For some reason, we were always threatening to run away from home. It was usually after getting disciplined for something. We would plot and plan together but there wasn’t ever anywhere to go. The circle was all we knew. If Val heard of our plot she would ask us to get our school suitcase out and she would offer to help us pack. That really scared us.
Peter almost pulled it off. He was about 6 and he was running away from home. Mom, trying not to laugh, calmly helped him pack his tiny brown suitcase with some small white jockeys, a shirt, some shorts and his toothbrush. He kissed us all goodbye more than once, and he walked out of the front door, down the stairs and out of the gate. We all watched him from behind the lace curtain at the lounge window. He was so cute and chubby. He had big red cheeks, lots of dark hair and short stocky legs. He walked really slowly across the park and kept looking back at the house. He got to the end of the grassy park and he stopped. He turned around and started walking back. Two minutes later there was a little knock on the door. When mom opened it, he looked up at her and said, “I need to go to the toilet”. That was that. The prodigal had returned.
Us kids thought we were pretty poor and we made jokes about it. Dad did what he could and we never went hungry or naked but it was often tight. We would lie awake at night and jokingly pray, “Thank you for the straw above our heads” and , “Thank you for the mud under our feet”.
Sue and I shared a room and so did Dave and Peter. When it was way past our bedtime, Val would shout down the passage, “Susan, David, Linda and Peter, stop that giggling, turn over and go to sleep!” “Turning over” meant away from each other to face the wall. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it made things worse.
Sue was fastidiously neat. Her things were always in place and her bed was made army style. She would sit on her pillow and slide her feet between the sheets. If the sides came loose she would get out and start all over again. They had to be tucked in so tight that she couldn’t move. Sue would blow dry her hair until every kink was straightened. If she discovered a kink, she would wet her hair and start all over again. Dad was convinced she was going to lose it all.
I was fastidiously untidy. My things were all over the place and my bed was my cupboard. At bedtime I would push everything to the end and climb in. It did help that I was short so I didn’t need the whole bed anyway. My hair was full of kinks and waves and I just bunched it into a pony tail.
The thing we agreed on was that the new red-head twins at school had the most beautiful rosy cheeks we had ever seen. We couldn’t stop staring at them. One night in the bath, we came up with a brilliant idea. With our shower caps on, we got our soapy face-cloths and started rubbing. By the time we got out of the bath, our cheeks were raw and bleeding. When we woke up the next day our cheeks were far from rosy. They were big brown scabs. The red-heads couldn’t stop staring at us, and they weren’t the only ones.
We seldom bathed alone and the water was often left in for someone else to use. Our bathtub was small but its capacity was large. Four small girls could bath at a time or three bigger ones. We kept filling it up with hot water and we would stay there until our toes and fingers were wrinkly. We giggled and talked until someone knocked on the door and told us to hurry up. David discovered he could climb up on the bookshelf on the back veranda and peep into the bathroom window. He wasn’t the only one. Dad caught quite a few boys on that bookshelf.