"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you.
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
~ Roald Dahl**
Today, many imagine the 1950's decade as being boringly bland with its slower pace and lack of high-tech whatchamacallits. Life without ever-changing and developing technological triumphs is unthinkable. And many find their lives mysteriously lacking something. Respect and empathy and caring maybe. Or simplistic honesty and trust when a man's handshake signified his sacred unshakeable and unbreakable promise.
“It was another world,” I say quietly to myself. And I sigh, also quietly, but my daughter’s keen young hearing picks up both.
“The Baby somethings, Mum? Is that your ‘nother world?” Michaela’s eager, upturned face makes me smile.
“Baby Boomers,” I answer. I know her next question before she opens her mouth.
“Why, Mum? Is it kangaroo ‘boomers’? Is it, Mum?”
I stroke her face gently and my fingers slide into her soft brown curls for a little head massage. She loves that.
“Not kangaroos, honey. ‘Baby Boomers’ was the name for the biggest generation in history, made when the Daddies came home from war.” A frown still crunkles her pretty forehead as Michaela grunts her usual “Huh?”
I try my best to explain how too many hearts and spirits were broken when the ‘war to end all wars’, as they dubbed the First World War, only held back a second world war for 21 years.
“Think maybe they hoped to make a brand new generation who wouldn’t know the terrible damages caused by both want and war.”
Tears gather in her eyes when I briefly tell her about the Great Depression’s iron fist, and WWI and WWII, all far too close together. But those tears are hastily scrubbed away and a smile breaks through when I tell her I cannot imagine a better place to live and grow and dream than a middle-working-class suburb in Australia, in a family never rich... but never poor.
When I was born, my dear Dad, the neighbourhood butcher, still delivered orders to customer's homes whilst ensuring his family was well-supplied with all their favourite meats. And my loving Mum? The typical ‘50’s’ at-home wife and mother was a great family cook who also helped in her husband's shop on busy days - usually Fridays. Her life revolved exclusively around her family and caring for them with a fervent passion.
The years roll back to a time when I was much younger than my fresh-faced daughter cuddling next to me, her eyes shining brightly, encouraging ever more memories. How she loves my yesteryear tales.
I find myself telling her about some early days as the youngest of five children. In my pre-school years I would often be perched on the gas meter box by our front fence, chatting to every passerby I could manage to waylay.
“But you always tell me not to talk to strangers, Mum. How come you could? Didn’t Gran tell you not to?” Michaela’s eyes widen with this surprising thought.
I squeeze her tighter as I hasten to describe our most friendly suburb, where everyone was a neighbour in the best sense of the word. There were few strangers, but many who loved to spend some time with the butcher's smallest daughter. My idyllic childhood seemed quite unremarkable, surrounded by my protective parents’ love, and older siblings who spoiled me shamelessly. I wouldn’t know for many years how deep their joy had been to have a baby sister to ease the previous painful loss of a small brother. It was a wonderful age of innocence, my young life in the 1950's.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Michaela’s question about perceived ‘stranger danger’ and my explaining how it was non-existent in my small world made me appreciate the special blessings my life and times have given me. And this memoir’s inspiration was born - a desire to record all those gentler, more caring days I can remember, to share with those who have never known these particular ‘boom’ times.
Part One and its chapters focus on my Dad's butcher shop attached to our home, where I would spend my first decade. Clearly, the love of my family and my life were rock-solid foundations for my memories and their richness. In later chapters I plan to explore things I can recall about our other suburban services - like milk and bread delivery by horse and cart; other shops - like our grocer next door, a haberdashery store, the school 'tuck shop'; and 'games people played' - small people, that is.
There’s a special joy in sharing tales when a kinder way of life was commonplace; when people had so much precious time for family, friends and acquaintances; and the best human traits were born and flourished. How blessed to have lived it. Now to see how faithfully I can record it! This could take a little longer to develop - after all, my memories are seven decades old now - and old memories, like snails, take time to build up 'steam'. I trust you will be patient as I explore my experience and tasting of 'flavours of the fifties'.
**The quote from Roald Dahl (1916-1990) is from his last children's story, The Minpins published in 1991.
In fact it is the very last line of that very last story.
PART ONE - The Butcher Shop
"To see the butcher slap the steak before he laid it on the block, and give his knife a sharpening, was to forget breakfast instantly.
It was agreeable too - it really was - to see him cut it off so smooth and juicy.
There was nothing savage in the act, although the knife was large and keen; it was a piece of art, high art; there was delicacy of touch, clearness of tone, skilful handling of the subject, fine shading.
It was the triumph of mind over matter; quite."
~Charles Dickens (1812-1870) 'Martin Chuzzlewit'
The Master Butcher
Anyone can escape into sleep,
we are all geniuses when we dream,
the butcher's the poet's equal there.
~ Emile M. Cioran
Jack of All Trades - Master of None is a common expression often applied to farmers, whose geographic distance from help and services dictates the need to develop a vast array of 'fix-abilities' or creative ways to satisfactorily answer the current problem.
The Master of a trade is different. He’s an artisan with a thorough knowledge of every aspect of his chosen field. The Master Butcher of the 1950's served an apprenticeship - if not officially, then by a time investment begun in early life, most often by his father. It was for my Dad, born into a proud family of butchers and thoroughly trained in every aspect to become a Master Butcher.
His education was cut short in order to learn the occupation Destiny (and his father) had chosen for him. Nobody heard his quiet voice trying unsuccessfully to tell someone - anyone - that he yearned to be a cabinet maker. Few recognised his talented efforts - a cupboard or two here, a carved polished and upholstered chair there (the one I still have to this day, 80+ years after its creation). He found no chance to follow his true heart.
His mother always said, 'Wally’s always such a willing boy'. Willing enough to obediently bury his fondest dreams, apparently. And his father? He was NOT a person whose opinion and judgement would be taken lightly. He was truly a man of substance; a pillar of society and a leader of men; President of local sporting clubs; Grand Master of a Freemasons' Lodge. How gratifying for that grand old gentleman. His dream, at least, came true.
Two other brothers also adopted their expected role with the stoic commitment their Scottish ancestry dictated. Only one of the four sons made the choice of another kind of life - and became a leader in commerce and part of the Olympic hierarchy. I wonder why his potential was recognised and accepted, when the other three sons were unequivocally destined to be butchers. And I wonder how many dreams and aspirations have been buried with many of our predecessors - justified in the name of 'following in your father's footsteps'.
Despite many hardships, headaches and heartaches, my Dad’s innate patience and hard work slowly earned him the right to become the owner of his shop and attached home, and eventually the title of employer. Many customers and neighbours assumed a ‘sweet’ Life for him; that ‘lucky man whose shop and home all fell in his lap from his father, you know'; and 'he’s living on easy street, that one'. Their daytime vision of my Dad was the cheerful butcher, exchanging pleasantries, jokes and general conversation about Life; maybe a little local gossip; plus that essential advice and recommendation about the best cut of meat for the evening meal. Few would have given a moment’s thought to the lengthy before and after-hours routine, or how that well-stocked shop attractively displaying its produce happened? So much unseen and unappreciated work involved to provide the impression of ease and efficiency in attempting to meet their needs... and their wishes.
*** still checking and rewriting - plus considering more of Dad’s appearance from ‘Purveyors…’ chapter being included here?
Behind the scenes, ultra-early morning preparation began for the day ahead - dividing whole bodies of meat, boning out, dissecting ever further into those 'familiar' and recognizable cuts. And making up orders in between serving the shop customers; and anticipating and ordering the next several days' requirements, along with a guesstimate of unforeseen extras of 'spur of the moment' buyers. And pickling all the meats that were so popular in the day - corned silverside and brisket of beef; legs and rolls of lamb; and pickled tongue - SO popular. His own mince and sausages were made on the premises as well - and a variety of smoked hams and bacon produced in the fearsome black smoke-room in his workshop down the back of our house.
Through trying times of strike action by various sectors of the meat industry, my Dad would shrug his shoulders - "It has to be done" - and don the split hessian sack 'hoodie' (for protection from blood/fat residue on hair, face and shoulders), and alongside the delivery man and his own employees, unload the split bodies of beef and whole bodies of pork and lamb and heave them over his shoulder. Hard days on everyone when the delivery driver came alone without his usual strong 'handlers'.
Despite the innumerable 'cleaning up' jobs at the end of his day, Dad would always manage to squeeze in time for our evening meal together and precious 'family' time as we all shared our day's happenings. Whilst Mum washed the dishes in her trendy cream and green kitchen and my older siblings had homework to attend to, there came my favourite time of the day - off to my Dad’s office to perch on cushions on a chair next to him, counting the day's takings. (That’s a whole other story in a later chapter.)
I’m sure today’s world would offer small involvement (if any) for Butcher's kids in his after-hours world. If he's a supermarket Butcher, that would equate to none at all. And if he's a supermarket Butcher, he's facing a row of non-butchering days ahead as every cut of meat comes to him pre-packaged, weighed and priced. Now his job is to simply arrange the packages on the shelves under the artificially rosy glow of the refrigerated area's lights. I could empathise with our local Supermarket butcher when he found himself in this exact position… and deeply saddened when it all became too much for him and he resigned.
Certainly NOT a Master Butcher’s job anymore, measured against yesteryear’s standards.