One of my favourite memories from childhood was time spent with my grandmother. She was the greatest story teller, and what was even more special was, her stories were always true.
One story she told us on a number of occasions was about how when she was eleven years old – 1911 – her mother and father packed the family, 2 little girls and a baby, onto a horse drawn cart, and joined a convoy of several other families, and set out on a cross country pioneer expedition.
They lived in the mid-north of South Australia and decided to set out for the unsettled district of Ceduna. At the time, no white man had settled there.
They tied the milk cow behind the cart, and loaded crates of chickens beneath. To hear her describe the journey and the adventure used to stir my imagination. Below I have a couple of paragraphs in her own words taken from a recorded interview she gave just before she died:
“In those days on the West Coast water was very scarce. Water was like gold, in fact water would save your life but gold wouldn’t. Washing for the baby was so difficult, poor old mother had many a struggle to get enough water to wash the babies naps, and some of the water holes we got to, old dams, they’d have dead beasts or sheep all over them and we had to drink that because we had no other water, but it had to be boiled, all boiled before it could be used. Every night at camp everyone would do their own cooking, mother used to make what she called scone bread, baking powder bread, cooked in the camp oven with coals on the top and underneath and believe me it was lovely, we enjoyed every bit of it.
I don’t think anything tasted as good to me as that bread with boiled potatoes and onions, oh you’d have an appetite like a horse and it tasted so nice. One night we had to peel the onions and we peeled a stew pan full of them so everyone had onions that night. Gee they were nice.”
When I listened to her stories, it really stirred my imagination. I could sort of relate. She still lived very much the way she had lived during the depression era. Nothing was ever wasted, and everything was recycled. What she had was precious and used very carefully.
I remember when we used to stay at her place, I’d often want to call my mother on the old big black dial telephone. She would let me, but would always say, ‘Well that’s five cents gone west’. She could never really understand why we would want to spend a whole five cents on talking to someone, when we would likely see them at church come Sunday.
Haven’t times changed! Here I am feeling very much like my grandmother. The kids all have mobile phone plans with certain amounts of Gig download. They facebook, twitter, download movies and play scrabble on their mobile phones.
Talk about ‘five cents going west’!
Anyway, who am I to talk – here I am blogging!
What would my grandmother say to all of this technological interference in life? She came from a childhood where they were thrilled to have a pan of onions to eat. She used to tell us of how she and her sister used to amuse themselves on the new piece of uncleared land. One would climb the tree, and the other would chop it down – true story!
My grandmother was a very real person, and her world was a very real world, but it was so far removed from the crazy digital technological world that we live in.
That, my friends, is one of the reasons I write period drama romance.
Grandma’s life was physically tough, but you know something, I don’t think she knew the thing we call mental and emotional stress.
So every now and again, I like to visit times gone by, and imagine the trials of making your own bread and washing without the aid of electricity. It’s not too hard on me, as it’s only in my imagination. But I also like to imagine the cosy, easy to manage world, where the troubles in Afghanistan and other far reaches of the world are not dramatically broadcast into my loungeroom. The only thing to worry about is the family, the neighbours, and the handful of folks who live within walking distance.
I haven’t quite made up my mind whether this is a healthy escapism or a huge case of denial…Until then…
Ironically, enjoy this digitally produced blog about the time when life was much simpler, and folks used to dip their nibs into ink wells and write on paper.
Author of the ‘Heart of Green Valley’ series.