Topic: Summer of my Memory by Marion Pountney Baird

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Marion Pountney Baird

 

Summer of My Memory

 

That summer of 1968 I was twelve years old. I had ended my Intermediate years and was about to start High School. I was ‘in between’ in many ways, not yet a teenager, and on the sidelines of my older sisters’ social lives. I wore a terry towelling bikini that was less than a 2-piece, but not quite the skimpy below-the-hips variety of my sisters. There were boys around, newly on the scene, but as the youngest I was not wanted as the ‘little sister,’ being told to ‘go play with trains’ by one of the boys, which I found most insulting.

However, there was excitement and promise for the future.

We were staying at Mount Maunganui, one of the few family holidays we had during the summer. (Traditionally we holidayed in winter during the cows’ dry season.) Now living in Rotorua, my parents had conceded to the demands of teenagers and Mount Maunganui was the ultimate summer location as far as we were concerned.

We had rented an upstairs unit with a small balcony from where you could see the surf, right on Marine Parade just before the road turns a slight bend towards Omanu beach. It was hot and the concrete units, basically built on the sand dunes, baked in the all-day sun. The beach and the surf beckoned. We sunbathed till we couldn’t take the heat anymore, rushing into the foaming water to cool off.

It was on this holiday that I discovered the thrill of catching a wave on a hired rubber Lilo from the main beach, riding to a stop high on the sand. There was pink Q’toll lotion to quell the sunburn, Coca Cola in frosty glass bottles, and sounds Ob la de, Ob la da and Build me up, Buttercup on the radio, and of people having fun.

My oldest sister, Jane, arrived in her two tone Prefect car from Hamilton, where she was at teachers’ training college. She looked pale and plump in a blue check shift with smocking on the bodice, her light blonde hair cut in a bob style at jaw level with a straight fringe, Diana Lee style. She came down to the beach and sat on the sand under an umbrella; looking out of place with her white sun-sensitive skin and billowing dress; whilst we lay nearby on towels in full sun in bikinis and tan obsessions. Her legs were shapely and white with curved calf muscles tapering into the ankles.

I recalled how on a previous occasion she had visited whilst we had a brief stay at the Mount. Always one to try things with great gusto, she had attempted to  bring her legs up to some sort of beach acceptable colour and had come home from the chemist equipped with a bag of Condy’s crystals, which she dissolved in the bath and painted on her legs.  Unfortunately, the end result was less than desirable, as she appeared with a mass of dark uneven brown streaks and to peals of laughter. She opted to remain indoors until they had faded.

I remember Mum looking especially anxious and knowing that there was a connection with Jane’s visit.  In the shaded back bedroom where my sisters gathered, it was whispered to me that Jane was pregnant. This bombshell seemed to cut right through this perfect summer location and it changed the holiday from that point.

The concern and worry was palpable. I think Mum suspected the truth before Jane told her, being an intuitive mother. I recalled a visit she had made to Hamilton prior to Christmas; possibly seeking a confession to what was her worst fear.

The reality took its toll. Mum’s face was drawn and the weight quickly started to slip off her frame. Soon there was wringing of hands.

I wished that it wasn’t true, and felt further pushed to the background. Jane had appeared the other, but her announcement had made her more so. The situation wasn’t spoken about openly as a family, but my sisters were more forthcoming between them. It was Mum we all felt concerned for, yet Jane must have felt so lonely and estranged. She didn’t stay long and disappeared back to Hamilton

Summer days faded and I didn’t see her again until after the baby was born in March. She was only 19 going on 20 and had just finished training college. As was common in that era, she went to a home for pregnant girls in Auckland run by nuns and had the baby at a local hospital, although this was all kept a bit of a secret. We were told the baby was to be adopted out.

I remember other girls at High School who disappeared from class towards the end of the year, reappearing the following year as if nothing had happened, and no one asked questions. 

The father was an Australian Jane had met whilst holidaying and I had visualised them, perhaps fictitiously, meeting in a bus stop in the South Island, and hitching around together. His name was Gordon and he was a refrigeration mechanic from Adelaide who was working in Alice Springs. He presented as confident and articulate and had a smart turn of phrase, if not rather mocking.

He had apparently kept in contact during her pregnancy and had rung my parents after the birth to ask if he could marry Jane. The adoption was off and I remember waking one night to the unexpected sound of a new born baby crying in the next room.

They were married at a local registry office in Rotorua soon after. Jane went and had her straight blond hair done for the occasion at the local salon and came back with a sprayed petal formation on top of her head which she quickly destroyed with gasps of disgust. I don’t think she was at all certain she had made the best decision with the marriage, but she had her beautiful baby girl.

My parents were relieved the right thing had come through. Mum doted on her first grandchild and the flesh went back on her bones. A new chapter had begun, but that summer remained etched in my mind.   

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/X2GD-GDQM

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