Friday, February 24, 2017

A baby boomer recalls...chores.

Chores: an old-fashioned word meaning an odd, menial or routine usually domestic task; can be unpleasant and repetitious. Back in the day, the spare hours of the suburban lives of my older sister and I were filled with chores. We had to help with the dishes, make our own beds and be tidy, of course, but there were other duties. 

One mid-sixties summer, huge cracks opened in the baking greyish weed ridden grass in our Avondale Heights front garden. Black crickets - which scared the hell out of Reggie and I, a couple of English children who'd seen nothing bigger than lady birds, bumble bees, bottle flies, daddy long legs and wasps - scooted into and out from these cracks. Skies were big and blue; the heat fried exposed skin. Dad had planted lots of young trees around the garden of this newly purchased fifties two bedroom weatherboard. Would have been the second year since we'd emigrated from England. It was our first real experience of heat. 

The chore? Due to the drought, there was a ban on using garden hoses. Reggie and I had to water those saplings. Two buckets of water on each tree, said dad. Fill the bucket, which took forever, then heft its sloshing contents around the various trees, prickles stabbing into the soles of our bare feet. We were nine and ten; skinny girls. Took it in turns. It was hard work. I resented it at the time. Knew we were being put to work. In no way did it look like fun. But if dad told you to do it, you did. Dare say I whinged about it, but I still did it. Dad was fierce.

Later, when we were teenagers there were more chores. Well, we'd been trained up to do them. Mum and dad worked and we were labourers on minimum wage pocket money: $2.50 each a week. Everything we wanted had to come from that: bus fares; anything other than the staples - food, basic toiletries, basic clothes and school supplies and uniforms - which mum and dad were working to provide. (I'm getting bogged down now thinking about what you could buy for $2.50 in the early 1970s. Move on.)

After school, the chores began. The first was walking from the high school in Essendon, via Mary Street and Rosehill Road - emphasis placed on the hill - through East Keilor to Avondale Heights to collect Janey from where she was being minded after school, then back home to East Keilor.  More than six kilometres. Reggie and I took it in turns. Good legs. Resented that chore too but loved the chats with Janey on the way home. Janey remains seven years my junior. Funny that.

Next chore was preparing for dinner. Peel and chop the potatoes and put them in a pan covered with water for the inevitable mash. Prepare the runner beans and carrots. Sweep the kitchen floor. Vacuum the carpet with the Hoover upright. We'd sweep whatever detritus was on the kitchen floor onto that bit of mustard coloured carpet where it met the tiles and vacuum it up. Every day. We had to.  Mum would cook whatever meat had been defrosted when she got home close to seven. 

Resented looking after Janey. Once Reggie and I opened a tin of Campbell's bolognese sauce and cooked a batch of spaghetti because we were hungry. We just made two bowls, despite Janey's protests that she wanted one too. We didn't want to reduce our greedy portions by sharing with our spoilt brat sister**. Our spaghetti was ready to eat when mum, wearing her blue district nurses uniform, walked in on the fight we were having with Janey. She'd driven from St Kilda Road, Melbourne, to East Keilor in peak traffic after a twelve hour day. Janey immediately started complaining to mum that we hadn't made her a bowl. This ended in a face off between sullen, fifteen year old Reggie, with her face set, 'staring mum out', and exhausted, livid, mum who still had a trick up her sleeve. She calmly picked up the dark brown melamine bowl of spaghetti and blithely tipped its contents between them on the floor. Can still see the splashes of sauce on mum's navy court shoes. Reggie, wisely conceding, quickly cleaned it up. Mum could be fierce too.

As a consequence, I didn't hammer the 'chores' with my own kids. They were certainly expected to clean up after themselves - a chore for me, making that happen - but they didn't suffer the after-dinner washing and drying dishes painful ritual. We had a dishwasher; something my parents bought for themselves after we'd all left home.

Janey can't remember the spaghetti on the floor incident but does recall the smell of white rice and soy sauce, another after-school snack we'd prepare occasionally. She says we wouldn't share that with her either.

**You weren't spoilt at all, Janey. Belated apologies.

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