Topic: Friday by Carl Watkins
A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.
It’s Friday. Friday here in Hamilton is daddy-daughter day. Has been for almost two years.
Friday in Feilding is sale day. And in my mind it must be the same as when I was a boy, eleven, twelve, thirteen, when I would cycle down with my favourite piece of black alcathene pipe and move stock around and hopefully get a chance to go for a ride in a truck.
And sometimes my mate Glen Lanfair would be there. We liked walking the cattle off the trucks, prodding them and whacking them, and directing them towards the stalls where they’d await their time in the sale pit. Sometimes we’d sit up in the seats of the sale pit and watch the cattle walk in and the bidding take place. You had to sit dead still, no nodding, or moving your hands about, and it was best to avoid eye contact with the auctioneer in general. So I would just sit there and watch the cattle walking around with their ears back and their eyes wide, listening to the auctioneer’s voice, his rhythm and control and that deep and affected ‘manly’ tone.
My nose would get suddenly itchy sitting in the seats of the sale pit and I couldn’t scratch it. Sometimes I’d be one of the dudes walking the cattle into and out of the pit and I’d think everyone was looking at me and admiring my easy control of the animals. Just a skinny little blond kid with a piece of black alcathene pipe almost as thick as one of his legs.
Every Friday there’d be time for a walk along the ramps above the stalls at the sale yards and I’d try and guess how many cattle there were in each stall without counting or looking at the card on the gate. I’d see if I could remember the different breeds. I’d look across and down at the sheep and think how boring sheep were, except when there were lambs.
If I went down to see the sheep only because it was a lean week for cattle, I always noticed how heavy they breathed all squished into those small pens, but then some had heaps of room and still stayed tuck up with each other breathing heavily. Moving sheep around was easy. The odd ram gave you a bit of grief though, and then you had to hold your nerve against him or you’d never be allowed to move stock around again.
Zelda True was still alive back there, in the saleyards café, where I might eat a sandwich at lunchtime and she’d have a smile for me in her apron. Grey-haired already. The mother of my best friend. Or maybe I’d wander through the town to the Makino fish n chip shop and buy fish n chips for $2 and eat them on the bike ramps, in the sun.
On the way back to the sale yards I’d think that everyone in town was admiring me in my overalls and shit-stained boots, jaunting along using my piece of black alcathene pipe as a walking stick like the other men at the sale yards did.
After lunch it was time for the stock to be taken to wherever they were going, which presented the longed for opportunity of getting a ride in a truck. Some of the truckies knew me because I hung out at the Feilding Depot and my uncle was a driver and then a stock agent, so I could usually get a ride pretty easy. I usually rode with Feilding Freighters drivers, who mainly drove International Harvesters, except for a big new Volvo that I had been in.
But I remember this one day I rode with Ray Marsden, who drove for Hargreaves Transport, an ERF, a make I had never been in before. I vaguely knew Ray, and he made easy conversation with me while we were on our way to the destination, and when we got there he asked if I wanted to try backing the truck up but I was too scared. So he said I could get the stock off the truck, which I did. And he stood and watched, impressed.
He dropped me back at the sale yards afterwards and I don’t remember him driving off as such, but I do remember the smell of all those big tyres and the dust they kicked up.
That was Friday. And the weekend followed and there is a photo of me on the verandah of our house in the sun, shorts, smiling. Then, Monday, the first day back at school, Feilding Intermediate. My second year there. And this year was going to be different. I was going to be different. I was going to be cool. I sat there on the concrete of the courts that Monday morning with all those other kids and fretted over whose class I would be in and with whom. Every now and then I’d recall how cool the truck ride had been last Friday, and how I had handled getting all the stock off the truck.
I was put into Mrs Sharp’s class. She was still alive then, too. I had been in her class at Lytton Street Primary School where she encouraged me to act and to write and stage plays and I was so pleased to have her as my teacher again. Mrs Lynn Sharp. She wouldn’t even be retirement age yet. When I say that I miss her, what I mean is that when I think of her, tears come without asking.
Ah, the smell of new exercise books, and pens and pencils and rubbers and Mighty Jumbo pads, I’m sure you can smell it all now. That was the rest of that morning. Writing my name on everything. Until it was play time and I stood out on the field with Glen Lanfair, playing cricket, and telling him about the fun of the truck ride and then bang! I had a brain haemorrhage.