How this stay-at-home mum stays sane and has fun one day at a time.

Back in my day…

Mavis Annie, my nana and my daughter's namesake.

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.

An 'electric copper' washing machine like my Nan used to use.
An ‘electric copper’ washing machine like my Nan used to use.

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.


9 Responses to “Back in my day…”

  1. Adele Bryson

    I love your Nana! She reminds me of my own Grandma who I miss so much 🙂 But yesterday, due to a family bereavement, I got to spend time with my own Nana and my Great Aunt too. The humour and history of knowledge they have between them is hilarious. And yes it made me realise we should be grateful for our modern lifestyles and freedom that we have. (And how helpful and hands on my hubby actually is lol) They had us in fits of laughter talking about who was the naughtiest of 6 siblings and who got caught doing what, and also some of the amazing travel they did in their younger years. They loved the fact (and cackled with evil laughter that only a woman in her prime can muster) over the fact that my hubby and my sisters other halves were all in charge of the kidlets yesterday, and that we could switch off, sit and simply natter with them over a cuppa – something that simply would never of happened in their childhood or marriages.

  2. Meredith Street

    I love this idea Kell! I must try it with my Grandma, I’m sure she’d have some interesting insights on how easy we have it now compared to in her day 😉 It’s funny isn’t it, how accustomed we are to the modern and convenient way of life we enjoy now, when it wasn’t all that long ago that things were so much more time consuming and tedious. My theory is that we have all these time-saving devices, but have managed to complicate everything (including parenting) to no end – the time we don’t spend doing the washing manually, or tending a chicken farm (?!) we now spend thinking about all the ways we are supposed be doing things e.g. I ‘should’ be parenting this way because so and so says, the latest research on this means I need to speak to the kids in this way etc. In the old days there was no time for all of that, they just got on with it, ay? Love, love, love – well done Nana, what a legend xoxo

  3. kellyburnie

    I videotaped it too which will be a lovely keepsake to have. It would make a really nice documentary wouldn’t it? Interview a lot of grandmas from all walks of life about their domestic lives.

  4. kellyburnie

    If anyone is keen to interview their grandmas, or mothers for that matter, I’d love to share it here. That’d be rad.

  5. Adele Bryson

    My grandmother also shared a joke her Dad (my great grandfather) used to make about the fact that his children were varying shades of colour (we are part Maori/Tongan), 2 of the kids were “whiteys, 2 were “apricots” and 2 were “brown nuts”. He used to say it all depended whether the light was on or not… 😉 Love how all the “oldies” in the room went into hysterics over this yesterday…

    • Jamie-Lee Taylor

      Totally agree how in a way life is just too
      Complicated these days. A story that sticks with me, is how my mother’s cousin just lived a few houses down from her and when my nana and the aunties would need to go out, my great-gran would babysit all the kiddies, she would line them all up and put cigarettes in their mouths and light ’em up. Bare in mind my mother was 9 at the time! Ha! Of course great-gran was the bees-knees in their eyes.

      • kellyburnie

        Woooooah Jamie that is amazing. See parenting was easier back then in some ways, ha ha.

      • delbryson

        The smoking thing is hilarious – they were also telling us how once they stole their Dad’s tobacco and decided to try it out for themselves. They hid in the back paddock of their family farm and ended up dropping it all in the grass and trying to scoop it back up. When he found out he gave them a good walloping on their bums – not for trying to smoke it but for losing it all in the paddock lol

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