Some members of today's world imagine the decade of the 1950's to have worn a blandness with its slower pace and lack of high-tech 'whatchamacallits'. To imagine life without ever-changing and developing technological triumphs is unthinkable to some. And yet there are those who feel their lives mysteriously lacking something. Deeper feelings of respect and empathy and caring maybe. Or that kind of honesty and trust that saw a man's handshake signify his sacred word of an unshakeable and unbreakable promise.
Those of us who grew and flourished in those gentler days knew nothing else than this way of life. We’re called the 'Baby Boomers', the most fortunate of souls who, like myself, were born after the Great Depression that gripped the world in its iron fist, followed by two World Wars that broke the hearts and spirits of far too many. Could there have been 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?
Here, my dear old Dad, the neighbourhood butcher, still delivered meat to people's homes at the time of my birth, whilst ensuring our family were well-supplied with our favourite cuts of meat. And my loving Mum? The at-home wife and mother, one of the great family cooks of her day, who also helped in her husband's shop on busy days like Fridays? Her family were her everything, and caring for them her most fervent passion.
In my pre-school years, as the youngest of five children, I would most likely be found perched on the gas meter box by the front fence, having a chat to every passerby I could manage to waylay. In our most friendly suburb, where everyone was a neighbour in the best sense of the word, many loved to pass some time with the butcher's smallest daughter. I had no appreciation of what an idyllic childhood I lived. Surrounded by the love of most protective parents and older siblings who spoiled me shamelessly with their joy at having a baby sister to ease the painful loss of a little brother, growing up in the 1950's could not have been more perfect from my point of view.
You will see the first Part and all its Chapters are focussed on my Dad's butcher shop at the home of my birth, the place I would spend the first decade of my life - which partially explains the richness of the memories. Obviously, the love of my family and my life are the rock-solid foundations. In later Parts, I plan to explore other services - like milk and bread delivery by horse and cart; other shops - like the grocer next door, the haberdashery store, the school 'tuck shop'; and of course 'the games people played' - small people, that is.
I love to share tales of that gentler, kinder way of life, when people had all the time in the world for family, friends and acquaintances and the best of human traits flourished. How blessed to have lived it... now let's see how faithfully I can record it! This could take a little longer to develop - after all, the memories do go back over seven decades now - and old memories, just like snails, take time to build up 'steam'. I trust you will be patient with me - I'm trying to give time to my other memoirs and writings, as I explore my experience and tasting of the 'flavours of the fifties'.
Let's see what I can remember and share with you.
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'. A common expression, particularly applicable to farmers, whose geographic distance from help and services quickly 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 however, is a skilled craftsman, with a deep knowledge of every aspect of his chosen field. The Master Butcher of the 1950's would have served an apprenticeship - if not officially, then by a time investment begun in early life. The teacher and mentor is most often the father of the novice. And so it had been for my Dad - born to a proud family heritage of butchers, and thoroughly trained to become a Master Butcher.
His education had been cut short in order to learn the 'real world' - the 'true' occupation Destiny (and his father) had chosen for him. Nobody heard his quiet voice trying unsuccessfully to tell someone - anyone - that he actually wanted to learn to be a cabinet maker. No-one really 'saw' his beautiful efforts - a cupboard or two here, a carved polished and upholstered chair there (and that would be the one I still have to this day, some 80+ years after its creation).
He had no chance to follow his true heart. From the beginning his Mother said, 'Wally’s always such a willing boy', and his Father, a true man of substance - a pillar of society and a leader of men; President of local sporting clubs; Grand Master of a Freemasons' Lodge - obviously NOT a person whose opinion and judgement would be taken lightly. And so my Father obediently put his own dreams aside to follow the tradition of his renowned butchering family.
One brother had been allowed the choice of another kind of life - as a leader in commerce and part of the Olympic hierarchy. I wonder why, when the other three boys of the family were unequivocally destined to be butchers. Each adopted the expected role with the total stoic commitment their Scottish ancestry dictated. There must be countless dreams and aspirations buried with too many of our predecessors - justified in the name of 'following in your Father's footsteps'.
Despite the many hardships, headaches and heartaches, my Dad took great satisfaction in slowly working his way up to become the owner of his shop and attached home... and the employer of a couple of less-qualified meat workers. How gratifying for my grandfather, to have three of his sons follow in his butchering footsteps, and the eldest along his more professional, commercial path. That grand old gentleman's dream, at least, came true.
Many of his 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' - 'living on easy street, that one'. An understandable view, I guess, that daytime vision of my Dad, their 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. They never gave thought to the lengthy 'before and after-hours' routine, or how that well-stocked shop, attractively displaying its produce happened. So much work involved to provide the impression of ease and efficiency in attempting to meet their needs... and their wishes.
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; and 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.
Through times of strike action by various sectors of the meat industry, my Dad would shrug his shoulders - "It's got 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 the 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. Then, 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 - perched on cushions on a chair next to my Dad, counting the day's takings. More about this in a later chapter.
I know how small the involvement (if any) a Butcher's kids have in his after-hours world and office work today. If he's a supermarket Butcher, that would equate to none at all. 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 find myself shaking my head. Certainly NOT a Master Butcher by the standards of yesteryear.