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First Lessons

Recollections of George & Maggie Sherwood by their GrandDaughter Wendy Hooper nee Sherwood.

Much of my early learning happened at the home of my paternal grandparents. It seems to me that I spent a lot of time in my early years staying with my grandparents. I know that I was there whenever my younger siblings had their turn of childhood illnesses. I was there when WW2 ended and I was 5 years old. On that happy day I found a Union Jack in Grandma’s cupboard and hoisted it to a downpipe on the front verandah.
My Grandma and Pop lived in the Sydney suburb of Wahroonga which, in those years was still largely undeveloped. There were still large tracts of bushland. The houses which had been built were on large blocks of land and were mostly very grand.
My grandparent’s house was a modest federation style weatherboard cottage, with an outside ‘dunny’. This was a time of shortages and the toilet paper was either newspaper or telephone books, cut into neat squares by my grandfather, threaded with string and hung on a nail.
Pop grew vegetables and fruit and kept ‘chooks’. To an inner city child such as myself staying with Grandma and Pop seemed like staying in the country. I learnt to feed the chooks, collect the eggs and help to pick and so name the fruit and vegetables.
Grandma had been a domestic servant in England before migrating to Australia. She was an excellent and innovative household manager. I learned to help her in the kitchen. I even learned how to make butter when butter was rationed. My teenage Uncle Bruce was still living at home in those years. Grandma had managed to buy a jar of cream and Bruce and I were instructed to roll the jar back and forth to each other until the contents resembled butter.

I learned about the Red Cross organization when I visited the Hornsby branch with my grandmother. One of my earliest memories is of Grandma joining with other women to knit khaki socks and balaclavas and to roll bandages. I was keen to learn to knit and Grandma taught me as soon as I was able to manipulate the needles.

My first experiences of the Australian bush were with my Grandma. We walked into the bush near her home to collect gum tips to decorate the house. On one these outings we encountered a snake, the dangers of this creature were pointed out to me and the snake was rapidly dispatched by Grandma with the aid of an abandoned bicycle wheel.

Music was part of my experience at Grandma’s house They owned a piano and Bruce taught me to play ‘chopsticks’. I loved touching the notes on the piano, but unfortunately I showed no natural talent. Pop sometimes played a violin which he called his fiddle. He could also play on one of the saws that he used in his work as a carpenter. Music in the house came from ABC radio or from a hand wound gramophone. At 7am each morning ABC played a Sousa March and called the segment ‘the march to the bathroom’. I marched to the music with much enthusiasm. The ‘hospital hour’ followed, featuring cheerful and inspiring music to which I listened whilst waiting eagerly for ‘Kindergarten of the air’.

I learnt to play card games and Monopoly at Grandma’s house, and most importantly, I learned to play alone. My toys were miniature farm pieces, such as animals, buildings, machinery and fences from which I constructed my own farm. Bruce’s model soldiers performed mock battles at my command.
I was never lonely for the company of other children. Rex the Airedale happily shared his biscuits with me when Grandma wasn’t looking and he was company enough.

Grandma never missed hearing the postman’s whistle. It always held the hope of mail from ‘home’. Grandma and Pop had joined a ship to Australia immediately after their marriage in 1913; they both left parents and two brothers in England. I leaned to write letters to these distant relatives and to understand the importance of extended family.

I learned to feel safe and secure in Grandma’s house. It was a contrast from living with the tension in my family home and from the arguments of my parents. When I wasn’t at Grandma’s house I knew that I could telephone her for the price of two pennies from a public phone box. I called often and that phone number remains in my memory.

Grandma lived long enough for me to visit her with my own three children. I wonder now if she ever knew how much she had taught me when I was a child. I greatly regret that I never thanked her.

Wendy Hooper
September 2008

Owner/SourceWendy Hooper
DateSep 2008
Linked toFamily: SHERWOOD/FOSTER (F000179)

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