We were waiting on the corner for the Glasgows to pick us up. The only sound was the loud rumble and engine noise of a sheep truck coming towards us. I could see the Glasgow’s late model car coming down Portal Street behind the truck. I felt embarrassed that mum had asked this family to come into town through the Warrengate Road so that they could pick us up on the way. If they had gone their usual route, along the state highway, the trip would have been 5 Km shorter for them. They needed to go out of their way to pick us up.
We did have a car but it sat in the grass beside the path to our front door: the old Vauxhall Dad had bought from my Grandfather.
I had only ever remembered our car going when I was very young. Dad had said the battery was the problem. It had sat there for years. Grass had grown up around the wheels. Cobwebs had engulfed the doors and to the edges of the windscreen. It looked as though it had taken root. It obviously didn’t go and there didn’t seem to be a sensible reason why it had not been repaired. It may have been because of finances. Perhaps we could not afford a new battery but surely, they weren’t that expensive. Maybe it was because my father had grown up with a father who owned a bus company in Scotland. He was an expert at fixing motor vehicles so possibly Dad thought he should have been able to fix the car himself one day. However, he never got around to it. Another reason could have been that he needed the exercise. He walked the mile into town each morning to get the bus out to Castlecliff, where he worked, as a Meat Inspector at the Abattoir.
I held onto my mother’s hand as we waited in the cool November evening. The sheep truck went past and two or three seconds after the truck had past, the smell of the sheep wafted over us. The trucks took the sheep from the farms out at Fordell and Mangamahu to the Freezing Works at Castlecliff. I held onto my breath so that the smell wasn’t too offensive and let go once I thought the smell had gone.
I could still taste the remnants of the rice pudding and bottled golden queen peaches we had had as dessert for dinner.
It was the night of our music recital at my music teacher, Mrs Saunders, house. We all had to play a piece of music. Family members were invited. Mum was coming with me and Dad was staying home with John, my brother. Dad never came to these sorts of things. He couldn’t hear so was able to get out of attending because of his war injury hearing loss. He was in the 19th Armed battalion and had been in the Battle of Monte Cassino when a tank he was in got bombed. He had got out a trap door under the tank, but his fellow soldiers were not so lucky.
As the car got nearer Mum asked me the names of the Glasgow children. They were farming folk and, as a child, I thought they must be rich as they had a modern car.
Mrs Glasgow was driving and the car pulled up. We got in.
I was squashed between Mum and Heather in the back seat. There was the slight country smell of the sheep yard residue in the car’s carpet along with the leather seats. We set off down Durie Hill, along the riverbank, and up Bastia Hill to Mrs Saunder’s house.
When I was eight, we moved to a new house next door that had an extra bedroom. As part of the move the old Vauxhall disappeared never to be seen again by me. At that point we did not own a car at all, and we never did again as a family.
My parents both purchased cars long after John and I had left home.
It was so good to go up Bastia Hill in a car. Twice a week I had to walk up the hill pushing my bike, to my music lesson. I could still feel the pain of the day I had not noticed a parked car on the side of the road, and I pushed my bike into it. My head hit the light holder on the top of the handlebars. The result was concussion and a sore bloodied forehead. It took no time at all with no effort to get to Mrs Saunders by car.
When I was 16 I learned to drive in my Aunty Mona’s car, a Morris 1000. She had also taught John to drive three years before me. She was so generous with her availability with her car when I got older. On cold winter evenings I would be playing indoor basketball in the sports stadium on the other side of Wanganui and I had no way of getting there. To bike that far on a cold winter night was not desirable. Aunty Mona would drive me there with my mother. Sometimes the games would be late. They would sit on the belcher seats until after 11.00p.m. watching the interschool girls’ basketball tournaments. I really appreciated that support but despite that I was never a talented sport person.
We approached the house and Mrs Glasgow parked the car across the road from the driveway. The steep road made getting out of the car difficult.
There were approximately 20 music students. The lounge room was crowded with children and parents We all took it in turn playing our piece of music. I was nervous and was glad when the task was over.
Sundays were the days I longed for us to have a car. On a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon Mum and Dad would be working in the garden and I would long to go to the beach or out into the country for a picnic. I would often, after a hot Sunday roast, sit at the letter box watching the families going off on their Sunday afternoon outing. I longed to go with them.
Sometimes on a Sunday I would go on a bike ride around Durie Hill, where we lived. Sometimes I would go out into the country on my bike with friends mushrooming or blackberrying or generally exploring. Often, we would take a picnic lunch.
After all the children had played their piece of music, we were given a cold drink and a biscuit. The adults had tea or coffee. As we all left the other children got into their parents’ cars. I walked with mum to the Glasgow’s car. Mrs Glasgow dropped us off at the corner and Mum and I walked the 750 meters back to our house. The old Vauxhall silently sitting defiantly beside the path as we returned.