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WINTER SNAP SHORT STORY COMPETITION

2nd Place winner  DID SHE REALLY DO THAT?  By Robyn Lee

My grandmother died when I was 15, many decades ago now, but I still retain vivid memories of her.  Her nut brown face with the smooth skin, even though she was in her fifties, and the steel grey hair sometimes tinted with blue bag which was normally used to whiten the sheets are still sharp in my mind.  She was a widow, my grandfather having survived Gallipoli only to be killed in a work accident when my mother was seven.  Mum and I lived with Nanny when I was about two or three years old then for again when I was thirteen and my two younger brothers were roughly ten and eight years old.  Nanny loved Elvis and would be the one to remind me when the Hit Parade was due to start on the radio; there was no television in those days.  I had often thought that during the era of the Beatles she would have enjoyed them, also.

One memory I can recall quite clearly was when I was about six and my paternal grandmother had died.  My paternal grandfather, whom we called Pa, was a sour, non-communicative man and he terrified my brothers and me.  On this particular occasion though I said to my grandmother, “Why don’t you marry Pa, Nanny?”  “What?  That old bugger!” was her immediate reaction.  I was rather impressed that she had used a “naughty” word and giggled to myself in delight.  Nanny was an inveterate smoker and used to roll her own.  She would roll half a dozen or thereabouts so she had a few on standby and my brothers and boy cousins would occasionally pinch one to smoke on the sly.  She was extremely proud of her prowess in rolling her smokes and I remember her comment that one particularly fine specimen looked like a “tailor-made”, as bought cigarettes were then called.

Nanny was part Maori and would tell me stories, extra to the lessons about the Maori we had at school, about when the white man or Pakeha, as white people were and still are known, first landed in New Zealand.  The war-like Maori fought to chase off these intruders and any they killed were barbecued for dinner.  “We called them ‘long pig’, explained Nanny, “because the Pakeha tasted like salty pork.”  If a foe, either Maori or Pakeha, had fought particularly bravely, the warriors would eat the brains thus hoping to imbue themselves with the unfortunate individual’s bravery.  It was considered an honour to the victim who probably failed to appreciate the irony.  The one story that Nanny told me which remains with me to this day is that the best part of the Pakeha was the heel.   Apparently sucking on the calcaneus or heel bone was quite a treat.  “How do you know, Nanny?” I would query, my curiosity aroused, but she just laughed.  I never did find out if she spoke from experience.  The question remains, however; did she really do that?