Chapter 23: The Onslaught of Adolescence

Now I make it sound like my adolescence all happened very early and very quickly - like walking into the house and it was all over. I don't know if you've gone through puberty. If you haven't, you should try it someday and see how you get on. Back in the old days, adolescence wasn't necessarily the best days of your life.

I might tell you about my adolescence later, or I might not. It depends on what side of the bed I get out of when I get round to telling you. I might not tell you everything anyway because some of it is none of your business. Anyway, whatever I tell you is in confidence. So I'd be obliged if you didn't go spreading it all over the place.

By now, Rick had left St Patrick's College, Silverstream, and was working on the farm with Tony. Dad had got a job with the Ministry of Works as a Plumbing and Drainage Inspector. Sue was a Dental Nurse in Christchurch, and was getting married to Allan Archer. France was soon to leave school to become a Hair Dresser. Leo was still at primary school.

There was something going on because every night we'd have arguments during tea. And Dad would argue with Tony, and Tony would argue with Rick, and Mum and Dad would argue, and Dad would tell us to sit up straight at the table. All in all, it was becoming pretty miserable, I can tell you.

Dad and Mum
Dad and Mum

Then one evening, out of the blue, I picked up my plate of food and slapped it face down on the table and said I'd had enough and walked out.

"Tony, catch the boy!" I heard Dad say. And I ran and ran and ran in the night to the back of the farm. I hid in some manuka scrub we had. And when I'd run forty million miles I wasn't even puffed, and I reckon I broke every Olympic record there was.

I stayed there till it was late. Then I crept back home and climbed in through my bedroom window and went to bed.

Well the next day I complained that I had no decent clothes to wear except for hand-me-downs, so Dad made me go to work with him instead of going to school. And he took me from clothes shop to clothes shop. And we spent all day buying shirts and stuff. And by the end of the day I'd learnt my lesson because the problem wasn't clothes any way.

Then a bit while later, Dad started coming home from work having gone to the pub on the way home, which wasn't nice at all because you couldn't have a decent conversation with him. Everything was in a mess, I can tell you.

One day Dad came home from work having had two or three drinks for the road, as they used to say. He decided it was time to kill a sheep for the freezer, so he sharpened the knife and told Francie, me and Leo to go out and catch a sheep in the sheep paddock. Mum told us only to pretend to catch one. So we ran all over the paddock with Dad holding the knife. And we dived at the sheep all the time but never caught one.

Now in the same paddock was our pet sheep and where ever we ran in the paddock the pet sheep followed us. So we must've looked a bit silly, because the pet sheep kept running up to us for a biscuit and we had to pretend we couldn't catch anything. Then Dad pointed to the pet sheep.

"What's wrong with that one there?" he said.

"It's the pet sheep, Dad!" we chorused.

"Oh," said Dad, and we thought it was safe. But a few minutes later he pointed at the pet sheep again.

"What's wrong with that one there?"

And after we'd run all over the paddock for ten minutes, Mum appeared and said tea was ready. So we all went inside.

Things then went from bad to worse, because one night Mum got out the ironing which she always did in moments of great crisis. And when Tony came in from the milking I heard him say, "What's wrong, Mum?" and she said Dad had left.

"Dad's left and he's taken the car, and he says the children can go to the State School".

Well, I went to my room and looked in the mirror, because what else was I meant to do? And I kept looking in the mirror and saying "Please! Please!" like it was a magic mirror or something. And all evening I kept padding from the ironing board to my room and looking in the mirror like I was checking to see if I was still there.

Then we went to bed, and Mum said that everything would be all right.

About one o'clock or something there was a great noise and it was Father Dunn, the Parish Priest, with Dad. And they were both as roaring drunk as you could ever imagine. I heard Mum get up and they all went out to the kitchen and when I crept up to look the kitchen door was shut tight. You cannot open it. I went back to bed.

The next morning I said to Mum that it was disgusting that Father Dunn got drunk, and she said I didn't know what I was talking about. "Father Dunn is a wonderful, wonderful priest. He's a great friend of the family". After that I noticed where ever I went, people used to say, "Do you know Jack Dunn? He's a wonderful, wonderful priest. He's a great friend of the family." And I could only conclude that somehow he must've travelled the whole country working miracles.

Because things got better after that. And although we were still told to "sit up straight" at the table, it was never as bad as it was.


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