Archive for the ‘Family Stories’ Category

What’s your most memorable experience in the back of a car?  Well, there are a few occasions from my teens that I don’t care to share with the whole wide world.

The one experience that comes to mind and is suitable for public consumption happened when I was three or four years old.   In fact it’s one of my earliest memories.  The whole family was travelling from Christchurch to Invercargill.  I’ve no idea why, and no memory of that southern city.  Some of my father’s Rout relatives are from there and maybe we were making a rare visit to extended family?  It’s the only time I can remember being in a car with both my parents, and presumably my brother, although he’s not specified in this memory.  The car, not specified either and not apparent in any surviving photographs, may have been old and perhaps not entirely roadworthy.  I was sitting in the back seat, and as we were going over a bumpy bridge the wheel beneath me came free, I went down with jolt (no seat belts in those days), and I bit my lip which bled.

Presumably the wheel was re-attached, or a spare installed, and the journey continued,  My memory is of being given an orange to suck – not ideal with a split lip.  This incident is one of many that I wish I’d thought to question other family members about when they were still alive.  So many childhood memories lack details I’m now curious about.  I’ve never been to Invercargill since, but maybe I’ll visit one day, preferably not in the back seat of an unreliable car.

‘When starting on a road-a-thon
make sure your wheels are firmly on.


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What’s the most expensive thing you own?  What was it like to buy it?  These questions got me thinking.  A house and car would be the most expensive things I own, but once bought they’re not often changed.  We bought our current home 32 years ago, still love it, and hope to be here forever.  We did buy a new (to us) car three years ago, only because it was no longer economical to repair the old one.

The only other expensive items I can think of are furniture and overseas holidays.  I’m not an avid consumer, and try to live frugally.  However there is one ‘frivolous’ purchase I’ve been quietly seeking for some years.

One of my mother’s prized possessions was a table lamp always referred to as the White Lady Lamp.  My brother in Australia had a similar lamp at his bedside – it must be something in the family genes.  When my mother died I inherited her White Lady Lamp, placed it on a shelf in the lounge above the TV, and always had it on in the evening.  I consider the image to be of Diana/Artemis, a goddess I admire for her ability to set and reach goals.  My mother used a homemade fabric shade which had become tattered, and I replaced this with an attractive stained glass shade.

When The Earthquake struck the lamp fell to the floor, the shade was shattered, and the electric fitting which ran down the centre was broken.  I took it to an electrician who pronounced it beyond repair.  Now my White Lady sits on the shelf bereft of her Lamp.

I’ve looked at TradeMe and in antique shops, but so far have not found a replacement for this 1950s lamp.  If I did I’d buy it, move the Lampless Lady to another spot, and once again bask in the light of a White Lady Lamp.

‘I think perhaps some day I might
buy a new lady lamp that’s white.’

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Fish and Chip Fridays

In my childhood we always had fish and chips for dinner on Friday evening (although the meal was referred to as tea in those days).  My family ran a Convalescent Home and the choice of Friday food was because some of our patients were Roman Catholic and didn’t eat red meat on Fridays.  I understand this rule has since been relaxed and now applies only to Good Friday.

I’ve no idea where our fish and chips came from, and no recollection of collecting them  Maybe they were delivered as our groceries were.  Bread and milk were delivered early each morning and placed on the kitchen table.  This could be accessed through the side door which was never locked.

After our easy Friday meal my mother and much older brother would often go to see a film.  Basically it was Mother’s night off and I was left at home with our live-in housekeeper, although I always got a chocolate bar when they returned home.

At St Albans Primary School we were allowed to leave the grounds at lunchtime and an occasional treat was to queue up with our shilling at the shop on the corner of Cranford and Westminster Streets for a lovely hot lunch of fish and chips.

After Mother and I moved to Auckland in 1959 the Friday night treat continued.  We would take a bus into town, go to a cheap restaurant and see a film.  Sometimes we had Chinese food, but I also remember a cafe in Karangahape Road which served a roast meal, with a side plate of white bread and butter.  Memory suggests it may have been called The Purple Cow?

Fish and chips also featured in later days.  Sometimes Stephen and I would take our daughters swimming on a summer evening and eat fish and chips afterwards.  On a holiday trip we would stop at the Kaiaua fish and chip shop.  After moving to Christchurch fish and chips at Sumner became a favourite, sitting on the Esplanade and guarding our package from aggressive seagulls.

Groups of friends still meet occasionally to share a takeaway meal at someone’s home – an easy and cheap way to eat together.  Every few weeks Stephen and I will have fish and chips, usually on a Friday.  Since the earthquakes our nearest supplier is the North Avon Fish Fry, which provides generous portions of battered terakihi.  Stephen doesn’t eat fish but will happily have a sausage while I relish my piscatorial pleasure.  Half a scoop of chips between us is more than we can eat.

‘Their beautifully fried battered fish
is quite a favourite Friday dish.’



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last year
at Christmas
I visited you
now you’re only a memory.
Fam’ly in other hemisphere and diff’rent time zone
not the same as being right here.
Just husband and cat
share this year’s


© Ruth Gardner

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Do you keep a diary?  Has the way you do this changed over the years?  Like most people I had schoolgirl diaries, all now lost.  As I grew older I needed a diary to keep track of appointments, etc.  I also learned to keep a journal which helped me to sort out feelings and make sense of events in my life.

In my 30s I attended a Visual Diary course with Juliet Batten, and loved the way this encouraged me to express my creativity.  When I was planning to permanently leave Auckland I made a visual diary of our last eleven weeks there.

Later I discovered The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and for years I wrote Morning Pages – stream of consciousness writing that is not intended to be read again.  This often helped me to prepare for the day ahead.

In 2006 I discovered blogging, and since then I’ve done Morning Pages only very occasionally, maybe just a few times a year.  This blog gives me an opportunity to record events in my life, and I love the way it connects me with people near and far, including some I’ve never met.  I’m careful what I write about, and avoid anything that’s very personal or that might infringe on someone else’s privacy.  I’m aware that anything I write here may be seen by anybody in the whole wide world.  It’s useful because it can be searched if I want to remind myself of some event.  My gratitude to WordPress is heartfelt for the way they’ve allowed me to make over 3,000 posts and upload thousands of photos, all free of charge.  If something happens I know these might all be lost, but I accept that.  500 of my posts about the Christchurch earthquakes and their aftermath have been deposited with the Ceismic Archive and National Archives, so these, at least, should remain for posterity.  I keep copies of photos on my p.c., and back them up, but rarely print them out.

I have a paper diary for appointments and memoranda.  There’s also a form of visual diary in the room where my computer lives.  A notice board on the wall holds an assortment of cards, tickets, clippings, etc, around the outside.

These are in chronological order and I remove an old one to make room for the next new thing.  The centre of the board holds invites, tickets, etc for future events.  This provides me with a suitable storage space and satisfies my archival instincts.

I wonder in what ways my future diary-keeping will change, and how other people store their memorabilia.

“Do you have diaries that you keep
recording thoughts overt or deep?”



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This novel tells the true story of an Australian family who were convicts and merchants.  The author is a Christchurch woman who has spent years meticulously researching her fascinating family.  Two of her Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents were convicts transported to New South Wales in the late 18th century.  I was interested because I also have convict ancestors, although mine went to Tasmania in the mid-19th century.

There is a wealth of historical detail, with real characters and authentic events.  As a Latin enthusiast I loved the fact that the third generation Robert Campbell was named Tertius.  Reading of life in the hulks on the Thames before transportation was particularly interesting, as was the stigma that applied years later to those who came of convict stock.

At first I found the fact the book is written in the present tense distracting, but I soon realised that it made the story flow engagingly.  The author’s notes at the end explain where she found much of the historic detail.

I was intrigued to learn that the Old Bailey proceedings from this period are available online, with verbatim trial records, and was inspired to look for my own Great-Great-Grandmother’s trial.  I found this easily, with all the witnesses’ statements.  Unfortunately there was only one sentence, a question, spoken by the prisoner.  My transported Great-Great-Grandfather was convicted in Norfolk, not at the Old Bailey, so his records may be elsewhere.

Susan mentions support from her sisters and wider family, and the book is dedicated to her grandchildren.  They must all be proud and pleased that her skills and commitment have produced such a readable and enjoyable story.

“You’ll be enthralled, I guarantee
by this Australian family.”

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Natal Narratives

Many mothers, like me, must have been feeling empathy for our Prime Minister over recent days and weeks.  My first child was born three days after her due date, and I recall several highlights of that time more than fifty years ago.

  • Being told by the hospital not to come in until my contractions were regular. If I’d obeyed she’d have been born at home.
  • Birth happened barely an hour after I’d been admitted – so different from friends’ stories of 20-30 hours labour
  • A concerned nurse saying ‘you’re not pushing, are you?’.  I couldn’t help it!
  • A nurse who offered to ‘turn on the taps’ when she wanted a urine sample.  Being young and naive I imagined this was some invasive procedure and firmly declined
  • Ten days in a single room to enjoy my new daughter.  Hard to imagine what it must be like to be sent home after just a few hours.

Our first baby at two months

I hope Jacinda’s time goes well.  What are your memories of childbirth experiences?

“The times may change but birth is still
a wonderful and special thrill.”

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