Chapter 4: No Flies on Grandma

Cousin Bear and I went to stay with Bear's Grandmother. We called her Rah. I never had a grandparent myself, although I think I remember sitting on my grandfather's knee. Both grandmothers had died before I was born, and the grandfathers not long after. So Bear's grandmother was a sort of grandmother by proxy.

In her young days Grandma Rah was the first teacher at Springhill School - Margaret Cooper was her name. In those days women stopped teaching the moment they married - in this case to Edgar Worsnop.

Rah would sit the small Goodman and Worsnop cousins under a tree on a blanket and tell us stories. I remember the best one. It was about wolves, and how they were getting closer and closer to someone, somewhere, sometime. She was a really good story teller. The best stories don't come out of books.

And closer the wolves got. You could hear them howling now in the distance.

We would sit tighter on the blanket under the sycamore tree. Soon the wolves would be here. How awful to be called inside for dinner.

Anyway, I went with Bear to stay with Rah. I can't remember where it was - probably Hastings or Waipawa. Over the old garage wall, convolvulus grew wild. Deep deep blue convolvulus. Rah called it "Morning Glory". My father called it convolvulus and a noxious weed. "It's beautiful, children," said Rah, "the Morning Glory!"

She painted - flowers and things. They were beautiful. I thought all my Worsnop cousins could paint flowers and leaves. Rah had taught them. I was a bit envious of that. I could never paint. Rah also painted on large river stones in bright colours with scenes of cottages and country gardens, and gave them away or sold them at galas as door stoppers. My mother has one to this day.

This time, Rah said to Bear and me, "There are a lot of awful flies about this summer". So Bear and I made it our job to rid Rah's house of flies. For several days Bear and I stalked the house with rolled up newspapers, swotting every fly that dared to enter the house. At first a fly had to land before we could strike it, but soon we learnt to lash out in midflight.

Rah carefully stored her ornaments.

One morning, Rah produced two modern fly swots which she'd bought at the local shop. Our fly pursuit went berserk. Whack! Whack! Whack!

Then we discovered where the flies were coming from. They were coming through the open windows and through the open doors. There was only one thing for it. The windows and doors had to be shut.

"Don't you think, children," said Rah sweltering in the kitchen, "Don't you think the windows could be opened?"

But no. The house was rid of flies, and not even a loving grandmother could persuade her charges that she needed air. Yet it was strange, for once, after Bear and I had returned from playing outside, we noticed flies in the house. Had Rah perhaps opened a window in our absence? The new flies were dispatched.

Then we hit on another plan. It was a permanent way to rid the house of flies. Long after we'd gone home Rah would not be bothered by flies. We discovered that praying mantises eat flies. So getting an old glass preserving jar with lid, Bear and I went out to capture praying mantises.

I've always been a bit scared of praying mantises. These bright green little insects seem to say grace before eating, and we'd heard that the mothers ate the fathers. It was dangerous. However, over the next few days we got a fair collection of praying mantises and released them in Rah's closed house.

There were praying mantises on the backs of chairs and on curtains. They'd fly through the air and stick on your shirt. Then it struck us! They were looking for flies! They were hungry! Doors and windows were flung open, so that the mantises might eat. But it seemed like no fly would dare enter. There was only one thing for it: we would have to go outside and catch the food ourselves.


And that's what we did. Flies galore were released into the house to feed the hungry mantises. The house was abuzz. Once again doors and windows were shut, least the flies escape.

The holiday came to an end. "Thank you for having me, Rah," we no doubt said. That's what children always say when told by their parents to thank their hosts: "Thank you for having me." There was a twinkle in Rah's eye as we left. No doubt we took it to mean the kindliness of a grandmother. But perhaps she was dreaming of the last days of summer with wide open doors and windows. And lots of flies.

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