Sometimes when I’m loading up my washing machine or choosing a setting on my dishwasher or stacking piles of disposable nappies into Annie’s change table, I think about my Nana and how different being a stay-at-home mum was back in the day. She did it in the 1950s when a stay-at-home mum was called a housewife and there was nothing ‘convenient’ about keeping a home.
My nana Mavis will turn 92 next month. She’s outlived her husband by 22 years and recently recovered fully from a stroke where we thought we might lose her. She’s a family treasure and a real character and my favourite story about her is that she never learned to drive because one time Poppa tried to teach her and she drove his new car into a flax bush.
Poppa had a good job and helped with the gardening and home repairs but when it came to looking after their five kids, Nan swears he didn’t even know how to boil water. For years they lived in a convenient spot in Mt Roskill with local shops which sold most of what they needed. Then Poppa had the awesome idea of moving to a chicken farm in the Waitakere Ranges.
He kept his good job and Nana added ‘chicken wrangler’ to her list of jobs. She hated those chickens and the farm wasn’t a great success but when I ask her why they moved out there, she says: “Mick decided we were moving, so we moved”.
Since become a ‘housewife’ I’ve often wondered how Nana got it all done and how her days were different from mine. So yesterday I sat her down during a family lunch and asked her about life as a 1950s housewife. I find this stuff fascinating and could have listened for hours but she told me I’d asked too many bloody questions already. That’s my Nan!
How did you do the washing?
I did the washing in an electric copper. I boiled the clothes up and then rinsed them in the tub, put them through the ringer and then hung them on the line. When I had Barbara, my third child, we had a guy staying with us from England and he went crook because I only had an electric copper and he made Mick (my husband) go out and buy me a washing machine. I never had a dryer.
How long did it take to make dinner?
A couple of hours I suppose, not that long sometimes.
Where did you buy groceries?
At the grocer’s shop up on the corner of the road. There weren’t big supermarkets. We bought everything we needed from there, except for meat which we got from the butcher next door. There was a bookshop there too. Sometimes on the weekends we’d go for a drive to buy fruit and veges.
How did you get around without driving?
On the bus. If the neighbour next door was around she would mind the kids. I would catch the bus from Mt Roskill to town, get off at Karangahape Rd and get the Farmers free bus down to the Farmers. I always had clothing and things like that to buy.
Did you have a nursery or did your babies sleep in your room?
When they were very very tiny they slept in with us, but when they were older they had a room of their own. The three girls were in one room and then the two boys shared. We had them in our room till about six or seven weeks I suppose.
What did Poppa help with?
Oh nothing! Nothing. He couldn’t even boil water. He did the gardening and things like that. He couldn’t boil an egg or anything. What if you got sick and the kids needed to be fed? Well you never got sick in those days.
What did you do for fun on the weekends?
Oh well we’d often go out for a drive with the kids and that’s about all. Or we stayed at home.
When did you get to be alone and do things that you enjoyed?
Oh gosh Kelly, what a question to ask. On a Friday night I would go shopping but the kids would take turns coming along.
How did you keep all the kids clothed?
I sewed most of them.
How did you have time to get everything done?
You just made time. You just did everything when it needed to be done.