by Debra February 22, 2020
Thomas family stories
Nana Thomas (Mum’s mother) gave me these stories about family life in her household of bringing up five children. Pam is my mother, and she was born in 1939.
When Shirley and Pam were under five years old we would go for walks around the farm most days. We always had a little cat following us. The girls used to swing on the branches in the bush and look at the birds’ nests in the trees. We always had a cat, a couple of dogs, and chooks which used to lay eggs in the hay barn. It was fun to climb up and see how many were there each day.
During the war years we picked mushrooms, blackberries and rose hips. This was used to make rose hip syrup for vitamin C for the children, as it was impossible to get oranges. As well, urget was taken off the paspalum to be sent away to be used to stop bleeding.
I was very busy during those years when the children were growing up. Our first sadness came when we lost two little boys, David and Brian (still born) only 16 months apart. This was between having Pam and Jan. I was grateful to have the two girls to keep me busy.
I remember what pleasure I had from Aunt Daisy’s session each morning soon after we were married. Allan and Bob Grigg, our boy who helped on the farm, used to hear the “good morning everybody” while on their horses, away down by the front gate. I always had a pad and pencil ready to write the odd recipe down even if I didn’t have much time to try them out. When Barry went off to school and I just had Terry at home, who sometimes went out on the farm with his father – the joy of being able to sit down and read a magazine!
Bob Grigg hated cats. One morning a cat had kittens between the sheets of his bed. I had to get them out quick before Bob came in for lunch.
Bob had to go to war so Allan had to stay and run the farm. Of course he would play football and twice he sprained his ankle and, as in those days it was the thing to lie up and rest until the swelling and blackness disappeared, Mum (who was staying with us) and I were sent around to lamb the ewes who were having trouble. We certainly got plenty of exercise at that time of the year!
Once, when a stud Ryeland ewe couldn’t lamb, we wheeled Allan over to the paddock in a wheelbarrow, where he managed to struggle over and cut the ewe’s throat, then operated. We got two beautiful lambs but as at that time we didn’t know that they should have mother’s milk or oil during the first two feeds, they both died, much to our sorrow.
It was quite common to have a lamb or two warming up in the oven on a cold day. I had to bath them in the wash house in almost boiling water and they would come out of the kitchen to meet us the next morning, if they hadn’t died.
The old coal range was lovely for the children to dress by on a cold winter’s morning, or to sit by in the evening and listen to Selwyn Toogood’s ‘In the Bag’ on the radio. There was no television in those days. Most of my housework such as washing floors and baking was done after tea, when all was quiet and Allan at a football meeting.
There were many terrible fogs in Morrinsville. Usually Allan followed another car home after meetings. But one time the other car stopped too when Allan pulled over to let it pass, so he was late home. I can still remember sitting on the glory box waiting for him to come home.
We always took the train to watch the Peace Cup rugby game in Thames, each year. Once, when Kirk was refereeing the rugby in Morrinsville, his wife didn’t like a decision he made against Kereone. Being an ardent supporter, she hit her husband with an umbrella. He ordered her off the field!
There was always sport to go to on Saturday afternoon, and shopping to do in the morning. I hated wearing my hair in plaits, and I always wore it loose on Saturday.
Steve was reported missing over Berlin just after he had won a D.S.O. and D.Fe.C. and bar. It was near the end of the war and he was ready to come home on leave, but offered to help on one more flight as the pilot who was supposed to go lost his nerve. On 22 July 1944 Steve disappeared, never to be heard of since. Mum was with us at the time, and it was very hard to have to ring up Noline and tell her the news.
Being on a sheep farm we had busy periods – such as shearing when we had to put up a shearer, and then the haymaking when we had a number of men to feed down in the paddock. I remember Pam helping me to make piles of sandwiches, scones, etc, and filling a large billy with tea to take down to them. Later, the men had a final meal under the old elm tree by the house, before going home.
There was always the house cow to milk, and I sometimes had that dubious pleasure. At one stage we had a blue cow (called Bluey) who liked men but hated women. Often I would be chased over the fence.
One time, while I was milking, Barry pulled all the plants out of my garden. I chased him all the way down the farm, and if I’d caught him he wouldn’t be here today!
I remember when Mum was staying with us and didn’t want to come to town, Allan left her in charge of the duck pond. She was told to keep anyone away from it. So she went to tell a couple of men off, not knowing that it was our worker Mr Fuller and his friend. She didn’t live that one down for years. Another time, we were out when she came over. She decided to go blackberrying and landed on her back in the prickles. We found her stuck there when we came back.
When there was a polio epidemic the children, Shirley and Pam, had to stay home from school and have lessons by correspondence so I decided to go down to Waihi Beach to do sums and spelling on the sand. We also had morning talks – then off into the sea for a swim and a shivery bite (as Pam called it), a biscuit or something, before returning to the house.
The day we decided to walk all the way down to Bowentown should have made walking a thing of the past, for Barry at least, as he was not much more than a toddler. It was so much longer than we had thought and no shops when we got there, so we bought a large tin of peaches on the way home, but it was impossible to get into it. We drank the juice until we got home.
Once, when we were getting ready to go to the beach, we came out to find that the two boys had filled the petrol tank of the car with super phosphate.
Allan joined the home guard while the war was on. As well as having his bag of provisions packed, his trunk was always ready if he had to take off immediately. They would let him know if he had to go with a long ring over the party line telephone. He had to pick up other men on the way. They had many adventures. He and his men were guarding the bridge near Te Aroha where trenches were dug, in which to hide. Once they all crawled through an old lady’s back yard, flattening the pumpkin plants and frightening the life out of her. Another time they were supposed to attack the enemy so crawled along a paddock, but a herd of cows stampeded with fright, rushing over the men and sprinkling manure over everyone! As well, one time when the real army was staying in a racing shed in Te Aroha, the home guard was supposed to attack them as an exercise. They rushed in there while the others were asleep. The army men were furious and “didn’t even give us a cup of tea”.
Just before one of my babies was due to be born in March, Mum, Shirley, Pam and I went down to Waihi Beach to Welches’ cottage in February. Of course the girls got summer sickness (which happened every time until we got a fridge). We were told to pull our dark curtains over the windows to shut in any light as an enemy invasion was expected from the sea. Mum thought it was the last straw when told there was a crack of light showing and with the worry of two very sick children and a pregnant woman, she rushed out in the dark, tripping over two people in the yard, and said “when does the first bus leave for Morrinsville?” only to find it was just an exercise.
The Games were held in Auckland in 1950, and Allan had tickets for it. He was really looking forward to the day but he couldn’t make it because the day before I decided to burn off a lot of rubbish down the paddock not far from the house. The grass was very dry at the time and the fire got out of control. Flames raced towards the house where the two boys, aged three and four, were having their afternoon sleep and a new kitten was hiding behind the fridge. We rushed up and got the car out of the garage and with wet sacks tried to keep the flames from reaching the hedge. The wind changed at the last moment. Although the house was saved Allan was too worked up and tired to go to the Games.
A highlight of the old days during the shooting season was to have early dinner on a Sunday then pack up the five children into the car. We took off – I always had a baby on my knee – and drove around the country roads looking for pheasants. Often we brought two or three back for a good meal next day, but it was a rush to get the bird off someone’s farm before being caught.
Our own paddocks all had names, including: maternity, long narrow, lagoon, stud, mushroom, hill and the bull paddock.
One day, when the kids were all away, I was swinging like anything when the stock agent turned up. Once when Jan and I were gutting ducks while Shirley baby sat, an old friend turned up all dressed up, and there we were up to our elbows in blood.
Jim Cooper was funny – embarrassed about lambing a ewe; whereas Pam wrote an essay for school about Spring: “Spring is the time when blossoms come out and the lambs come out”.
Shirley wasn’t very keen on school. She decided not to go in after the playbell had rung. She stayed in the shelter shed, where Mr Murphy found her and carried her across the court. Another time she tried to avoid catching the bus by hiding down by the crossing. However, Dad said “never mind” and took her down to the next stop to catch it.
Mr Murphy always made everyone show their hankies in assembly, to make sure no one forgot. Shirley couldn’t find hers, and was terrified. She found a creamy coloured bit of wood and held that up instead.
It was Janette who always left apple cores on the window.
When Pam was a little girl she took the afternoon tea down to old Mr Cooper who was working down at the sheep yards. She dropped the food on the ground, picked it up and took it to him. When she returned she said to us that “he is deaf, so he couldn’t see it happen”.
Soon after starting school Barry came home very excited about playing football as he had scored a try. However, it was at the wrong end!
Barry and Terry were terrors for fighting and I wouldn’t believe the teachers when they told me that they were little angels at school. I suppose they had to let steam off when they got home. When they got older they were good friends, the love of sport being a help, but Terry had to give up rugby after he suffered concussion three times.