Topic: Little West Coaster by Margaret Fearn

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived verion here.

Dad always introduced me to visitors as ‘my little West coaster’ and I grew up thinking it must be such a special place – a bit like the enchanted forest.  Fairy tales were my favourite books and I was always playing amongst the sand dunes across the road creating fairy kingdoms.

We all lived in a beach-side house called ‘Mon Desire’ on the Esplanade, New Brighton, my parents, elder Sister Eileen and I. The house was warm and welcoming while Mum was still alive, with lovely smells of baking wafting through.  The cupboard under the stairs was full of homemade jams and preserves.  I can remember shutting myself in there once and eating all the berries out of the rhubarb and strawberry conserve.  Birthdays and Christmas were amazing as the table groaned under her baked delights.

After Mum had gone, I grew to hate the house. I was always the first one home from school and dreaded walking into the cold, dark, empty place especially in winter.

The house was full of sad memories, so Dad decided we would move to the West Coast and make a fresh start. I was sent to the garage to sort out my books and place them on the running board of the old Studebaker. I piled up heaps of my favourite fairy tales and fuzzy-wuzzy books that I wanted to take with me – and never saw them again.

We stayed with friends in Revell Street Hokitika for a few weeks until school holiday ended and we were enrolled at Saint Mary’s boarding school.  That was a steep learning curve!.

I wasn’t a robust child so hat to sleep in a bed next to Sister Veronica the boarder’s mistress, which I absolutely hated.

I’d lost my mum, was parted from my dad and my sister was away up the other end of the dormitory.  Many a night I sobbed myself to sleep.  Expected to make our own beds each morning the starched sheets had to be folded just ‘so’ at the corners.  We washed in cold water at a long line of hand basins overlooking the railway tracks.  Then it was down the stairs to the dining room for breakfast of cereal, toast and plum jam which we also had on dry bread for an afternoon snack – no butter unless we had managed to save a portion from lunch.

Sometimes the jam was runny, other times thick and sugary and often with plum stones still lurking in it.  I enjoy most jams but avoid this one like the plague and I have yet to meet a convent girl of our era who can’t tolerate the stuff.

Missing my mother I fretted so much that eventually dad removed us both and we went to live with him at the Post Office hotel where he was a barman.  Glenda my stepmother – to –be had followed us from Christchurch and also obtained a job there as a house maid.

Years earlier dad had managed the Red Lion hotel on Gibson Quay for my Grandmother and I was born in Hokitika, so that’s how I became his ’little West Coaster’.

Our next move was to Mananui a sawmilling settlement over the mile-long high-beamed wooden bridge of Hokitika. 

Dad and Glenda married and I eventually had three half-sisters whom I adored.  I often biked to nearby Lake Mahinapua and riding along a tree entwined path to reach this expanse of water fringed by bush and back dropped by misty mountains I knew that at last I had found my enchanted forest.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 216:

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