Friends and Neighbours, (for Penny, Elspeth, Rosemary and Sandy, where ever you might be)
Penny Russell and I were constant childhood companions. Her family, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a split family. Her mother had two girls before marrying David. Later in life, Penny found out she had a brother in England from her father’s previous marriage. David, her father, must have been schizophrenic; he had big mood swings. When Kaye, Penny’s sister, was staying at our house, she’d sit on the gatepost to wave to her father. He’d pass without a glance at her; she was begging for acknowledgement, and he’d ignore her. Her sorrow was palpable. Penny’s sisters left home as soon as they could and moved to Melbourne. Penny always dreamed of moving to the city too, which she did as soon as she could. She lived with my parents for twelve months whilst her parents went overseas and I was at boarding school. My mother could see her potential and offered to pay for her university education. This offer was not accepted.
Angus was remembered at the Russell household due to his urinary contributions to the rain guage. David kept the official records for the rain tally, and Angus’ contributions were not welcomed.
Elspeth, who lived next door, lived in a very different family. Her father was bedridden. Her mother entertained her friend ‘Uncle Bert’ in the next bedroom, and we accepted this as the norm. My mother was aware of the circumstances, as one night some sailors knocked on our door asking for Mrs. McIntyre.
Elspeth would come over for breakfast when her mum wasn’t up.
Once, she went up to the shop where her mum put things on the tab. She bought a large ice-cream block, a family size. It was pink, white and brown, and we consumed it all. Sometimes she’d bring over jelly crystals, and we’d eat them straight out of the packet, hiding behind the greenhouse. When I was sick with mumps, Elspeth used to hop in my window and finish up any food. Mum was amazed that Elspeth didn’t get the mumps till six months later.
Elspeth came to school with me one day; usually she went to the Roman Catholic school next door. When we arrived home, her sister Ruth was crying. Elspeth was supposed to have gone with her sister and mother to Hobart, but instead Mrs. McIntyre had left Ruth at home to look after Elspeth because Elspeth was missing.
One night, when Dad was out at the farm, there was a fire in our backyard. The conversation of our neighbours, Joan and Noel Hammond, who lived behind our house, up the lane, went like this: ‘Joan, Brenda has firemen up her plum tree!’
‘ Noel, get back into bed, you’ve had too much to drink.’
In fact, Noel was right, there were firemen up the plum tree. Mrs. McIntyre entertained the firemen afterwards, and my mother just thought it was a party. It wasn’t until the next morning that she discovered that it was the hot ashes from our Raeburn on our compost heap that had started the fire and burnt down the back fence and our wood-stack.
My Mother and Margaret Pyett played cards with Joan. She had a wonderful sense of humour and always kept everyone on their toes. One fastidious woman who played cards was talking about how she had to keep boiling everything to sterilise it for the baby. Noel came in and suggested, ‘ Why don’t you boil the baby?’
The Hammonds’ outdoor dunny had worn weatherboard walls that backed onto the back lane, and Joan complained, ‘I can see eyes looking at me through the cracks!’ Noel would turn the lights on in his Jaguar to give light to anyone needing to relieve themselves, as there was no electricity out there. Noel tried to repaint the Jaguar with a powder puff, though the job was far too tedious to complete.
Margaret Pyett was another individual who was rather particular and was very fashion-conscious. When she admired Joan’s outfit, Joan said with her smoker’s raucous laugh, ‘I’m wearing Mrs. Webb’s corset!’ Mrs. Webb was older and bigger, so everyone thought this a huge joke, most of all Joan. She worked as a stenographer for the court system and was renowned for her quick and reliable shorthand. If there were a thunderstorm, Joan would be found hiding under the stairs in the cupboard. Everyone, including the police magistrate, would be at her parties, as Joan had such a wicked sense of humour and was popular with everyone.
When they needed the roof painted, Noel paid their son Peter to do the job. Peter paid someone else half of what he’d been paid to do it. Of course, it didn’t get finished. Noel was very proud of Peter’s enterprise. The roof remained half-painted. Rosemary, Peter’s sister, was younger than me, and so our paths didn’t cross much, apart from an occasional birthday party. Rosemary left Devonport to study music.
Noel moved into the house that my grandfather had built for his parents in Nichol Street years after Joan died. Before he bought it, it had belonged to Dickie Dobbie, the police magistrate and his wife Kitty.
They were famous for turning up at parties without an invitation, saying; ‘We knew you meant to invite us!’
Dr. Budge, the optician, lived nearby. He and his wife had a child late in life called Sandy, ‘my hhhobby’, stuttered Alec Budge. ’ My aaanalogy of mmmixed fffeelings is, seeing my HHHolden utility being driven over the BBBluff by an Englishman. Sssorry Eric (Pyett), III ddon’t mmmean you!’ That is Australian humour, sorry to those Englishmen and my lack of political correctness for including it. That is as it was in the 50s and 60s. Eric chuckled about that for weeks. Alec was a wise man who recommended to my Italian fiancé, ‘let her hhhave hhher wwway 98% of the tttime, and you jjjust ssstick out ffffor the imppportant 2%.’
When he had a puncture with Sandy in the car, he went to the bushes and waited for some nice young man to come and help attractive Sandy. He then appeared, thanking them for their help.