Topic: Family Trip to Timaru for Christmas by Margaret Juergens

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Every Christmas my family would travel from Gisborne, by railcar down to Wellington, across the Cook Strait by ferry and continue by train down to Timaru. This was all organised by my mother - and planning to get our family of five organised on our way was a major job in the Fifties.

The morning we left started off early to ensure we arrived at the station with plenty of time. The guard blew his whistle and we were off. My sister and I were so excited we were jumping around and running here and there, trying out the toilets and exploring the little bags Mum had prepared for the trip. We found new crayons and colouring in books and a few little toys to keep us amused for our two day trip. My brother was still a toddler and Mum kept a close eye on him. He was usually on her knee or besides her.

I remember putting my nose to the window and watching the grass and houses rush past in patterns of green. We hurtled through tunnels and over freaky high bridges, stopping at little country stations in the middle of nowhere. My parents tried to test us out to see if we could name the stations we had passed through.

My dad would get off at refreshment stops and get him and Mum a cup of tea. This was in a big thick railway cup and saucer with RAILWAYS stamped on it. To save on expenses Mum had packed up a big tin of sandwiches, fruit cake and a big bottle of cordial for us to eat on our trip. We ate this on our laps as Mum didn’t want us getting off the train and getting lost.

My sister and I had fun playing in the aisle and in between the seats with our dolls, with the other children in our carriage.

We made our parents take us to the toilet as this meant going out of our carriage and into a part of the train between two carriages. It was scary and noisy and rattled to the train's speed.

When we got tired Mum or Dad would read us stories and we usually slept on the seats leaning on the window. This helped the time go by. About six o’clock we arrived in Wellington. As we approached the station we were all smartened up with a lick and a polish with mum’s hanky, hair brushed, our best coats on and belongings packed away.

Mum had her coat and hat on and Dad his suit jacket. We were in the big city now!

Our big suitcases had been transferred right through to Timaru so Dad carried our overnight case for the ferry and we walked across to the wharf.

It was exciting to board the ferry. As we walked up the ramp there were so many passengers we had to hold on to Mum or Dad until we were in our cabin. A steward took us along corridors and up steep stairs. I knew I would never find my way around.

When we had put all our things in our cabin Mum and Dad took us to the restaurant for tea then we went up on deck to wave goodbye to those on the dock. We didn’t know anyone, but it was fun to wave to them and watch others throwing streamers down. We were high up on the ship and as the ferry pulled away and my sister and I tried to grab streamers that went past us in the wind.

Mum and Dad took us down below to our cabin for the night. It was strange walking along the narrow passages, rocking side to side with the waves. You could hear the ship’s engines, too.

Mum said if we all went to sleep we wouldn’t get sea sick and it was exciting to go to bed. There were two sets of bunks in our cabin and a porthole in between. My sister and I wanted the top bunks, so my parents slept on the bottom bunks and my brother slept with my mother.

We were all tired after our trip on the train and although there was a lot of noise outside the cabin with people walking past and talking as well as the ship’s motor, we all went quickly to sleep.

Next morning my mother was awake early and went down the corridor to have a shower while the rest of us were still asleep. When she got back, my little brother was not in her bed where she had left him. Where was he? She woke us all up, but no one had seen him or heard him. It was a small cabin and we could see he wasn’t there. She was frantic. Had he been stolen?

The steward was called and everyone in nearby cabins searched for about half an hour. My parents each felt guilty; Mum for taking a shower and Dad for being asleep and not watching him. Mum sat down on the bed. Just then we heard a little cry from underneath.

Yes, it was my brother. He was right under the bottom bunk and had been fast asleep unaware that everyone was searching for him. He had rolled out of the bunk and under the opposite bed.

My mother pulled him out and hugged him tightly. We were so happy to see him and my mother kept saying, “Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!”  My father had to go and tell everyone that his son had been found under the bunk asleep.

Eventually we got dressed, gathered up our belongings and went to join the crowd gathered in the foyer as the ship pulled into Lyttleton Harbour. After a long wait we went down the ramp and onto the waiting train next to the ferry. Soon we were puffing our way down the track towards Timaru.

We were glad to eventually hear the guard call out, “Next stop Timaru.” As the train pulled into the station there were my grandparents, uncle , aunt and cousins looking for us in the crowd.

Yes, we were here at last! Christmas could now begin for us kids. The trip down was over and what a lot we had to tell our cousins.

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/4LEX-4WZW

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