331B Allen & Eyre Road, Onewhero, New Zealand
October 2006 – April 2010
Having survived a winter in Tuakau that felt more freezing than the minus 40 Celsius in Quebec, we were determined not to repeat the experience. There was a farmhouse advertised in the paper: a small two-bedroomed house in a rural setting. To get to it we had to drive across the farm, opening and shutting gates to prevent herds of snorting bulls from escaping.
The house was near a shearing shed, and clearly it once was what in New Zealand we call “The Shearers’ Quarters”. Twice a year a gang of shearers would descend on a farm for a week or so to shear and crotch the sheep. Every farm had its Shearers’ Quarters. These days shearers whizz to the farms in their expensive pickups from motels in town!
The district was called Onewhero (pronounced On-ee-fair-row). The “town” (two or three houses) had a garage for farm machinery, and a school that went from Kindergarten to the final high school year. Every country in the world shrouds the naming and numbering of school years in mystery. In New Zealand this was an “Area School” and went from ages 3 to 18.
Despite being described as “small” the house had a large kitchen-dining room and a reasonably-sized lounge with an open fire. In New Zealand the sitting room is always called a “lounge”. Barb was the liaison person with the rental agency and Neil was the farmer-landlord. Were they generous or what?
Neil was an Exclusive Brethren and would never enter a home that did not hold members of his same church. He would drop off meat for the freezer when a bull had to be put down. For example during a storm two bulls were struck and killed by lightning. Seeing that we were avid gardeners he arrived with fencing equipment and doubled the size of the property. Barb saw to it that a log burner was installed in the dining room, and that Christmas was “rent free”!
One of the house drawbacks was the shower. It was one of those rose head showers that drop water from a great height into a cold concrete cubicle with wooden slats. You used to come across such showers at camping grounds – at least in the old days. And it was right at the door entrance! I dare say a gang of shearers weren’t too bothered after a day of shearing sheep to be showering at the door. Water was another problem as all we had was rainwater, and in summer it didn’t rain much. Landlord Neil solved the water-the-garden-problem by hitching the garden hoses up to the farm’s creek water supply. It was great for the garden but not human friendly. We had to twice buy a tanker load of water.
Eric was working at nights and I had a full-time day job as librarian and general dog’s body at the Area School. For example, seven of my forty hours were spent teaching Music and Drama even though my teaching certificate had long expired. Of course, because of that, I only got paid librarian’s wages.
Eric and I bought lawn-mowing equipment and began working on weekends mowing people’s lawns and tidying their gardens. We had quite a number of clients, including a school property with large playing fields. And then disasters began to strike!
The textile plant where Eric worked was cutting out its night shift. Eric was jobless. Earlier my heart disease had so deteriorated that I could no longer help with the lawn mowing. We had sold the mowing equipment. The hospital phoned to say a vacancy for a heart operation had become available and I had an hour to get into hospital! There was no money coming in and things had happened so fast that we were unprepared to live off the $2.60 that remained in the bank account! That was when Eric found a job online to translate a Chemistry document into French. And then he found another, and another. Of course, at the start, money from overseas doesn’t happen instantly. For my part, five days after a triple bypass I was back at work with a catheter bag strapped to my thigh! I didn’t qualify for the sickness benefit said the government agency, and in fact I had been paid for the week I had away from work and that would be deducted from the next pay. Suddenly $2.60 seemed like a windfall!
There was a story behind my heart operation. The heart operation co-ordinator had phoned that morning and said you are way down the waiting list but sometimes things could be speeded up if you are prepared to go on another list. That other list is where you are operated on without much warning if someone dies or pulls out. I said that would be fine. At six o’clock that evening the phone went. It was the heart operation co-ordinator. The heart surgeon had phoned her and said a gap in tomorrow’s operations had occurred. Who is next on the list? She said she was at a restaurant and didn’t have access to her list. But wait! I have a phone number here in my purse of someone I contacted this morning. And that is how I jumped the queue – by months!
Eric got a job for about six months with a gardening company that maintained the gardens of mansions owned by rich Americas Cup yacht owners and cosmetic surgeons and the like.
The boss at Eric’s textile plant phoned to plead with Eric to come back and join the day shift. Eric thought about it and in the end said no. His translation business was growing and he did it all from home! Well actually he worked from the tiny laundry room no bigger than a cupboard, and had now bought a British-founded translation company that had a group of translating chemists around the world in 82 possible languages!
I kept chickens, specializing in the Faverolles breed; a variety of French chicken where the hens have earmuffs and the roosters have beards. (Now you know in the Twelves Days of Christmas Carol what a “French hen” is!) Eric built a fowl house of which Neil said: “When you asked to build a fowl house I had no idea you intended to build the most luxurious hen house in the country.”
Most years I was the chicken judge at the school’s annual “Calf Club Day”. Children would bring to school their lamb, calf, kid goat, or chicken they had hand-reared themselves to be judged by us professional breeders! There were very strict rules such as date of birth of the creature and the breed. Mum and Dad could help of course, but the care for the animal had to be the child’s own doing.
Flocks of wild turkeys by the dozen roamed the area and mingled with wild peacocks. In springtime the turkeys would nest around the property. I got half a dozen turkey eggs and a bantam hen hatched them out. When they grew their loud gobbling was constant and their turkey poo was gargantuan. Fairly quickly they became inhabitants of the freezer.
We got a middle-sized dog which we called Delia. Delia would parade the property with the rooster to make sure no hen flew over the fence into the garden. One day the rooster’s authority was challenged by a young upstart rooster and the old rooster lost the fight. Delia bit off the old rooster’s head. He was no longer in charge or of use. Now and again Delia would bring home a wild turkey she had killed and we would have a feast. She would circle a turkey, around and around in ever diminishing circles. The turkey would turn and turn following the dog’s movements. The turkey would become giddy and fall over and that was it. I make it sound like she was a violent dog, but in fact she was the loveliest of the loveliest.
We became well known in the area and farmers unable, sometimes in years, to take a break from caring for their farm would call on us to look after their farm for a week or so while they went away on vacation. We would swap dahlia tubers and raspberry plants and plums and pears and such gardening things. At community parties Eric was always asked to cook the turkey. Not only could he cook a turkey to perfection, but they knew we had a convenient source. The cat thought so too.
We would harvest firewood together with others from the community. I attended a year of once-a-week night classes in cooking Indian recipes. Often on a Wednesday evening upon returning home there would be a neighbour or two waiting to taste my latest Indian creation. A neighbour kept ducks so my broody chickens were employed to hatched out and rear ducklings for them.
One of the loveliest things about the property was the peach trees. Self-seeded peach trees produced hundreds (and hundreds) of the most succulent peaches imaginable.
Thus we lived for four years. Eric’s translation business had so grown that there was no space – even for a filing cabinet. Barb came to our rescue. I think I have just the place, she said. Indeed she did!