Once every three Sundays we had a Free Sunday. This meant we were allowed out from ten in the morning until about six in the evening. They were strict about it. If you got back late you were gated for the following Free Sunday. My older brother Rick used to get back really late on purpose, and only have every second Free Sunday off. He'd go to Uncle Stan and Aunty Dorrie's farm. Dorrie Maher was Dad's sister. I only went to Dorrie and Stan's once, because Uncle Stan didn't pick me up till late, and then he went to church at St John's in Trentham. By that time it was almost time to go back to school.
Besides, parents from the Kapiti Coast had organised a pick-up roster for Free Sundays. So I went home. School authorities were so fussy about the Free Sundays, that I was allowed home for Mum and Dad's 25th Wedding Anniversary only if I missed the following Free Sunday. Even then, I wasn't allowed to stay for the party. I had to be back at school at the usual time. But they had a good party because I've seen the photos. In the morning Mum and Dad had a Mass. Mum's Bridesmaid, Aunty Margaret Worsnop, was there. So was Dad's Best Man, Buster Foster from Trentham. Us kids gave Mum and Dad a dinner set for their anniversary.
Naturally, the first thing I'd check when I got home was the chooks. On the Free Sundays before the August holidays I'd put eggs under the clucky chooks to make sure there were a lot of chickens hatching in the holidays.
One Free Sunday I was down the back of the farm doing a job, and the neighbour's sheep had got through the fence. I found an old piece of wood, about three yards long, and hurled it at the sheep like a javelin. As it whizzed passed, a nail in the end of the wood went straight through my finger and I couldn't pull it out. So I carried the three yard hunk of wood attached to my finger all the way back to the house, only to find there was no one home. Then Rick turned up on the tractor.
"Shut your eyes", he said. Out came the nail. I felt a bit queasy after that.
One Free Sunday, when it was Dad's turn on the driving roster, he never said a word about it, but when we pulled up our drive he said "What do you think of that?"
There, on the roof of our house, was a TV aerial. It was 1964. You might think that it's no big deal having a TV aerial on your roof. In those days it was. TV was new. During the family rosary in the holidays we'd push the mute button and put a chair in front of it so you couldn't see the screen. There was always a great scramble to kneel at the chair in front of the TV, so you could watch the picture round the back of the chair during the rosary.
In the holidays on Sunday afternoons, we'd watch the movie on TV. The milking was always done late that day. They'd be movies like Bing Crosby in The Bells of St Mary's. During the sad bits, France and Mum would dab their eyes with their hankies. Us men would sit in the armchairs with our hands behind our heads so that our elbows hid the moisture in our eyes.
I used to watch Bonanza. Once, there was a great episode on, in which Little Joe made his friend throw away a toy tin soldier he had, so that he could grow up and become a man. It was like throwing away his childhood. I was really impressed. Tony said he thought it was a load of bull, which kind of shocked me. TV was a very important way to find out how you were meant to grow up.
The Bottomley's up the road had a TV before we did. Sometimes, before we got our TV, we'd go up there for a swim in their pool. I saw my first TV there ever. It was a ride on a roller coaster. After that, we used to say "Dad? Can we get a TV?"
One holidays, in my fourth form, we went to the Bottomley's for a party. They had dancing and stuff. Wayne was there from my primary school. Do you remember him? He offered to carry the boxes of shells for me back to the car. Now he was all grown up, and really confident on the dance floor. I was all awkward and gangly. He didn't recognize me. Anyway, while I was dancing I stood on his toe.
"Sorry!" I said.
"I'm sorry too, mate", he sneered. That put me off dancing for life. I decided I'd be permanently uncoordinated. That's why it was very important to watch Little Joe on Bonanza to see how you were meant to grow up. Everyone else in my family had grown up, except for me and Leo. France had her own Hair Salon at Waikanae called Jennifer Jean Beauty Salon.
Dad always made us work during the holidays. One summer holidays he got me a job with the Ministry of Works. I was helping a surveyor, Tony Sarniak-Thomson. We were surveying land for subdivision at Cannons Creek in Porirua. That was when Porirua was sprouting like a mushroom. Mr Sarniak-Thomson was a good boss, but it was really hard work driving pegs into rock in the summer heat. Once I forgot my drink, and spent all day out in the paddocks thirsting to death. When eventually we got to some shops, I bought a Fanta. I've never tasted anything so good. The other thing was that I was just useless with money, and the pay packets from the Ministry of Works used to lie all over my room unopened. Mum would gather them up and bank it.
On another summer holiday I had jobs driving a bull dozer. One was at a new housing subdivision at Ngaio. The other was making the new Hutt Motorway. It was the bit where the Kennedy-Good Bridge now is. Next time you drive on it, just remember who made it.
When I got home from work I'd go over to the shed to feed the calves. It was while sitting in the paddock waiting for the calves to finish, that I found seven four-leaf clovers! This was a sign of good luck, for when I went back home my School Certificate results were sitting on our billiard table waiting to be opened.
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