The Lost Years, 1922 – 1931 by Julie Ryan
Nothing much happened at Punakitere from 1922 to 1931. Sonny milked morning and night. In 1923 Rosie got stuck in a boggy place near the pigsty and four of them couldn’t get her out. Mr Knightbridge came and knocked her on the head and cut her out bit by bit for meat, which he shared round the neighbours. He sent Mag half a ham that night, and other pieces of meat kept arriving with kind people out on Sunday walks for years afterward.
Fortunately Rosie’s calf turned out to be just as good a milker as her mother, but butterfat prices which had been two shillings and four pence a pound in 1920 went down to seventeen pence a pound in 1922 and to eleven pence halfpenny in 1931. Rosie would have been insulted.
This slump in prices brought the Haines family just about to a dead stop. However, Mag qualified for a widow’s pension of £39 a year, being of good character, of British stock, and with property worth less than £400 and three dependent children under fourteen, with an extra £19.10 a year each for Sonny and Linda’s upkeep.
Jack’s war pension was about enough to pay for his drinking. Gilbert paid most of the farm mortgage by his work in the bush, and May got some work as a teacher’s assistant at Taheke. Ginty got put off from Andrewes’ store, but got on relief work improving the road over the White Hills to Kaikohe.
One day, however, he was up the bank shaving dirt off with a shovel while Alec Borich was down below with a wheelbarrow waiting to collect the dirt. Mr Goodhew came along, saw how little he had in the barrow and said, “Go in the shed and collect your wages!”
“I said nothing about Ginty going too slow,” said Alec. “I’m not a bloody motor to make dirt!”
Ginty said nothing, either. They both knew his girlfriend, Miss Forester, who was still teaching at Taheke School, would not have been pleased if Ginty had been laid off. Even so, they couldn’t get married because then she would have had to resign, according to a new regulation designed to cut down teacher numbers and so cure The Slump.
Sonny didn’t have a girlfriend. Some of his teeth were getting pretty bad. Mostly he kept out of sight in his sugarbag trousers but May wouldn’t give in. She made herself a dress out of two flourbags, dyed black by boiling them with flax roots till you could hardly see any writing on them. When her brothers teased her about it, she said, “I am a ‘Champion’, anyway!” but she ran off crying.
Later on she made stars from the silver paper out of Gilbert’s cigarette packets, and sewed them all over her dress and went off happily to the Fancy Dress Dance disguised as ‘Night.’
About that time she and Rachel cut their hair off level with their ears and told everyone they were Clara Bow and Joan Crawford. It was hard to believe two women in America could make girls in Punakitere do such an outlandish thing, but the girls at Taheke were just as bad.
Rachel’s first husband had died of sunstroke and she married a Finnish chap, Bill Petersen, working up in the bush at Mataraua. He was good to the Haines boys. He let them poke at the engine of his car, trying to explain to them in his funny English, with much arm-waving and wrist motion, what each part did. He even gave them a few driving lessons.
He was also a favourite with young Effie. One Friday evening when he was expected down for the weekend she set off to meet him and get a ride home. She was heartbroken when he drove straight past her. He didn’t recognise her because her grandmother had cut all her curls off, too!
Sonny’s hair had turned curly but his eyes stayed blue. He had grown nearly as tall as Gilbert, though a bit shorter than Ginty and a lot shorter than Jack. They sometimes gave him a bat at cricket games in the Knightbridges’ front paddock. Mr Knightbridge had laid a popper pitch, with concrete at either end. He left sheep in the paddock till the grass was well eaten down. There were a few wiwi tussocks to make things interesting for the fielders.
Sonny and his mates mostly hung about the boundary near the pond, ready to save the ball if Herby Cope or Ruka Burch hit a six, while girls like his sisters sat about in bunches under Japanese umbrellas, watching, especially when Rawene or Kohukohu came to play.
Sonny and the Reihana boys preferred to spend all the time they could in summer at the pool below the top Taheke waterfall.
One year the Calthrop girls had a cousin from Auckland staying. Her name was Emma. Rawiri and Hemi were showing off, diving from higher and higher rocks. Emma and the Calthrop girls pretended not to be impressed as they splashed about on their side of the bank and ran in and out of the cave under the waterfall. Sonny mostly sat watching from a smooth old log that jutted out below the waterfall. Emma had a proper swimming costume, black with broad gold stripes, and a rubber bathing cap.
“Hey, Bumble Bee!” yelled Rawiri. “Your stripes are going the wrong way.”
Emma pranced into the water and attempted a few strokes towards the waterfall.
“Go on: get in and talk to her!” Hemi told Sonny. “She likes you!”
“Nah,” said Sonny, toppling off the log in a comic sideways dive.
“See how he did that? His name’s not Sonny, you know. He’s really William Haines, the film star!” said Hemi. “You didn’t know that, did you?”
“Oh, tell that one to the Marines!” jeered Margaret Calthrop. “I suppose you think you’re Lon Chaney.”
When the girls got out of the water, giggling and fighting over towels and running into the bushes for their clothes, Emma stopped and waved a bit to Sonny before she fled.
“There, you see!” said Hemi. “Ooh, boy! I told you she liked you.”
But next year it was a different girl that came to stay and she liked Rawiri.