Holidays with Nana by Tania Samson-Anderson (and Matthew’s story, as well)
I love how Tania’s details are the kind of things children notice and remember, so that she evokes childhood, and that childhood delight in visiting Nana. I love the crocodiles in the Manawatu, and Nana’s big boobs! And at the end, discover her three year old son Matthew’s story – to use his own words, “it’s the best!”
– Jo Morris
School holidays were always visit Nana time. Dad would stay home and work, while Mum and I would head over to Wanganui. Mum and I would pack the old white Mitsubishi station wagon with more stuff than we really needed, and would head off on the 3.5 hour car ride. Once we had gone through the windy Manawatu gorge, and I’d let my pretend crocodiles have a swim in the Manawatu River, I knew it wouldn’t be too much longer before we got to Nana’s. Enough time for a quick sleep.
As we went past each landmark along the way – the bridge over the river, the swimming centre, the castle restaurant, the Woolworths supermarket – my excitement grew.
Nana’s house – an old Railway house with the short white concrete fence that we tried to jump far too many times, but always inevitably ended up in the miniature roses on the other side – was the 3rd house on the block. The house beside Nana’s was so close that when you walked down the path to the side door, you could run your hands along the neighbours outside walls, and you had to always be careful when walking down the path as it never got a lot of sun so was always slippery from the damp and moss. It’s funny thinking back now that we always used the side door and never the front door.
Nana would greet us at the door. Ailsa, Nana’s white Cairn Terrier dog would excitedly yap at us too, before being shooed outside by Nana’s stern voice that she reserved just for the dog. That feeling I got when I saw her standing there, dressed in her classic Nana skirt and blouse, with her blue velvet slippers, was what I’d been waiting for all trip. Nana’s hugs were the best. She was short and had big boobs, so was the perfect shape for giving hugs.
Usually it wasn’t long before Brian, Jan, Brendan and Helen would arrive from Wellington. Their arrival announced again by Ailsa. It wouldn’t be long before the jug was boiled again and Nana’s baking would be put out. My favourites were always Nana’s chocolate chip biscuits or her melting moments, ‘glued’ together with lemon icing.
Holidays at Nana’s was always a time to catch up with cousins as well. Vanessa and Jo would stay as well, choosing to stay at Nana’s with us instead of heading back over the river to their own beds at home. All of us kids would pile into the spare room, Vanessa always got the big bed – unless she wasn’t there, then I always made sure I claimed it! At night we would resist going to sleep and would lie awake talking and laughing for hours. We even played ‘computer games’ with our pillows – setting one pillow up in front of us as the screen, and the second flat on the bed as a keyboard, battling out imaginary games between us. That was until we would hear the ominous footsteps heading towards the bedroom and we’d all quickly dash under the covers and pretend to be asleep! Looking back now, I realise the adults knew we weren’t asleep! Nana would always get her own back the next morning though, by coming in and waking us sleepy preteens by dripping water on us as we slept – never a fun way to wake up! Of course that didn’t impress us much, but you could never stay mad at Nana for long!
Nana’s cupboards were always chocka block full of all sorts! Whenever you opened the butter yellow cupboard doors, you’d have to be prepared to catch a packet of biscuits or a packet of raro that would inevitably fall out towards you! But it was the bottom cupboard of the sideboard cupboard, painted that same butter yellow as the main cupboard, that had all the best treats! This was where Nana stashed her baking and special treats! Nana was an epic baker and her cloudy, old white Tupperware containers were always full. If she knew we were coming she’d bake extra, including Dad’s favourite Louise Slice. I remember one weekend where I stayed with Nana without mum and dad and Nana had bought a packet of the pink candy Squiggle biscuits – just for me! She’d hidden them in the cupboard knowing I’d find them!
Nana had a massive vege garden in her back yard. As the years went by what was planted in there got less and less, but she always had peas planted. One of the jobs we had was to collect the ripe pea pods into our round metal bowls so that they could be eaten for lunch or dinner. One afternoon we collected the pea pods as requested and brought them inside to Nana, who was in the kitchen, apron on, making piklets. Of course, us kids were happy to help with that too!!! When it came to eating them, I thought it would be an awesome idea to top them with freshly whipped cream and freshly picked garden peas!!!! We laughed so much that afternoon about the garden peas on piklets, to the point where I still remember the shock of wetting my pants from laughing so much!!
One of the cool things about Nana’s house is we were always outside playing or doing things (unless the weather was yuk). Her backyard was massive, perfect for a bunch of rowdy kids to burn off some energy. She had an old scooter that we used to takes turns riding up and down the pathway on, stopping at various shrubs along the way to ‘fill up with petrol’. To the side of the path, tucked in beside the old woodshed was an old swing. We spent hours on and beside that swing. To one side was a crab apple tree – which I could never understand why we couldn’t really eat these tiny little apples that grew on it – and on the other was an old tub attached to the woodshed, which was covered in honey suckle vines. We loved picking those white honeysuckle flowers and sucking out the sweet ‘honey’ from them, believing doing so gave us special powers! God knows if that stuff was poisonous, but we never got sick, so guess it was ok?!!
The outside shed, which had an old toilet attached to the side (which I was always too scared to go into because I didn’t know what would be in there!), was a treasure trove of goodies. It was filled with all sorts of old treasures and was perfect for exploring. There were old drawers filled with goodies like Grandad’s old bowls, old preserving jars filled, broad bean seeds, and tennis balls – more tennis balls than one could imagine! On the walls, covered with cobwebs, were old wooden tennis rackets, that would have belonged to one of the uncles back in the day. In the middle of the back yard lawn stood a large, thin conifer tree. One game we would often play together was where you had to hide the tennis ball from the others, and everyone else had to find it. This turned into grabbing one of those old, wooden tennis rackets and whacking a tennis ball as hard as you could, as high as you could. I wonder how many of those tennis balls are still in that tree?!
Nana’s bedroom was the smallest in the house, but was situated right in the middle. As you walked in the door, to the left was a single bed, extra high, and complete with a frilly valence and tripillow. This was one of our favourite places to hang out when we were having ‘quiet time’. On the dresser at the foot of her bed was a 14” tv – with no remote. So, it was inevitable that this was where the kids were relegated to while the adults got the main lounge with the main tv. Who got to sit ON the bed was a matter of hierarchy, which meant it was Vanessa that usually got top spot. Although she often claimed the rights to who was allowed on the bed as well. The rest of us got the floor. If you were on the floor, you also had the job of getting up and changing the channel – not that there was much choice in channels back then – 1, 2 or 3 – and even then, channel 3 was a bit fuzzy and you had to adjust the tv antenna to get a clear picture. In the opposite corner from the bed was a tall skinny built in cupboard, with an ornate mirror on the front. This was jam packed full of all sorts of bits and bobs, and odds and ends, including copious amounts of wool and knitting paraphernalia. On top, was a stash of handbags and bags, that were put up there somehow but only accessible by Vanessa as she was the only one tall enough to reach. I always loved opening that cupboard and wondering what sorts of goodies I’d find amongst the wool and the linen.
The double spare room was always mum and dad’s room. The double bed was old and had horrible roll together. It was the darkest room of the house being on the side closest to the neighbours. It was also the scariest. On the wall was a painting. A small painting, probably the size of an A4 piece of paper. It was a painting of a dishevelled face, with a crown of thorns on his head. This painting always haunted me. If I was to sleep in that room (usually if us kids had been separated because we wouldn’t stop talking and go to sleep), I would have to face the other way and try to block it out. I was petrified of it. I later found out that it was a painting of Jesus, with his crown of thorns, painted by Uncle Brian, mum’s oldest brother.
Nana was a church going lady. A devout Catholic woman. She went to St Mary’s Church every Sunday. Staying at Nana’s meant that we had the option to go to church as well. I always went with mum and Nana. It was a big church, and pretty modern for its time. It was a large dome shape with the angles in the ceiling replicating the Sydney Opera House somewhat. Along the top of the walls were stunning coloured lead light pictures, telling the stories of Jesus. I was always fascinated by the colours of the windows, and the reflections they made around the large building. There was the odd time we went off to Sunday school but most of the time we would stay with mum and Nana, always sitting in the same spot at the back right hand side of the church, with the ruby red velvet kneeling pads and the worn bibles in the shelves on the backs of the pews in front. Nana always sung the hymns loudly and operatically and I always thought she was an amazing singer. During the service, the collection basket would be passed around and we’d be given coins or an envelope to place our contribution in as well. I had no idea what the money was or what it was for but it was always super exciting to be able to put coins into the basket. I always felt so special going to church with Nana and Nana was always so proud to show off her grandkids to all the other church goers.
Church on Christmas morning was non-negotiable. As kids all we wanted to do was open presents but we had to wait until we had got home from church. We were bribed by being allowed to open one small parcel before we went. Something the adults did to shut us up I think. It was always such a tough decision choosing which present to pick and open! Brendan would know which presents were what as he’d inevitably already felt around the presents and worked out which presents belonged to who. I was usually too scared to do this, for fear of being caught and getting in trouble with mum, dad, or heavens forbid, Nana! Whilst we don’t go to church now, the waiting to open presents is something we still do now as a family. It is ok to open Santa sacks in the morning but opening the tree presents is held off until after lunch.
I loved Nana’s lounge. It was by far the biggest space in the house. As you walked in the room, to the left was a large open fire, usually with the wire fire guard protecting us from it, and it from us too no doubt! Beside the fire was Nana’s tv. It was a large box tv, with push buttons for the channels. There was no remote and if you wanted to change the channel you needed to get up and physically push the button. On top was an eagle ornament, with sharp beak and beady eyes that watched us as we watched it. Nana had an old green felt card table that was stashed behind the 3-seater couch. This was pulled out for those special occasions where we were allowed to watch tv while we ate dinner – usually a Saturday night in the middle of winter. It was such a treat to be able to do that. I was never tall enough to sit on the couch and eat comfortably at the table, so would stack cushions under my bum to lift me up. I was like the king of the table then! The card table was used for so many fun activities from jigsaw puzzles to collage book making. Nana had a stack of scrapbooks that she would cut pictures from magazines to stick into these books. I think the books were used to help dementia or stroke patients. A look book of sorts. I loved helping Nana with these books and spent hours flicking through old issues Women’s Weekly and Women’s Day magazines finding pictures of kittens or puppies or fruit or flowers. Grandad’s old lazyboy recliner was often the hotly fought over chair. It reclined. It was closest to the tv. And you felt super special sitting in it. Of course, my dad usually claimed it when he was there! Nana always sat in the same spot, the furthest corner from the door, in her single arm chair, with beautiful wooden arm rest, an old black and white portrait photo of her 5 children in their school uniforms above her head, and her embroidered knitting bag, overflowing with wool and needles close beside her. My favourite spot, was on the floor at her feet, resting between her legs, in a way protecting my nana and totally staking claim to her.
Adventures out of the house broke up the activities at Nana’s house. If Dad came on holiday with us, he would usually have brought his golf clubs with him, especially if Brian and Jan were coming too. So, Dad and Brian would head off for a round of golf, leaving Jan and Mum to entertain the kids. These adventures often included visits to Trafalgar Square to shop at Kmart (incidentally it is now Warehouse last time we visited!), complete with a sherbet ice-cream sundae from Wendy’s and a $1 scratchie from the lotto outlet. We would go for walks up the ‘main street’, or visit the playground at Kowhai Park, or head down to Virginia lake to feed the ducks. No trip to Nana’s was complete without a visit to the cemetery to ‘visit’ grandad and put fake plastic flowers on his headstone, which had earlier that day been purchased from the local $2 shop. There were always plenty of old relatives of Grandad’s to visit. That wasn’t always my favourite part of the holidays. Their houses weren’t really all that fun for kids and smelt musty and like old people. I did love seeing the old aunties and the fuss they would make over me and give me biscuits to eat, but waiting around while mum and Nana talked was boring. Great Grandma White lived a block down from Nana’s, so we would visit her until she died at 99. Her house, like the other oldies’ houses, smelt musty and ‘old’. She would be sitting in the corner with a crocheted peggy square blanket over her legs. I can remember canaries in cages squawking whenever people arrived, or whenever they wanted some attention.
I hated leaving Nana’s house at the end of our holidays. There were ALWAYS tears. I cried every single time. Leaving Nana’s was sad times for me. I’d cry as we drove away, looking back and seeing her still standing at the gate waving as the distance grew more and more. Nana was sneaky though. As she would hug me goodbye, she’d slip some coins, or a note if I was super lucky, into my hand and say “don’t tell your mother”. Of course, mum knew, but she never said anything. Its funny now thinking back on that as this is something my mum now does to me when I’m heading away on holiday or on a night out.
Nana’s house was sold in 1996. I was at 12 years old and at Intermediate. Nana had gone blind in one eye, and was starting to get forgetful and starting to have a few falls. It was no longer safe for her to be living at home by herself. I remember being in the room at the hospital in Wanganui, while Mum and the family had a family meeting with the doctors. The decision was made that she was to move into a rest home. Being the only daughter of 5 children, it fell on Mum to look after Nana. After a short stint at Brian and Jan’s in Wellington, she moved to Hastings into St John of God Home in Wolsley Street. Selling Nana’s house was a huge mission. There were cupboards full of bits and bobs. While I was happy that Nana was moving closer to us, selling all of Nana’s things, including her house, where so many treasured memories were made was heart breaking. I wonder if the family that bought the house have the same kind of memories as we have. If they played the same silly games in the back yard, and filled their scooters with ‘petrol’ from the winder handle on the clothesline, or if they played on slip and slides in the hot summer sun. I wonder if they ate fresh garden peas with fresh cream and jam on warm, fresh piklets.
Reflecting back now, I loved holidays at Nana’s. They were always fun times, filled with imagination, love, laughter and family times. I don’t have a lot of bad memories from Nana’s, if any at all. I wonder now looking at Matthew’s childhood and wonder what he’ll remember about his times at his Nana’s. The situation is so different now for him than it was in my own childhood. For starters, his Nana (my mum) lives just around the corner from us, she’s a 1 minute 9 second drive away – So he sees her multiple times a week. She even collects him from day care twice a week, whereas we would only see my Nana in the school holidays or on long weekends like Easter or Labour Weekend. As his cousins are all older and live either in Australia or Wellington, he doesn’t have that same kind of childhood play time as I had with my cousins at Nana’s house. I do know though that the time Matt spends with his Nana is always filled with love, laughter and happiness – and of course treats that Nana provides that I would normally give him!
Matthew’s Story – 05.08.2021. Age 3, 8 months.
My nana is the best. And my cat is the best. Cause Aunty Lis lives a long way from our house. Cause we are watching monsters on tv. And we gonna go to the surprise place. And we are gonna go somewhere for tea. Because Amelia is the best. And because I go to daycare. And I play at daycare with Carter and Nox and Auron and Indie and Spency and all my friends. Cause I’m the best. Cause my mum takes me to daycare and amelia goes to school. And she plays with all her friends. And she plays with me and cause she’s the best. Because I’ve got a dinosaur transformer and it transforms into a race car and a dinosaur and it’s a triceratops and it looks like a stegosaurus and I switch it on. Cause its cool. And I switch it off and it says “see you soon”. And I’ve got so many toys. Have a good day, join me next time cause I’ve got a blue bike and it’s got two wheels. Cause I’ve another transformer and its green, cause it transforms into a t-rex. I’m gonna get another one cause its big and transforms into a t-rex. Cause I’m gonna have lots of transformers.