Topic: Down Memory Lane by Enid C. Meyer

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Down Memory Lane by Enid C. Meyer is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

One of my favourite memories of growing up is the fun we had at the Pahautea Hall near Featherston, where young and old spent cold winter evening enjoying each other’s company at dances. Once the Learners Dances were advertised, school work was forgotten. Girls tried out new styles of hairdo based on pictures torn from magazines for inspiration. Giant beehives grew on heads as hair was teased and back-combed to produce the required effect. These would remain intact for days when sprayed with strong hairspray. You could even sleep in them without fear of it turning into a bird’s nest.

Eyebrows would be plucked and shaped, eyelashes brushed with mascara and eyeliner and eye shadow in various shades of blue, green or pink used in imitation of the latest film star. A generous coating of Three Flowers face powder would be applied to the acne pimples, or possibly the latest shade of cake make-up would make a better disguise, applied with a damp sponge. Lipsticks were passed around with no thought of germs.

The final touch was a blast of perfume to cover any unwanted odours that might have escaped the hour-long bath taken after milking. Evening in Paris was popular or 4711 eau de cologne and Lavender. Evenings would be spent at a friend’s house trying out all these effects before the big night arrived.

From Wednesday to Friday talk was all about what to wear to the next dance. Items of clothing were washed and pressed carefully, lent or borrowed as friends compared notes. Saturdays we spent getting ready for the big night in the local hall.

Mothers were talked into providing new dance frocks any way they could. Some were skilled at dressmaking, able to turn out an outfit as good as any store-bought item. Other Mums, less handy with scissors and pins, spent unhappy sessions trying to please the young madams who wanted nothing less than whatever style Princess Margaret was wearing for her latest photo shoot. Tears were shed when mothers downed needed and went off to milk the cows, happy to escape. Daughters were left to finish off the offending top or skirt on their own, a good lesson in not being too fussy.

The dances were held in the local hall, the scene of many weddings between the young people of the district whose courtships had probably begun at these events. My father played the accordion, Mrs Bargh played the piano and sometimes there was a drummer, sometimes not. It didn’t seem to matter as we moved around in the Gay Gordons or the Valletta. Mum was good at teaching the young men to waltz, with other mature women on hand to help.

Men were in short supply, but this didn’t stop a couple of large ladies dancing together and stomping their feet in the Highland Scottische. We were amazed at how lightly they danced. If you were lucky enough to get them in the Gay Gordons taking the man’s part they would swing you off your feet before setting you back on the floor, bow and move on.

The young men also went to a great deal of trouble to present a good image. Sports coats and grey strides adorned so many of the boys you had to take special notice of who’d booked a dance with you in case you accepted ‘the honour’ from the wrong party and started a war. Drink did not figure largely in such evenings, but every second dance or so some of the guys standing near the entrance went missing for a while. Occasionally there would be a fight between two young bucks over a girl, but it was always fair and only fists were used.

The men would reappear with a healthy glow after sampling a few beers together. We were never asked to partake of these refreshments, and preferred to wait for the supper being prepared in the kitchen. The dressmakers evolved into superb caterers after they donned an apron and supplied hot savouries and sandwiches to the hungry horde.

One boy in particular comes to mind when I think of those days. He was a part-Maori boy named Charlie Tepana who milked the herd of a widow at a farm across the road from the hall and lived on her property. The widow had a beautiful daphne bush in full bloom that was the pride of her life. It would have been at least six feet across, and its scent filled the air and wafted across the roadway as the blooms opened. She allowed Charlie to take a small bunch of daphne from the bush to present to the current love of his life.

Charlie was handsome with dark hair and smiling eyes, so was much in demand when he arrived at the hall with the flowers in his hand. One girl in particular took his eye and received the bouquet. Later on another group of young ladies arrived and Charlie was taken with one of them, too, so back to the bush he went to select another offering of flowers. Soon every girl in the hall had a spring of daphne punned to her shoulder by an admiring beau.

The widow was not amused when she saw her stripped bush in the morning. I think she forgave Charlie, as he was never dismissed. Daphnes have a short life anyway, and the pleasure the girls took in being the maid of the moment was surely worth her sacrifice.


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