• Stephanie Hammond

Learning about life - and boys

I lost my childhood innocence when we left my childhood home. My mother tried to make a good life for herself and us. But I wasn’t always a willing participant in her plans. I often wonder now how she dealt with me then. Mostly ignoring me, I suspect. But not always. I felt her anger many times. But sometimes I pleased her.

I loved gardening and was happy to start a vegetable patch and to help her with the weeding around the fence-line. I felt sorry for her having to do that sort of work.

I was given responsibility for getting dinner ready when she was working. Food was basic and I wasn’t aware of being taught to cook except at school. But we ate well enough.

Too well at times. Breakfast was too much food for me. Mum had grown up on a sheep station, where breakfast was a hearty meal. When she could afford it, we had a big breakfast: grapefruit, porridge, bacon and eggs, toast, cocoa - all having to be eaten before we were allowed to walk the 3 kms to school. Invariably I’d throw it up. Knowing how I eat now about a third of that quantity would suit me now as an adult.

The weekly shopping was a task I was more than willing to take on, and loved the challenge of having money left over. I would walk the 2 kms from home to the shops and back to save the bus fare. I also walked from one shop to the next checking out the prices and making sure to get the best deal.

Sewing wasn’t a favourite chore. If I wanted a new dress, though, I had to sew. The nicest thing was to make a dress for my sister and have her pleased to wear it.

I was grateful that both cooking and sewing were part of the school curriculum. As events turned out, I was to need both these skills in setting up my own home.

I wasn’t interested in boys. Looking back at my photos, I can see I was pretty cute. I was stand offish and cute looking, so probably presented a challenge. One boy was particularly persistent in asking me out and seemed unable to hear my refusals. In the end, I told him he’d have to ask my mother, believing he wouldn’t have the courage to do so. But I was wrong and he said he’d come round that afternoon and ask her. I rushed home and told her: “This boy’s coming around to ask you if I can go out with him. I don’t want to go. So please tell him NO!”

He came. She said “Yes” (’he was nice’), and I went out with him - once. Trust in her ability to look out for me went then. She was good at saying no to me. If I had asked her myself to let me go out with him, she would have undoubtedly said no. I was learning. I was 14 at the time and only interested in schoolwork and my girlfriends and my family. I didn’t want to go out with boys, but it seemed like it was expected of me.

Which brings me back to my shopping trips. In time, mum told me to only shop at one supermarket. Much later she told me it was because there was this nice boy working there who she thought I’d like.

A few months later, that boy and I started dating and not long afterwards I was pregnant.

My childhood days were really gone now.

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