My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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It’s Not too Much to Insist the Kids Bring Their A-game to the Dinner Table

Insist

Visiting my Great-grandmother, well in her nineties in the 1950s, in Auckland was always a highlight in our childhood. She set her dinner table each night with starched white linen, matching china and silver cutlery. Food was presented in serving dishes. Grace was said. We children sat quietly, ate the food on our plates and spoke when spoken to. We stayed at the table until we were dismissed. Later, we helped with the dishes. I remember her showing me how to dry a fork properly by drawing the tea-towel through the tines. I have wondered how she learned these domestic arts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, like most girls, I studied Home Science as a school subject. In preparation for our housekeeping roles in later life, we learned to cook family dishes using a variety of foods. We were exhorted not to be wasteful and we followed kitchen cleanliness rules. We were shown how to place cutlery and meal items nicely on a dinner table. The social expectation was families ate together.

Certainly our family did. Dinner was served at 7.00 p.m. once Dad returned to the house and had washed up after he had finished farm work and settled the cows after the evening milking. If there was a roast dinner, Dad would sharpen the bone-handled carving knife with the steel and slice meat onto our plates. Mum dished vegetables from the saucepan. There was less dining formality. The table was covered with an easily laundered, colourful seersucker cloth. The cutlery was stainless steel. Dishes were still done by hand.

If left to and with their own devices, seven grandsons, ages 9 to 16 years, would eat, sleep and live in their own gaming worlds. Virtual worlds in which characters function in perpetual motion, in which no-one eats or sleeps or goes to school. Real world matters such as doing homework, eating meals with your brothers and parents, reading only before lights out, getting ready for school can be at times the stuff of epic battles. 

Dinner time is still family time.  Typically the reminder, “ten minutes to dinner. Wind up your game. Devices off. Wash your hands. Get to the table.” is an invitation to argue. Perhaps it is the multi-faceted instruction that is too much for the boys to handle. “I’ve just … (take your pick of any gamer grandson excuse).”  Houston, we have a problem!

Sons have matured to become the adults at their family meal tables set with mismatched crockery and cutlery, and no tablecloth. They are firm and make a stand,  resolute and show determination to hold on, emphatic, and brook no argument. “Which part of NO don’t you understand?” You might think it a simple matter for these tech savvy boys to load and operate a smart dishwashing device. But, no. That remains a mystery. A problem beyond their realm of competence, or comprehension.

Himself and I have to laugh. At times, we hear ourselves in our Sons. We have now lived long enough to enjoy nature’s revenge. How long ago was it when we expected our Sons to bring their A-game to the table? To use cutlery for its intended purpose. To eat the food served to them. To talk about their day. To use table talk manners. Family eating together at the dinner table? Even now, it is still not too much to insist.


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A Screen to Entertain Us

Entertain

Going to the pictures at the local theatre was an exciting part of our childhood. We were mesmerised by film on the large screen. Musicals, epic sagas, drama and action filled our imaginations with glimpses into other worlds brought to us from Hollywood and England. In the 1950s,  audiences stood as the then national anthem of New Zealand, God Save the Queen, was played. We viewed cartoons and newsreels before making a mad dash to buy ice-cream during the interval and were resettled in our seats to view the feature film.  

After the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it was a big undertaking for our rural primary school to arrange to take us as a school group to the theatre in town to view a special newsreel showing of this event for pupils of local schools. Still images in print media kept could not compete with filmed sound and action. 

The first time I viewed the small screen was in 1960. A black and white television set had pride of place in my great-grandmother’s home in Auckland. My siblings and I remember we sat riveted by Robin Hood‘s adventures, stories we knew well from reading. We loved the novelty of small screen entertainment in the home. It was to be several years before Mum and Dad thought about buying a television set for our household. The costs of paying cash for a television licence and for a television set were considerable when there was a family to support. The viewing hours and broadcasting coverage in New Zealand were limited in the early 1960s. My brother and I had left school and home by the time my parents acquired their first television set. Probably a wise move on their part. No disputes to settle over which programme to watch.

In February 1966 the average price of a 23-inch black and white television ‘consolette’ was £131, equivalent to nearly $5000 today. 

Time moves on. Retailers display a range of monitors and screens of different sizes that are deemed essential to help us to enjoy our lives to the fullest. Real time viewing happens. Data plans and viewing options are available to suit our needs and wants and we can pay by credit card. I no longer entertain the thought of not having a smart screen in my home and in my hand.  


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Cookery class at school in 1958

In 1958, we were given a small textbook, Home Science Recipes when we were taught cookery in Standards 5 and 6, or what is now called Years 7 and 8. Words and phrases used then make me smile now.

“all parts of the dominion”, “domestic instruction”, “helpful to the small family”, “young housekeeper”, “apron”, “never waste anything”, “Housewifery and Laundry Work”

Wordy echoes of strong colonial and emotional ties to England, preparation of girls for marriage and motherhood, and always, a vivid memory of want and hunger experienced by our parents’ generation during the depression and war years. New Zealand as  a country grows food well. This text was compiled by a generation of educators intent on building a nation of self-sufficient citizens and healthy families.

The ingredients then reflected the predominant farming and small country town lifestyles we lived in the 1950s. I shudder now at the thought of using animal fats of “lard”, “dripping”, “suet“. Beef and mutton were staple foods. Home killed meat roasted in a fat was common.  Dad would butcher a sheep about once a week. I recall how my brothers, sister and I lined up as he did so waiting to grab the knucklebones so we could play the game. No sentimentality then. That is how it was.

My mother and mother-in-law always kept a bowl to store the dripping from roasted beef. My grandparents and parents all loved spreading dripping on bread in preference to butter. They had  lived through food rationing. As if that was not enough to fill growing large baby-boomer families,  New Zealand mothers served baked goodies for morning and afternoon teas and  puddings. All recipes used great quantities of animal fats and sugar. Unpasteurised, creamy milk collected as the cows were milked was drunk daily. Thank goodness our outdoor lifestyles meant we were physically active and hardworking compared to present day.

Essentially, we their daughters in the school cookery classes, were cementing household practices of generations before the 1950s. Incidentally, the Window Cleaner recipe in  Cleaning Materials, still works a treat and is cost effective.