I didn’t love it. Once I left I never thought of making another hat again. While I was still working in Brisbane I stayed with my Aunty Dot. I worked at Woolworths in the city, when I finished at the milliners, then when they opened a shop in Redcliffe I moved down there.”
I am fascinated about how young girls and women led there life in the 1940’s and 50’s, but I want to hear the love story of my grandparents. Papa gives a little deep chuckle, Grandma shakes her head and pats papa’s hand.
“Oh, it was terrible. I met papa at Rosalie while I was living with Aunty Dot. He was walking up the road with a couple of friends. I was standing outside talking to a boy, he was just a friend”. She says as she pats papa’s hand and send him a sneaky smile.
“Papa had a nice blue jumper on and he looked over and saw me looking and he said “would you like me to take it off for you”? “Oh”, I said to my friend “I hope I never have to talk to him again”. Papa lets out a belly laugh while grandma shakes her head.
“Well, Papa’s mother heard what he said as he walked past me, and told him to “get over there and apologise.”
“Aunty Dot didn’t have a phone at the house, so we had to use the one in the local shop. The shop lady would call out to all the neighbours when they were wanted on the phone. The next day she called out “Fay, your wanted on the phone”. It was papa. Papa was on the ship working and called me asking if I wanted to go to the movies. I wasn’t very impressed but I said “oh! Yes ok”. He bought me a box of chocolates. We were sitting there and he told me a friend of his bought a girl a box of chocolates and she ate them all herself. So all through the movie I kept asking him: “would you like a chocolate” every single time he would say “no thanks”! I couldn’t even enjoy the movie, I was too worried about the chocolates”. We were about 16. Then he went off to sea, he could be gone for up to six weeks, he went to England at one time. I would check the newspaper every week to see when his ship was coming back to Brisbane. When I moved to Redcliffe, I would catch the red bus up to Brisbane to see papa. Papa would be waiting at the bus stop for me, I would leave Redcliffe about 5pm and get to Brisbane about 8.00pm. We would go to Bon’s café, we loved the pork sausages. We were married in 1955 at Sacred Heart church, Rosalie in Brisbane. I went and bought my dress from a shop in the Brisbane arcade. After my wedding, it was handed down to my sister-in-law and then I sold it for 10 pounds. We had the reception next to the Broncos leagues club, there was a big reception hall there, oh there was about 100 at the wedding. A wedding back then you just invited everybody. The football was on that night, the reception was everyone listening to the football. We had booked to go away for our honeymoon, but, oh we couldn’t afford it so we cancelled. We had a rented flat and we moved in the night we got married. I hated the colour of the walls, so papa painted them for me”.
“Papa was working on the wharf at the time. We had 3 cents to our name after the wedding. It was hard living in those days. Papa was only paid when there was work. If there was no ships in we didn’t get paid. We listened to the radio every day, to hear his number, 2565 when it was called. Everybody that worked the wharves had a number, the numbers were called at random at 6.00am every day, if your number was called you had work for that day, no number no work. We lived in Stafford St at Paddington, we didn’t have a phone at the house, and papa would have to run up the hill to get to a phone box to call the wharf to say he would work. I would watch him out the window and if he was running down the hill he would have work. Sometimes we could go a week with him walking home which meant he had missed out on the job and was without work. Once we had the kids I would be yelling out to be quiet, so we could hear if their father had work for the day. There were ships in everyday, but, I mean there was so many water side workers”.
“Your mother was born at the Royal Brisbane hospital. There were no men allowed to be around when the baby was being born. Nobody was allowed to go in with you when you were delivering the baby, you went in all by yourself”. Grandma tells me this with a shrug. My mind and heart are spinning at the thought of having to deliver your baby with only a room full of strangers supporting you.
“I went in to the hospital, the week before all my babies were born. My water always broke the week before they were born. I would have a dry birth. I had Doctors and Professors studying me because it was so unusual that it happened with them all. The husbands were only allowed to view the babies through the glass in the nursery. Papa was only permitted to visit between 7pm and 8pm every night and at 8pm the nurse would be like; “righto, out!”
“One day I bought your grandma some strawberries and cream in a bowl. There were too many visitors at the time, a nursing sister came, got the strawberries and cream and closed the door in my face. I was left outside waiting to go and see grandma. I couldn’t get in until some of the visitors were leaving”.
“Oh, the nursing sisters! It was just like they were trained in the army, I think may have been. No one was allowed to sit on the bed, they would march up and down the ward, glaring at everybody. We had to stay in the hospital for nine days after delivering the babies, we weren’t allowed out of bed, not even for the toilet. They would bring all the babies around in a long trolley at feeding time. We would also have to express milk for the babies whose mothers couldn’t feed them, you had to express every day, and the nursing staff would get cranky at you if you didn’t give enough”.
With grandma’s recall of events I have thoughts flying through my head like: what if they mix up the babies? Nine days in bed actually sounds pretty good to just rest. Express for other babies! Is that healthy?
“Once discharged, I got a taxi home. We lived in Red Hill, I got the taxi driver to take me home so I could pack a bag and go to papa’s mother’s house. I left your mother on the seat of the taxi, went inside, opened up the flat and packed a bag, now days they would call child services if you did that”. She says with a chuckle.
“Oh, yes when we moved to Redcliffe. I mean your mother went to kindy on the bus on her own when she was 3. The bus driver would help her on the bus. Your mum would wait at the butcher shop, get on the bus. Then the same in the afternoon, they would get her on the bus and she would get out at the butcher shop and walk home, sometimes my mum would meet her there and walk with her. I was still working full time then at Woollies and your mother had kindy. So! When your mother went to school, my dad would make hot chips and take them to the school and have lunch with her. At night we would have to rush through dinner and baths so that we could watch television. We were the only house in the street that had tv. All the neighbours would come every night and watch our tv. Quiet often we couldn’t get a seat in our lounge room because all the neighbours would be there. Either that or everyone would go to the shop windows and watch the tv. When we first went to Redcliffe no one had phones, so we would go to the telephone boxes you would call the exchange and they would tell you to wait your turn. Once they connected you, after 3 minutes the operator would say “are you extending?” We would have to say yes or no and put more money in. You would talk really quickly so we didn’t have to put more money in”.
I look to my right and see my two boys 15 and 12 playing on their smart phones as grandma tells me about waiting your turn to call someone.
When we moved to where we are now in Redcliffe, this was just a big pineapple farm and dirt roads. Pineapples were still growing when we bought the land, we didn’t get neighbours for two years after we moved in. If there was a car coming up the road we would know we were having visitors. We were the only ones in the street, I would have time to yell out to the kids “hurry up and tidy up”.
So Grandma what’s the secret to having a marriage for 62 years?
“Do what your bloody told!”. My papa says laughing while wrapping his arm around Grandma, while she pats him on the leg and says.
“Oh, but it has been a lovely life here with papa.”
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