'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Mollie and Me

A couple of days ago it was my Mother's Birthday. Well, it would have been if she was still alive. She was always pleased that it was on the Queen's 'real' Birthday; April the 21st, not the one we celebrate.
Here she is with me on her lap. I'm sitting up pretty well, and on solids, so that means it's 1956, probably lunchtime on a clear, bright day in mid winter. I expect it started with a crackling frost because Mum has her mid-calf warm skirt on.
We are on the verandah of the Napier Road house, and behind Dad's back would be the old orchard that my parents bought along with the house section, and that was eventually sold to pay the mortgage off. The river ran behind the house, (except we always referred to it as 'the creek') and I used to lie in bed and listen to the pukeko swamp hens and morepork owls in the willows that lined the banks. These days there's a tidy walkway and the river is constrained and isn't allowed to flood any more, like all the Hawkes Bay rivers. It's ironical, really, because it was the repeated flooding and deposition of that wonderful fertile silt that formed the Heretaunga Plains in the first place, and made it possible to grow the wonderful cornucopia of fruit and vegetables that are produced here still. Every year Mum would preserve dozens of 'Agee' jars of tomatoes and pears and golden queen peaches for the cupboard. They would sit up in the top cupboards like rows of red and cream and gold suns, trapped behind glass and shining like the hot summer days to tide us over the winter.


  1. It sounds idyllic. Simple. Natural. And what a lovely picture. Your mother's delight is obvious.

  2. Fab foto. I love these old black and white ones. Cute cap too.

  3. Oh, yes - preserving jars - I remember them well...

  4. I love this piece of writing, Katherine, especially the last two sentences. When you write your novel, those would make great opening lines.

  5. What happy memories! Your Mum looks lovely, too.

    It's interesting, isn't it, how how ideas on how to manage the land have changed. Here, too - the fens are drained and no longer lie silted up and sodden, yet that was the reason we have the 'black land' soil which grows fruit and veg so well. I guess over time it will cease to be so fertile.

  6. Agee jars! as iconic as hokey pokey icecream, kiwifruit, jandles and buzzy bees!
    I see the bonny baby is wearing the same sort of hat that Sir Edmound Hilary took on his trip up Mount Everest - and may I say, I like this posts lyrical writing.

  7. Thank you YP. I think it was a natural simple life then. At least, that's how I remember it.

    Thanks DD. The hats are better than the poke bonnets (that I also wore when this age) because they keep the sun off the neck. And, as Alden says, were favoured by our Ed.

    Jinksy, I still use em.

    Robert, thank you thank you. Always honoured to get your approval. I thought I'd write about my Russian Grandmother first, and get that out the way. Then I'll get on to The Great New Zealand Novel.

    Jay - my Mum was a very happy woman with a delightful sense of the humour in the absurd.
    Re. fertility; here, they just use tonnes and tonnes of fert, most of which washes straight off and down the rivers into the lakes where it grows weed.

    Alden, thank you. I didn't know Sir Ed wore them too. Does that make me just a little bit famous?

  8. I love your 1950's pic. My era too, I started school in 1951. I am sure that my children when they looked back at the photos assumed that our whole world was black and white!

  9. Wonderful memory...

  10. merinz - welcome to TLVD! YEt the world was the opposite in my memory - full of colour and sun! :o)

    Beau - just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

  11. Oh the memories of those wonderful Agee jars, with their glorious fruits to enjoy in winter.
    My Grandmother had a wonderful huge old Welsh Dresser, filled each year, with Jams and Preserves of fruits of Summer.

  12. so, Katerine,
    a poet as well, huh?

    "shining like the hot summer days to tide us over the winter"



  13. Was the orchard sold off or the house section? Having grown up in an orchard...
    Beautiful memories of a childhood, Katherine.

  14. The orchard was sold Sam. It was unfortunately only 1/4 acre, part of a large orchard that had been subdivided. I think Dad eventually cut down the trees and grew potatoes one year, and maybe carnations one year too... Anyway, the ground was prepared for an easy sale and the price paid off my parent's mortgage on our property.
    Unfortunately the new owners rather selfishly put their ablutions side of the house as close to the boundary as was permitted, which happened to be within a few feet behind where my Dad would have been standing to take this photo. So we could hear their toilet flush, and, er, more intimate noises of their daily eliminations, from our living-room. A pity. And it must have been hard to go from a pleasant orchard view to someone's loo window.