I really thought I was a boy and, as Hugh was away at school, I never twigged there was a physical difference between boys and girls. Besides that, boys did exciting things while girls played with tea sets and dolls and helped their Mums in the house. Not for me!
You’re probably also thinking that Hugh was a bit of a sissy. You’re right but he did build the best huts. I qualify that – he dug the best huts. One underground hut he dug for me had five steps down into a little square cave. I could stand up in it so it must have been at least a metre high. If my memory serves me correctly the roof of the hut was about 40cm thick. Inside he carved little nooks in the wall for my treasures, like my toad collection. It really was quite a feat! I helped by taking the soil away in a wheelbarrow and spreading it ever so carefully across the back paddock so Dad wouldn’t know we had this monstrous great hole near his tractor shed. After about a week of digging my new underground hut was finished. By this time Dad was mighty curious about what was occupying so much of our time and the next morning he followed us. Talk about yell – to say he was angry would be putting it mildly! Your right – we were both sent to bed without our dinner that night. Dad’s solution to stop us going back to the hut was to fill it up with Daisy’s poo that he had been collecting to use on his vegetable garden. The smell was so bad that neither Hugh nor I went back.
Looking back on this I realise why Dad was so angry. What would have happened if it had collapsed on us?
In the summer of my eleventh year Hugh bought a friend home with him from school. His name was David – boy did I have a crush on David but he was five years older than I was and, to him, I was just an annoying little pest they had to look after.
Every summer the farmers of the district would help one another cut the paddock grass which then was used to make the bales of hay. Hay is necessary, for in the winter grass does not grow quickly enough to provide the nourishment required by the sheep. I loved hay-baling time. Mum used to bake the best cakes for the workers to eat at morning and afternoon tea time. Lunch was always huge roast legs of lamb with lashings of vegetables all smothered in rich, brown gravy.
I wasn’t strong enough to lift the bales of hay so Lochie and I kept Dad company on the tractor as we moved the bales from the paddock to the hay shed. Hugh and David had the job of stacking the hay in the shed. Dad was so pleased about the amount of hay we stored that year; little did he know that as the boys were stacking the hay they were also building another hut. Any architect would have been proud of this hut. It had a long passage which you had to crawl through to get to two tiny rooms – one for me and one for them. On top of the passage and the little rooms were at least another ten layers of hay bales. This hut was solid though – they had used planks of wood to stop the roof falling in. We all spent hours in the hut. One night the boys sneaked out of the house and slept there – I was so jealous. Butterball and Lochie loved coming with me when I went to the hut. They would run ahead of me and climb up the haystack and creep into the secret entrance.
Boys being boys they used me all the time – I was an unpaid servant – I’d be sent, at regular intervals, to the house to get cool drinks for them and then carry them ever so carefully all the way back to the hay shed. My Mum smoked cigarettes and one time they made me pinch a few so they could try them. This was really naughty but by this time I was so smitten with David that I would have walked to the edge of the earth for him.
I think they must have smoked before because they did not go green and cough or anything like that and, being summertime, they were very careful with the butts.
You know what is coming next don’t you? Yes silly me, I had to find out what it was like to smoke.
One day Dad took Hugh and David to the cattle sales. I’d been to plenty of cattle sales and thought here was my opportunity to learn how to smoke. When Mum was working in the garden I crept into the kitchen and took one of her cigarettes and grabbed a box of matches out of the pantry. Now I had a real problem. Where could I go where I wouldn’t be found? Ah the hay shed!
So off I trotted with my cigarette and box of matches hidden in the front of my shirt. I crept along the tunnel of the hay hut and into my room. At last I have found some peace and quiet. I used about four matches to get the cigarette lit because I didn’t know that you had to suck on the other end. It was horrible! My lungs felt like they were burning and I coughed so much I had tears pouring down my face. I needed fresh air so I quickly butted the cigarette and crawled out as fast as I could. In the distance I could hear Mum ringing the bell calling me to come in for lunch. As I desperately need a drink to soothe my sore throat I ran back to the house. I had to do my chores after lunch so I didn’t get back to the shed that afternoon. Dad bought the boys home in time for tea and we all had a game of cricket on the back lawn.
It was about an hour later that we smelt the smoke. The hay shed was on fire! Dad and the boys took off to the shed grabbing old bags which they soaked in the water trough on the way. Mum and I followed with buckets. They managed to save about half the hay so it wasn’t a complete disaster but the roof of the shed was badly damaged. I knew what I had done but I was too frightened to own up. All the time we were fighting the fire I just ignored this horrible guilty feeling I had in my tummy.
When we finally got back home all sooty and sweaty I just started to cry. I was crying and sobbing so hard that no one could understand what I was trying to say. Eventually Mum calmed me down and I told them that it was my fault. You could have heard a pin drop – the silence was deafening! I didn’t wait to be told … I went to bed.
Mum and Dad must have had a long talk about how bad I had been because the next morning I was given a spanking by Dad. Yes it hurt and hurt bad. Then Dad made me ride Gobby for three hours – you can imagine how pink my bottom was after a spanking and then having to sit in a saddle for three hours! You know something? I did not cry once but I was biting my bottom lip so hard that it bled.
A couple of days later Hugh and David went back to boarding school. Summer was nearly over and gradually things returned to normal.
Dad let me help him when he re-roofed the shed and he even complimented me on being a good assistant. I knew then that I had been forgiven and that he still loved me.