OUR STO­RIES

WITH LIVES WELL LIVED, 11 KIWI WOMEN RE­FLECT ON LOSS, LOVE AND THE SE­CRET TO HAP­PI­NESS

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Beth Camp­bell

Reach­ing 85 is a mile­stone by any­one’s stan­dards. Here our read­ers open up about how their lives have changed over the years

Oh, I’ve had a lot of plea­sure in my life. I truly can’t be­lieve I’m 85, but then again, I’m from a fam­ily of longevity – my dad lived un­til he was al­most 104, my grand­fa­ther was about 98.

But I still can’t be­lieve I’m here. I’m of­ten blown away when I look back at my life.

We were from Ti­maru and I was one of six sib­lings. My dad was a lov­ing, car­ing man who would give you all the time in the world, and my mother al­ways sewed and made things for peo­ple. I guess that’s where I got it from.

I was 16 when I started my busi­ness mak­ing for­mal and wed­ding gowns. In those days, you left school at 14 and life started a lot ear­lier.

Ever since I can re­mem­ber, I al­ways wanted to work with beau­ti­ful fab­ric and be in­volved with the beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries my clothes helped cre­ate.

Life has changed so much. I love how girls can stay at school and con­tinue learn­ing. Fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion has be­come im­por­tant and I agree that it should be.

I would have loved that, but we couldn’t be­cause our par­ents weren’t well off. It’s right that girls ed­u­cate them­selves be­cause they don’t know what sort of things they will face in the fu­ture.

Though, I feel that com­mit­ment to life in gen­eral isn’t what it used to be.

I still sew and do bits and bobs. I knit but I don’t do so much fancy work as I used to be­cause my eyes aren’t what they were.

But apart from those things, I’m not com­plain­ing. I’m in good health for the most part!

When I was grow­ing up, I went to dances all the time and that’s how my hus­band Hugh knew I ex­isted.

Hugh must have seen me out at a dance some­where, and he made it his busi­ness to go to my broth­ers’ work­place and ask when they were tak­ing me out again.

Hugh and I were mar­ried for 67 years. We had four chil­dren, nine grand­chil­dren and nine great-grand­chil­dren. I was very lucky. He was my best friend and he worked his butt off for our fam­ily. He died in June last year af­ter be­ing ill for some time. I miss him.

Some­thing I learned through­out my mar­riage was you al­ways have to be ready to lis­ten to the other per­son’s ideas and views, and to al­ways be con­sid­er­ate.

Not that we al­ways agreed on every­thing – but, you know, you al­ways had to be open to the other per­son’s feel­ings.

If we ever had any wor­ries or con­cerns about what was hap­pen­ing in our lives, they were never dis­cussed in front of the chil­dren. We al­ways dis­cussed it in bed at night.

You learn re­silience through your life, that’s for sure!

I re­ally can’t com­pre­hend the mas­sive changes over time. I mean, in my time, it was horses and wag­ons, and now it’s cars, so what’s next!”

I’m 85, but I feel I’m still learn­ing about life. You should al­ways try to be hon­est and tact­ful, if you can. I’m not al­ways very tact­ful. Treat oth­ers as you would like to be treated your­self – and smile. That helps.

When you’re young, every­thing is black and white. As you get older, you re­alise that life’s not like that. In my day, peo­ple would keep very quiet about things like drink­ing too much or a di­vorce in the fam­ily. Now peo­ple are very open.

I cer­tainly re­gret some mis­takes I made when I was teach­ing – I don’t think I re­alised how young peo­ple coped with some things and there were times when I was cross with them.

It was Tui Flower who ac­tu­ally en­cour­aged me to be a teacher. She taught me at Pukekohe High School. I went to Auck­land Teach­ers’ Train­ing Col­lege, where I did the in­au­gu­ral home craft teach­ers’ course.

Back then, you had a choice of teach­ing, nurs­ing or of­fice work. Girls at that time did tend to marry ear­lier. I got mar­ried to my hus­band Bill in 1954, and we had two boys and a girl.

Most of my con­tem­po­raries look back and think we were re­ally very for­tu­nate. It was the 1960s, we weren’t gov­erned by com­put­ers and cell­phones, my hus­band was a very keen jazz mu­si­cian and I sang in var­i­ous choirs.

Still, our gen­er­a­tion did have its prob­lems. We wor­ried about the atomic bomb – it was the time of the tests on Bikini Atoll – and I was fear­ful about whether my chil­dren would grow up or we’d all be blown to bits.

The chil­dren were fairly in­de­pen­dent. They weren’t mol­ly­cod­dled as much as to­day’s chil­dren are. They had more free­dom. My youngest boy had menin­gi­tis when he was just seven months old, and it was touch and go.

It’s prob­a­bly quite tough for young women to­day

– they seem to be pulled in all dif­fer­ent ways if they have a fam­ily. But then, in my day, peo­ple got sub­ur­ban neu­ro­sis.

We didn’t want as many ma­te­rial things, though. When we were mar­ried, we started out with a bed, a ta­ble and a few wooden ap­ple boxes, which made quite good stools, but you didn’t feel like you had to have a lot of things, not like the young cou­ples to­day. Still, fam­ily plan­ning wasn’t so won­der­ful; there was no Pill un­til the 1960s.

When times get tough, you have two op­tions, re­ally. You’re ei­ther mis­er­able and make every­one else wor­ried about you or you just get on with things.

My fa­ther died when I was 12 – he had been to World War I and de­vel­oped TB – and my mother died at age 60 of a brain aneurysm.

I was 22 and en­gaged to be mar­ried. When you have your own chil­dren, you re­alise how much your par­ents did for you. The fact that my mother died be­fore I had fam­ily of my own meant I wasn’t able to ex­press my ap­pre­ci­a­tion to her.

Bill de­vel­oped de­men­tia. I cared for him at home for as long as I could. He was in the hos­pi­tal wing and I was go­ing to move into a unit of a re­tire­ment vil­lage nearby, but he didn’t wait. I moved in 10 days af­ter his fu­neral.

Mak­ing the de­ci­sion, with the sup­port of fam­ily, to put Bill into res­i­den­tial care was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. In some ways, it was harder than when he died. You won­der if you did the right thing or not, but just have to ac­cept what had hap­pened.”

Imar­ried when I was 23, the year be­fore I came out on the boat from the UK. I met my Ger­ard through his mother, ac­tu­ally!

She set us up be­cause she wanted him to stay at home for a lit­tle longer. On our first date, he turned up three hours late be­cause he was shang­haied by a preg­nant lady who’d missed the bus in ter­ri­ble snow, so he walked her home. By the time he got to me, he had about three inches of snow on his head. Luck­ily, he had a lot of charm!

I was en­gaged to him twice

– I broke up with him on my 21st birth­day. It wasn’t for any­one else, but I’d met his friends’ preg­nant wives and that wasn’t for me just then. But later, he came to me and told me he was em­i­grat­ing to New Zealand, and would I go with him.

‘I thought you might like an ad­ven­ture,’ he said. ‘Where’s the ring?’ I said. Turns out some­one had stolen it. This is how we were, back and forth!

We were mar­ried for about 30 years and had four chil­dren, 10 grand­chil­dren and two great­grand­chil­dren, and have another one on the way.

Ger­ard died at 56, so I was 53 when I was left by my­self. He’d had com­pli­ca­tions with his heart and then dis­cov­ered he had can­cer of the oe­soph­a­gus. He never re­ally got over that.

I’ve been on my own ever since. I’ve never had a chance to have a bite at the ap­ple again, I don’t know why. How some unattrac­tive women man­age to get mar­ried two or three times, I don’t know! I miss hav­ing some­one here but I’m used to it now.

Some­times I don’t al­ways keep my mouth shut, but I say it as it is!

You’ve got to keep a sense of hu­mour. And you’ve got to ac­cept what comes. I’ve got arthri­tis and

I’ve had to give up ten­pin bowl­ing and darts, but there’s al­ways a sil­ver lin­ing be­cause I feel I’m not as bad as oth­ers. I’ve learned there are things you can’t change and I’ve learned to be a bit more pa­tient.

Some­times I thank God I feel as good as I do at 85. Other times – when I’m get­ting out of bed and I’ve got to sit up and loosen up – I look at my hair, and it’s every­where, and I’ve got no teeth in and I think, ‘Oh God, why am I here?!’“

When I was a young girl, I liked noth­ing more than the pic­tures – and to this day, I’m still a big movie fan. I col­lected au­to­graphed pho­tographs of film stars – you would write to the stu­dios like MGM and they’d send them.

My au­to­graph book had sig­na­tures from peo­ple such as Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Judy Gar­land, but I don’t have the book any more. I must have left it back in Eng­land.

My fa­ther was in the Bri­tish

Air Force and it meant we moved around a lot to dif­fer­ent air­bases. I re­mem­ber hear­ing the sirens go at night and you could hear them bomb­ing Portsmouth, 20 min­utes away.

Af­ter the war, I met this New Zealand pi­lot, so I said, ‘Well, you can take me up in the plane on Satur­day then!’ He told me about New Zealand and then I saw an ad in the Daily Mir­ror – ‘Sin­gle women wanted in New Zealand! Guar­an­teed job and

ac­com­mo­da­tion for free if you stay two years.’

I moved here when I was 27. I wasn’t ner­vous, I’ve al­ways been quite ad­ven­tur­ous. I like do­ing dif­fer­ent things and just do­ing what­ever takes my fancy! That’s the big­gest les­son – do your own thing. No-one would dare have an opin­ion on what I do!

I didn’t get mar­ried un­til

I was 45, so I was a late bloomer. The sim­ple fact was I just didn’t meet any­body un­til then – it’s hard out there!

We met at a din­ner party in Welling­ton, he was the friend of a friend. He was a very good cook. Sid was his name.

He was mar­ried at the time but we kept a friend­ship over the years. His wife had passed away, and one day he rang and said, ‘Why don’t you come up to Auck­land?’

He had three chil­dren, all adopted, two boys and a girl. Be­com­ing a step­mother was very daunt­ing be­cause I wasn’t used to chil­dren and I’d been an only child – and now I had to cook for a huge fam­ily!

Sid died about 10 years ago, he just slipped away. It was re­ally sad and I miss him. But you move on, you do. Sid and I were mar­ried for 27 years.

Not like some of them but still a very good in­nings.

I don’t know if I like be­ing old, on my own, though. You don’t know what the fu­ture will hold. When you come in and close the door, that’s it, so I just stay up watch­ing movies. I don’t put the light out un­til about mid­night.

The thing I do now that I en­joy more than any­thing is go­ing on cruises.

I’ve ac­tu­ally got one in Fe­bru­ary. I’m go­ing with a lady and we’re fly­ing up to San Fran­cisco, hav­ing two nights there and then we sail back to New Zealand, stop­ping through Hawaii – I can’t wait! We don’t have much in com­mon, but that doesn’t mat­ter.

I’m a big fan of celebrity news. I love Prince Harry, I think he’s just gor­geous. So she can read her book in bed and I can read my mag­a­zines!”

Look­ing back, World War II had a rather large ef­fect on my life. I’d done quite well at pri­mary school and my par­ents were keen for me to go to an all-girls school.

But be­cause it was war time, all the places in the board­ing schools were saved for the coun­try girls.

I ended up go­ing to the lo­cal school, but in the sixth form – I’d been very keen on maths and sci­ence, and I got a small schol­ar­ship – my maths teacher asked me what I wanted to do.

I said I wanted to go to ’var­sity and study maths and sci­ence, and he replied, ‘I’m sorry, dear, but there’s no ca­reer for a woman in maths and sci­ence, so you’d bet­ter for­get about it.’

So I did. That’s some­thing, isn’t it? I feel very cross in a way, but I do love teach­ing and that’s the rea­son I met my hus­band John.

We were both teach­ers and got mar­ried at 23. We did our coun­try ser­vice and moved to Nga­matea School, a funny lit­tle school stuck in the mid­dle of a pad­dock. It took two years for us to get power! So we lived in a house and taught at a school with no power. Luck­ily, I’d been camp­ing!

We had two daugh­ters and nine grand­chil­dren, and one great-grand­child on the way – our grand­chil­dren def­i­nitely keep us young.

Plus we do a lot of ex­er­cis­ing. I’ve been walk­ing for 25 years and John [85], and I go to aer­o­bics class twice a week. We’ve al­ways eaten healthy food. We were brought up on home-grown veges and I en­joy a small glass of wine in the evenings!

That was a far cry from grow­ing up dur­ing the war and the De­pres­sion, how­ever. It was very tough. I was the mid­dle child of five – three boys and two girls – and every­one had to put up with a bit of ra­tioning.

My mother used to say ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. And that’s ex­actly right, when you think about it. She was al­ways pos­i­tive and al­ways treated things as an ad­ven­ture – noth­ing was ever a calamity. And I think that ap­proach to life has prob­a­bly helped me get to 85.

Life is a gem. I al­ways say to John, we are to­gether, no mat­ter what hap­pens!”

Ev­ery­body in our age group looks at what’s hap­pen­ing now and what might hap­pen in the fu­ture, and we all think we lived in the best of times. While we did grow up dur­ing the war, we went through that lovely pe­riod where there was no in­fla­tion, no drugs and ev­ery­body was H-A-P-P-Y.

The other thing peo­ple for­get is how we fought to get a 40-hour work­ing week – peo­ple worked from Mon­day to Fri­day, and ev­ery­body had Satur­day and Sun­day off. On a Satur­day, you would mow your lawns or play sport, and do all sorts of lovely things, and Sun­day was a real day of rest.

Now, it’s a real throw-away so­ci­ety. There is so much waste every­where and that re­ally both­ers us oldies. Dur­ing the war, it didn’t mat­ter how much money you had be­cause every­one was short of pa­per, su­gar, string and but­ter, so we were taught to save every­thing.

Even now, my chil­dren are amused at how we still don’t throw any­thing away. Jolly good things like ket­tles are thrown away if they stop work­ing, whereas we would be able to get another el­e­ment. And the amount of time peo­ple spend on their phones! You go to a restau­rant and all these young peo­ple are on their phones, not talk­ing to their friends!

My hus­band Spencer and I had to deal with none of that. As far as we’re con­cerned, the se­cret to a happy mar­riage is we think of the other one first and never say any­thing that would up­set the other per­son.

We met on a blind date when I was 19. I was nurs­ing with a cousin of Spencer’s. She was sup­posed to be go­ing to a ball with him but the ward sis­ter changed her duty at the last minute. She met me in the cor­ri­dor and said, ‘You’ll do, I sup­pose. My cousin Spencer is ring­ing me at four this af­ter­noon so you can an­swer and say you’ll go.’ Well, I an­swered and told him his cousin couldn’t go, but I didn’t like to say any­thing else [about me go­ing in her place]. Luck­ily for both of us, he rang back. I thought he was great. We got en­gaged a year later and mar­ried when I was 21.

I have no big re­grets and thank­fully there have been no big tragedies in my life. Oh, I re­gret the fact I didn’t fin­ish my nurs­ing train­ing, but then I wouldn’t have swapped a day of my mar­riage for any­thing.

I’m very happy for women to be in the work­force, but my heart bleeds for those lit­tle chil­dren who are put in care at 7.30 in the morn­ing while their mum and dad go to work, and then they’re picked up at night. I wouldn’t have wanted my chil­dren to be brought up by other peo­ple. But there’s no such thing as a per­fect world.

A big thrill for me was win­ning a sewing ma­chine as sec­ond prize in a [skele­ton] cross­word com­pe­ti­tion in the Woman’s Weekly in the early ’60s. It was a re­ally big prize in those days. I made all sorts of clothes for my chil­dren.”

I’ll never for­get the mo­ment some­one came run­ning into my high school class­room in Te Puke, ju­bi­lantly yelling the war had ended. Of course, we all jumped out of our seats with joy, be­fore our teacher snapped, ‘Sit down and be­have!’ Not even the end of a world war could in­ter­rupt the deco­rum of the class­room!

My mother had moved us to Tai­hape – she didn’t want to be around the main cen­tres dur­ing the war, so we went to school in a tiny school­house in the hills.

I re­ally wanted to be a school teacher my­self, but they wouldn’t let me be­cause I’d had rheumatic fever as a child. I didn’t have it badly and it had no ef­fect on my heart. It seems crazy now! So I had a range of jobs as a florist and even as a typ­ist at a lawyer’s of­fice, and I’d never learned to type! They must have been pretty des­per­ate. It was very in­ter­est­ing, though. I re­mem­ber we had a case come through for a Miss New Zealand who wanted to get per­mis­sion to get mar­ried.

I got mar­ried to my best friend Ian, whom I met at a Manch­ester Union Meet­ing. It was ab­so­lutely love at first sight.

I can still see him walk­ing across the room and I knew. I think that was about Novem­ber and we got mar­ried at the end of March 1957.

Ian has been dead five years. He had a stroke and a heart at­tack, and passed sud­denly.

It’s been very lonely, even in my re­tire­ment vil­lage, at times, and you have to go and find some­one to talk to. We were best friends. We al­ways said the best years of our lives were the years af­ter we re­tired. We could do what­ever we liked!

We moved around wher­ever he was of­fered a job as an elec­tri­cian, but we be­gan to dis­cover our three chil­dren were fairly bright, so we came to Auck­land for the schools.

I will say, though, Ian wasn’t too pleased when I wanted to go for a job. I’d gone out to buy a ball of wool at Masco Wools and one of the ladies told me they were look­ing for a man­ager.

He said, ‘Stay there for a month and see how you like it.’

But af­ter a month, there was no way I could stop and Ian fi­nally ac­cepted I was right! I ended up work­ing there for 13 years.”

When I get out of bed these days, I feel like I can do any­thing, but as the day goes on, I get slower and slower.

Hon­estly, there’s noth­ing great about get­ting older.

It’s okay when you’re 20,

30 or 40, but there’s been a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence since I turned 60.

When I turned 60, I re­alised I’d slowed down a bit, then when I got to 70, I was okay. I was still swim­ming – my favourite ex­er­cise – but when I turned 80, I was full of arthri­tis, but you know the doc­tors are pretty clever – they can keep you go­ing on med­i­ca­tion. The only thing I know about age­ing is that I’ve be­come slower.

I’ve got my own unit (at Ry­man’s Charles Flem­ing Re­tire­ment Vil­lage). I didn’t think I’d like it when I moved from the big house near the beach, but it’s a lovely, safe com­mu­nity and I’ve made quite a few friends. I look in the mir­ror and see all these wrin­kles, but in­side I’m still that 18-year-old girl from Te Anau.

My child­hood was gor­geous – I was the third el­dest of eight chil­dren and we all knew we were loved. Af­ter tea at night, we would lis­ten to the ra­dio, and we played cards and board games. Dad would make up games for us.

There was a lot of laugh­ter. No-one was al­lowed to cheat, ex­cept Dad.

I think to­day’s mums and dads need to sit down and talk more with their kids, to per­haps say no some­times, but then it must be hard these days when both par­ents are work­ing. I re­mem­ber never be­ing al­lowed to call peo­ple by their Chris­tian names. We had bound­aries, we knew what they were and we stuck to them. How times have changed.

I left school to train as a

nurse in In­ver­cargill, but I got so home­sick. I went back to Te Anau and met my hus­band Roy at the Gov­ern­ment Tourist Ho­tel where I worked – he was the Post­mas­ter.

We got en­gaged when I was 19 and mar­ried when I was 21. We moved to Welling­ton soon af­ter, and had four sons and one daugh­ter. I stayed at home with them, of course.

One of my big­gest re­grets was not fin­ish­ing my nurs­ing train­ing. I was go­ing to at one stage, but Roy said, ‘Think about it. You’ve got all these chil­dren to look af­ter and I don’t think

I’ll be able to sup­port the fam­ily.’ So I didn’t.

Roy – he was my one true love. He was 76 when he died. He had can­cer of the liver. The doc­tor gave him six weeks and that was all he had. I wanted him for longer. He was the love of my life – we were mar­ried for 56 years. I’ve never thought about mar­ry­ing again – it doesn’t in­ter­est me at all.

Roy died six months af­ter the hus­band of one of my bowl­ing friends. I found her one day in her car cry­ing her heart out.

I had al­ways wanted to travel, but Roy didn’t – he thought it was a waste of money – so I asked her if she wanted to come over­seas with me. We spent al­most three weeks in the UK, then did a three-week bus tour of the Con­ti­nent.

It was won­der­ful see­ing places you’d heard about and seen on tele­vi­sion.

Nowa­days, kids head off over­seas as soon as they leave school. My hus­band and I did go to Aus­tralia when our first grand­son was born – Roy never stopped smil­ing, but I couldn’t get him to visit them again.

I think it’s ter­rific to see women lead­ing the way now – the fact we’ve had two fe­male prime min­is­ters, all those women in Par­lia­ment. They are judges, lawyers and farm­ers.

As for my ad­vice to young women? Look af­ter your­self, you don’t have to do cer­tain things or be a cer­tain way for any­one. You are a very spe­cial per­son in your own right.”

Iac­tu­ally turn 85 my­self this month – and for my big day, I’m go­ing to a win­ery with five or six friends.

Oh yes, I en­joy a glass of wine, es­pe­cially at happy hour in my re­tire­ment home ev­ery Fri­day night! Three other ladies and I share a bot­tle be­tween us – and I par­tic­u­larly like sau­vi­gnon blanc.

I’m just very happy with my life. I find you’ve got to have friends out­side of the re­tire­ment vil­lage. Nine of us used to go out for our birth­days, but we’re down to five now and I’m the old­est of the group. But that’s okay – we’ve got two new­bies in the group.

I was born in Christchurch, then my par­ents moved to Akaroa. I was go­ing to be a gen­eral nurse, but I only stayed in train­ing for three months be­cause I couldn’t bear it. We had a very crabby sis­ter who would al­ways com­ment on every­thing I did wrong!

But when I told her I was leav­ing, she said I had the mak­ings of a good nurse. Oh, well!

I helped my mum open a cake shop, which had al­ways been her dream.

But on the first day, she re­alised it was too much bak­ing, so we had to hire some­one to lend us a hand.

As it turns out, it’s where I met my hus­band Jim.

I sold him a pie – an or­di­nary mince pie, so I guess it must have been in the home­made pas­try! The store was called the Sweetie Pie Cake Shop too. I don’t re­ally bake so much any

more, I got sick of cook­ing!

When I was grow­ing up, it was very dif­fer­ent to to­day. You kept your­self pure, you know, and no­body ever lived with their part­ner. Although I might have led a very quiet life com­pared to oth­ers!

We were very happy,

Jim and I. He was a big,

1.88m tall man and I’m only 1.58m. He also wasn’t bad look­ing! We had three daugh­ters, two ended up be­com­ing nurses and my other daugh­ter Ni­cola has Down syn­drome, but she is do­ing very well and she still comes to stay with me ev­ery month.

Jim died back in 2005, he was on dial­y­sis and had a mas­sive heart at­tack. I heard a crash in the morn­ing. I went out to see and he’d gone. It was re­ally hard. But as time passes, you learn to keep your­self busy.

To be hon­est, I didn’t even think I’d get to 80, let alone 85!”

My hus­band Fred and I were on a trip to the Bay of Is­lands, the first year af­ter we ar­rived from South Africa when, half­way there, I sud­denly re­mem­bered I hadn’t locked the house. I was wor­ried sick, but every­one said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’ll be okay’ – and it was.

It was 1962, my hus­band and I were both 30, and we’d ar­rived with two daugh­ters, two suit­cases and £95. Ar­riv­ing here was a bit like go­ing back in time. It was pretty laid-back com­pared to what we were used to. Peo­ple didn’t seem to worry about things – every­one thought they would get a job and then get a home. It re­ally was the land of milk and honey.

There were a lot of things you couldn’t get here. We’d al­ways had a glass of wine with our meal back in South Africa, but you couldn’t re­ally buy wine here. I would go to the lo­cal dairy for a cer­tain spice and they’d look at me funny – they knew cin­na­mon, but not much else. The food was fresh and good, but there was not much choice. I used to buy the Weekly for Tui Flower’s recipes. But you could get a side of lamb for 10 shillings!

I have had a great life in New Zealand – the only thing that’s hap­pened was Fred’s heart fail­ure last year. He had a leaky heart valve that needed re­plac­ing and the sur­geon told us he wasn’t pre­pared to op­er­ate be­cause he would prob­a­bly die on the ta­ble.

That was a real kick in the guts – and should he sur­vive, it was more than likely he’d have a stroke. We had a very rough year last year but thank­fully, he sur­vived.

There were times

I wished we could have gone back to what we had be­fore it hap­pened, but my first pri­or­ity was to make sure he was all right.

I just shut off. If I sat down and re­ally thought about what was hap­pen­ing, and the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties I was hav­ing to take on, I don’t know where I’d be.

Like most cou­ples, we’ve had our ups and downs, and we strug­gled a bit at the be­gin­ning. You deal with that by look­ing at what you ac­tu­ally have and be­ing thankful for it. When you have things that are get­ting you down, sit back, take a deep breath and try not to let things get on top of you. And, of course, Fred and I have al­ways sat down and talked about things. That helps.

I think it’s im­por­tant to look af­ter your­self, to ac­cept things and deal with them as they come along. When my girls got mar­ried, I told them you will al­ways sort out the big things. It’s the lit­tle things – like your hus­band squeez­ing the tooth­paste in the wrong place – you shouldn’t let it get you down. Ei­ther ig­nore them or put up with them!”

What’s the big­gest les­son I’ve learnt over my 85 years? Well, it’s sim­ply to just keep go­ing. Don’t smoke. Drink spar­ingly. Don’t die!

My big­gest turn­ing point came when

I was 23. My hus­band Roy and I de­cided to em­i­grate from South­port in Lan­cashire, Eng­land, to New Zealand. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force and he left be­fore me to get things all ar­ranged. It was a whole year af­ter he sailed off be­fore my­self and our two daugh­ters, aged three and 18 months, boarded the Cap­tain Hob­son for the six-week voy­age.

Oh, it was te­dious – although there were a lot of lovely peo­ple who helped me to look af­ter the chil­dren. The ship broke down 600 miles off the coast of New Zealand and was towed to Auck­land. We were sup­posed to dock at Welling­ton, so my hus­band caught the train up to meet us.

We set­tled in Para­pa­raumu Beach and saved ev­ery penny – Roy in the Air Force and I took in sewing. I have al­ways been very good at crafts and prac­ti­cal skills, and by then we had another daugh­ter and a son.

Even­tu­ally we bought a sec­tion in the new Le­in­ster Es­tate in Rau­mati South and built a house – I think it cost £3500. In those days, you could get a 30-year mort­gage at 3 per­cent in­ter­est! To think!

I loved that house. I built all the rock walls and steps in the gar­den, and started the Shrub Club. All the ladies would con­trib­ute a small amount each week and, at the end of the month, would take turns buy­ing new plants for our gar­dens. I had the first ger­bera plants in the dis­trict – they were quite ex­otic at the time.

My hus­band wasn’t a ‘handy’ per­son, I have to ad­mit. He did build a hen house, but it blew over in the first strong wind! My Roy died when he was 41, of a brain aneurysm. It was the worst time of my life – and 10 years ago, my el­dest daugh­ter suf­fered the same thing, but thank­fully, mod­ern medicine saved her. Last year, my mid­dle daugh­ter died sud­denly and that is some­thing I am still deal­ing with.

These days, the big­gest changes are around tech­nol­ogy. In my time, we were all on party lines, which could cause some prob­lems if you had nosy peo­ple shar­ing the line. Now, it re­ally ir­ri­tates me when I am con­stantly told to look up a web­site, go on­line, do in­ter­net bank­ing or fill forms on­line when I don’t have a com­puter!

I have never felt like there were things I could not do and have al­ways been pre­pared to work hard. I am a child of the war, so am very eco­nom­i­cal and don’t like waste. You never know what’s around the cor­ner, so my ad­vice is no mat­ter how bad things get, just keep on.”

Gwenda Scott

Jill Nun­ney

Mar­garet Cor­nish

Lois Mor­ri­son

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