Monday, 7 November 2011

Living in the past or enjoying History.

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.


Meredith Resce

Author of the ‘Heart of Green Valley’ series.


  1. Hi Meredith
    I love this. I came from a migrant family and my husband's parents come from WA pioneer families. And, even as a new mum in the 1980's, I lived in the bush and had to light an old Metters #2 to heat the boiler and for all our cooking. No hot water otherwise. Cloth nappies, chopping wood in the bush for the fires and we had to walk next door to use a phone. (And I'm not 50 yet!) I so appreciate your grandmother's stories and so respect the people who lived like that... a simple life, but where life was lived on the edge too. And as writer's we're storytellers... telling stories we can hand down to our kids and readers. Thank you so much for sharing and reminding me to keep life simple (even as I type on my Mac). So appreciated!!!

  2. Great post, Meredith.
    I'm sure you've touched on the reasons why so many of us love to read period drama romances too. I can't help shaking my head at the irony of all the extra mental and emotional stress that all of our so-called labour saving devices cause us. Even though I'm one of many who'd be dead if I could return to those simpler times (Caesarian deliveries in my case)I find myself still thinking nostalgically about them.

  3. Thanks, Meredith! Your post takes me back to my own childhood memories of post-war Europe. My parents left with a suitcase and a baby to gain their freedom, and I remember having orange crates for tables, chairs and cupboards. Maybe it's for those sentimental reasons that I still have the first real (and beautiful) cupboard my parents bought during that time…
    I also remember many stories of the 'good old days' told by my grandmother, of course referring to pre-war times when they lived on the land. Life was synonymous with hard work then, and peace and contentment were its reward. I was brought up with that same work ethic and am still battling at times to keep a balance.
    And so, whilst I love historic novels, I must admit that I wouldn’t like to actually live back then. I thoroughly enjoy and am grateful for the modern conveniences that come with technology… whatever would I do without my computer and the Internet??? And my washing machine, and dishwasher, and toaster, and kettle, and iron, and… The best thing is that I can have my cake and eat it, too, because real peace doesn’t come from a job well done (although I am naturally inclined that way) but from daily trusting the One who is the Prince of Peace. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Meredith.

  4. Hi Meredith. I kind of envy you having all that recorded info from your grandmother. Such a treasure! My nanna had some wonderful stories too, and I thought we'd lost it all when she passed. But, I found out just the other day, that she got plenty of stories written down. You can imagine how I'm itching to read them now. Her husband was a minister and my parents just spent the last month going to different towns where he preached and visited the old churches etc. I'm kind of envious of them too... :)

  5. Hi Meredith. A great post - and it sure brought back memories for me too, as I used to be allowed to talk to my mother via my grandparents' old, black, dial-up phone on the wall in the hallway when I stayed with them! Re have recordings from your grandmother, for writing my non-fiction book recently, I was able to borrow a set of DVDs my mentor friend and her husband recorded before he became ill and passed away in which both of them talk about their lives and ministry. Such an amazing resource.

  6. I love hearing the old stories too, Meredith. There are huge generation gaps in my family. My grandfather died long before I was born, and my grandmother, who was elderly, died when I was five. Their stories were never lost, but lovingly passed on by my father – their youngest of seven. Dad himself was from a bygone era – born in 1930, he went to be with the Lord in February this year. As children we were mesmerised by his tales of long ago, and I have already passed on many of his colourful stories to my son. He is just as captivated by them as I am.
    You are right. Times have changed. I think that within technology there are blessings and curses. But there is still nothing that can replace a face to face conversation is there?

  7. Hi Meredith,
    Thanks for sharing that interesting tale from the past and for sharing the wonderful memories of your beloved Grandma. I've always been very thankful that I live in the digital age. We we migrated to Oz 12 years ago and many of my loved ones live overseas. So email and Facebook and modern communication methods do bring them much closer to me. A huge blessing I have to say. But.... I can also now see some of the benefits of living in a bygone era. Thanks for opening up my mind!

  8. A post worth waiting for Meredith. As you know, these old stories are the core of my writing and I think we all have so much to learn from them. Whether we think we'd survive the challenges of our ancestors or not I think we can envy some of the simplicity and the authenticity of their lives. Getting back to basics is a worthwhile spiritual challenge for all of us.

  9. Terrific post Meredith. It brought back memories of my own gran, who loved to tell us stories of her life on the farm - cooking for the shearers in 100 degree heat, sending the kids to school in the old sulky, etc. She never wasted anything. If meat smelled a bit 'funny' she would cheerfully soak it in vinegar before stewing it. Part of me would love to be close to nature as they were, but the other part enjoys all the mod cons. We are very privileged.

  10. Oh, the good ole days! Thanks for reminding us Meredith. The one recipe my nan passed on to me was a scrumptious Christmas pudding boiled in a rag. But she did it in her laundry at the back of the house, and in a big copper. But I never took up chasing the Christmas chook around the yard before lopping off its head! Urgh!! Best of all,
    she passed on to me her rock-solid faith in the Lord.

  11. A lot of good Grandma stories out there, I'm thinking. Perhaps we should put together a book called 'Things my Grandma told me'.

  12. I love hearing the stories too. I didn't have the grandma to tell me these stories as one died before I was born the other well she died when I was little and she was very self centered and we didn't see her much. But mum is 92 and some of her stories are interesting to hear. I think it is a reason I love historical stories but I am not sure I would like to live back then. I know we had electricty but it was a battery type one till I was 5 then thats when we got on the grid and could get a tv etc. We use to have the kerosene fridge.

  13. I don't remember my grandma telling many stories, but she was definitely still influenced by the Great Depression. She used to have cupboards FULL of clothes and boxes under the house too - she never threw anything out. Many was the time she would make something over for us kids to help out our mum (who was on her own). She used to make wonderful roast dinners and the best jam tarts (wish I had the recipe) and I loved sitting in her rocking chair on the enclosed verandah and eating a ripe pear. I used to love beading and threading with her bottle of old buttons. So many wonderful things she had - a real treasure trove of all things vintage - wonder whatever happened to them?!

  14. My husband always says I was born 100 years too late. Like you Meredith, I'm enamoured by life in the days when people 'made' it what it was. If they didn't, they went without. I love that kind of resourcefulness and frugality. And what better way to savour a taste of this than the reading of historical novels? Um... and writing them ;)

  15. Meredith, great post! I loved hearing stories from my grandparents and wished someone in the family had recorded them. I also remember being told about how my great, great grandmother would often threaten to drown herself in the river because her dozen or so kids were driving her mad, so I do think that generation had emotional stress like us but in a different form to the techno stress we have today.

  16. Thanks for sharing about your grandmother.
    It sounds so tough to live the way she did and yet I'm slightly jealous! As Paula said, some days all the mod-cons that make life 'easier' seem to make life more stressful.
    I often tell hubby I'd be happy living in a shack somewhere!!