Chapter 16 - Life With Gran and Grandpa Pegler
For almost all their lives, Gran and Grandpa Pegler had someone living with them in their house in Church Street, Parramatta. After Uncle Les and Mum married and moved to their own homes, Auntie Beat stayed on and helped Gran with the housework and provided company for her. When Auntie Beat married George Jordan they continued to live there for a few years after which they moved to a rented cottage in Milton Street, Granville. Then Grandpa engaged a series of “live-in maids” to assist in the house because Gran was an invalid, confined to a wheelchair. I am not sure whether she had some physical disability that predisposed her to this, but I do know that she and Grandpa had a nasty accident at the corner of Parramatta Road and Concord Road on their motor-cycle and side-car outfit which put Gran into hospital and, eventually, her wheel-chair.
I lived there with Gran (in her wheelchair), Grandpa and the live-in maid while attending Parramatta High School. Grandpa was working at that time and he usually drove me to school on his way to work. He was always very careful with his appearance, invariably wearing collar and tie and three-piece suit with highly polished boots (which he preferred to shoes). Many a time I have seen him take a cloth from his car or a handkerchief from his pocket to flick dust from his shoes. He had extremely fine hair, and very little of it since he was a teenager. He trained a few dozen thin strands across the top and glued them there with soapy water and a brush. He usually wore a felt hat, although there are pictures of him with a cap complete with goggles during his motorcycle and side-car years. He had sight in only one eye, although his sight was keen enough until the last few years of his life when he resorted to using a magnifying glass and liked to read the paper in full sunlight. He also had half a pair of binoculars in later life. He called them his monoculars and liked to study things afar off or perhaps just across the street! But from my earliest recollection of him he wore pince-nez glasses with “new moon” meniscus lenses which he only needed for reading. They had a thin gold chain with a gold ear-piece that went over one ear. Oh, they were so smart!
After tea each evening he would perhaps spend a little time with Gran and me, but before long he would be on his way down to the Granville School of Arts where, as previously mentioned he was very active in administration and billiards. He usually took a bundle of books with a leather strap around them and changed them for new ones at the School of Arts Library. He often took the Librarian a bunch of flowers and I am sure he got some preference when new books were added to the shelves. I was invariably asleep when he returned home as he was something of a night owl. He was not a teetotaller, but he was abstemious. He enjoyed food, but kept a good figure until late in life. He walked a lot and enjoyed it. He was unfailingly courteous to both men and women, out-doing most at the custom that was the rule in those days of raising the hat on meeting an acquaintance or when passing in the street.
Grandpa was a clean man and looked after his clothes by donning an apron, frequently a heavy carpenter's variety, whenever doing work in his workshop or around the house like helping in the kitchen, sharpening knives or cleaning shoes. But he seldom made a mess, and if he did, cleaned it up as he went. He didn't like getting even his apron dirty, and came up with the marvellous idea of a black apron, several of which he had Jean specially make up for him and one of which I inherited 25 years ago and still use. I suppose it wasn't much of a new discovery as black seems to have been worn by ladies of Queen Victoria's era and by ladies of Central and Southern European origin, presumably for it's ability to disguise soiling of various kinds! Grandpa also was a great one for wearing dust coats. These, of course, were quite common in his day and were invariably worn by motorists, hardware store counter-hands, bus conductors and draughtsmen, a member of which profession I was to become. I still have a dust coat but haven't worn it for years!
I am not sure just when my Grandma Emily Pegler passed away, but it must have been about 1934 or 1935. This left Grandpa with quite a dilemma, which most newly-bereaved widowers have to face, I suppose. He was still working, although approaching retirement age. At first he continued with the maid who, instead of living in, came in each day during the morning (he got his own breakfast, usually bacon and fried tomato made into a thick gravy) and left after tea in the evening. Then a whole lot of circumstances came together in late 1936 which meant that Mum and Dad, as mentioned earlier, left their orchard at Kulnura and came to live with Grandpa Pegler. Dad had arranged to sell the property to his nephew Eric Hunt (son of Uncle Aubrey) for a sum just sufficient to pay off the debts that had accumulated under the Government's “Farmer's Relief Scheme”. I had got a job at Regents Park a few months earlier and was boarding at Northmead. Wally had been going to High School for eighteen months and Lois would be old enough for High School soon. This involved the long journey from Kulnura to Gosford High School each day. Neil was halfway through Primary School. Grandpa was due to retire within a year and would find his income vastly reduced as he would then receive only a small pension. Uncle Les offered to give Dad a job and train him to become a glass-worker (at which he proved to be very adept in quite a short while). So we Hunts, Dad, Mum, Wally, Lois, Neil and I all came to live with Grandpa at “Norford”, No 7 Church Street, Parramatta.
And it was a very happy arrangement. Grandpa was a marvellous man to live with. While he stood for no nonsense, he didn't interfere with the family domestic arrangements and kept to himself when necessary. Mind you, his lifelong habit of going to the School of Arts each evening left us pretty much alone as a family after the evening meal and, after he retired from work he spent the best part of the day, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon at the Bowling Club where he had many friends and was a pretty good bowler. He used to say he was better at billiards and bowls with his one good eye than players who were afflicted with two!
“Norford” was a beautifully built weatherboard house with first class fittings. It had four bedrooms, a very large dining room (which was only used really for entertaining and for things like homework and piano practice), a smallish living room where meals were served and a tiny kitchen which doubled as a laundry. There was also a central bathroom with toilet and an outside toilet as well. How we loved the benefits of the sewer, the electricity, and the gas bath-heater compared to the primitive facilities at Kulnura! The problem of the shortage of bedrooms was solved by the generous attitude of Grandpa himself. He got rid of the huge double bed that had been in his bedroom, replaced it with two single beds and invited me to move in with him, even to sharing half the wardrobe and chest-of-drawers. Mum and Dad had the other front bedroom, Lois the small room adjacent and Wally and Neil shared the bedroom that had been added at some time to the back of the house. Then there was a little enclosed back verandah, the end of which had been closed in to make a very useful pantry with lots of solid shelves and a trap-door in the floor to store things under the house.
The biggest problem was the cramped kitchen and living room. So Mum and Dad worked out an alternative plan. The back bedroom was to be extended and converted to an eat-in kitchen, Wally and Neil were to move into what had been the living room and the kitchen/laundry was to become just a laundry. This worked well and the house arrangements remained that way until It was finally demolished in 1963. It meant that the front half of the house comprised four bedrooms with a central bathroom and the back half was the cooking/ eating/ living/ laundry area with the big dining/lounge/entertaining room in between.
Another gesture of Grandpa's was to persuade Dad to sell his car (I think he got £12 for it) and share the Fiat with Grandpa. This they did with little inconvenience to each other until wartime petrol restrictions meant that cars were of little use anyway and it was sold. Mind you, the Hunt family seldom used the car, as we were happy to walk to the shops, to school, to Church and to the Railway Station. We also had pushbikes, which we rode to work and school, and it was only for the occasional outing that we would all squeeze into the car, including Grandpa, and off we would go. Sometimes we would use the car to get out of steaming hot Parramatta on those stifling summer nights that are so trying in the western suburbs and the thermometer stood at 100 degrees. Then we would drive up to the Hills district for some fresh air and hope for a Southerly to arrive before we got home!
Although Grandpa didn't unduly interfere with our domestic arrangements he took quite an interest in us Grandchildren. He had already helped me by providing a set of drawing instruments which I needed for my job at Babcocks as a junior draughtsman. He also bought me a new bike as I rode to work each day. In many ways he continued to encourage us to acquire skills. I remember how gracious he was when brother Wally was going through a bad spell at school and decided he would rather “wag it from school” by going into the City on the train than continue in class. To do this he needed money which he helped himself to from various readily available sources, including Mum's purse, which was always kept in the kitchen dresser, and Grandpa's wallet. When Wally's misadventures came to light there was no-one more upset than Grandpa, not from anger or spite but from pity and a desire to help. It wasn't long before Wally was able to leave school and Grandpa arranged for him to become indentured to a good friend of his from the Bowling Club, a Land Surveyor, Harold Busby. The terms of the indenture included the payment for the first year or two of a weekly sum to the Surveyor, I think it was 5/-, until the apprentice was skilled enough and useful enough to be paid for his services! I do not know for certain, but I suspect that some of that money came from Grandpa's meagre pension. In the event Wally “came up trumps”, did exceedingly well, was being paid a wage long before the agreement provided for it. He eventually took over and expanded the surveying business of which he made a tremendous success.
But one by one we children were to leave home. Wally joined the Army and before long was serving overseas. After my short spell in the militia I settled down to hard work at my reserved occupation and soon married. Lois, after training as a School Teacher was sent off to the Country, and Neil followed her example a couple of years later. Wally married Elsie Barton during the war and after he returned to Australia they lived for a few months in what had been Wally and Neil's room, but were soon able to buy an old house at North Parramatta, convert it to flats and live in one of them. A few years later Neil married Betty Redden and after living at Bowral for a while, moved back to Parramatta district and settled down there. And Lois, all this time, was still away in the Country, teaching at the Western towns of Orange and Wellington.
Although Grandpa didn't mind us using his tools and his great collection of odds and ends (nails, screws, watch springs, door knobs, parts of door locks, bicycle parts, motor car and motor bike spare parts, etc etc,) he did object when they were not properly looked after. I remember how upset he was when he found a lot of sump oil that had leaked or been spilt from a can all over his wood-working bench. And so he should have been, as it thereafter always left an oily stain on any wood used on the bench. My Dad was rather heavy handed at tools and liked to build big and strong. He also tended to leave tools where he had last used them, and except for his axe and chipping hoe, seldom bothered to sharpen them. Grandpa was just the opposite. I still have his huge wooden tool box in my garage. In it are lots of leather loops for holding chisels and other small tools. There is also a set of beautifully made drawers with divisions for holding nails, screws, split-pins, drill bits, and other odds and ends. The big box is showing signs of decay now, and I had to treat it for borers a few years ago, but it is still hanging together by the hand-made nails with which it is constructed. I think it is likely that the tool-box actually belonged to Great-grandfather before Grandpa inherited it, and Great-grandfather probably bought it second-hand!
About the time I became engaged to Jean, Grandpa decided he should teach me a few useful things I would need to be able to do when I had a house and garden of my own. So he showed me how to handle many of the tools and gave me a list of similar ones that I should buy. He loved carpentry and decided I should have a few lessons too. Several of the things he had made are still around including a lovely hexagonal occasional table that our daughter Judith has in her home. But what he wanted me to make was something more useful but just as tricky to construct. It was a step-ladder, six feet high and without which no home is complete. If you have ever studied a step ladder you will see that there is nothing in the whole thing that is at right angles to anything else. Both the front and back of the thing taper from the top to the bottom and because the ladder leans backwards, the steps have to be set at an angle so that they are horizontal when the ladder is in use. It was an excellent example of carpentry that Grandpa chose for me, and under his guidance I constructed the whole thing with hand tools, glued it together with genuine carpenters' glue from his old-fashioned double gluepot (glue in the centre and hot water in the outer compartment - no Aquadhere in those days!) and in the 45 years that have followed it has served me very well, and gave me the initial confidence to tackle many home carpentry jobs since then.
After their children had moved away from the family home Mum and Dad continued to live on there with Grandpa. However, long before this Dad had lost his job of glass-worker with Laminex Pty Ltd and he did odd jobs for a while, as mentioned earlier, mostly roof and house-painting. Then he saw an advertisement in the local paper for people to train as an Attendant (as the nursing staff was then known) at the Rydalmere Mental Hospital. The idea of this appealed to Dad, particularly I think, because his old friend from Kulnura days, Sam Wise had been in Gladesville Hospital with some mental disturbance and he had visited him there several times. The upshot was that Dad had an interview with the Chief Attendant in July 1940 and got a job there. To me this would have been most uncongenial work. But not to Dad, who enjoyed it very much, although there were many less attractive aspects that he had to bear. But he was a most kind and generous man and loved helping the men in his care. He quite frequently brought one or two of them home and I can still remember, with shame, the embarrassment I felt at having to sit at the same meal table as some of these unhappy fellows. But to help them, and try to treat them in just the same way as normal people was Dad's desire and joy. One of the young men who Dad took a special interest in was named Ian Wilson whose parents were prosperous farmers in Barraba. Dad and Ian got on so well that Mr. Wilson arranged for Dad to be employed at the Hospital on special caring duties for Ian. This meant that Dad could spend a lot of time with him and take him on outings and expeditions of one kind and another. They both enjoyed this and it is with great pride that I am able to record the selflessness and grace with which my Father carried out these duties.
Although by this time Dad was approaching fifty-five years of age, he decided to undertake a course of study to enable him to be registered as a Mental Nurse, or as they are known today, Psychiatric Nurse. He was successful, and on 6th June 1944 received Certificate No 157/44 from the Registrar of the Nurses' Registration Board certifying that he had been awarded this qualification.
In the late 1940s Dad's health started to deteriorate rather rapidly. One time when Mum happened to be visiting Lois at Wellington and Dad and Grandpa were “bach-ing” at home Dad developed terrible abdominal pains while he was visiting Elsie (Wally was away somewhere at the time) at their home at North Parramatta. He was in a great deal of distress, shaking and perspiring and Elsie, after calling for Jean and me to come over, also called Dr. Ron Woolnough. He was sufficiently worried to suggest that we ring Mum and ask her to come home post-haste which she did. In the meantime Dad was put into hospital and the result was that he had his gall bladder removed. But his recovery was slow and incomplete. The Doctor was quite puzzled because Dad was having shivering and sweating attacks, being bilious still and losing weight fast. They suspected tuberculosis but tests were negative although the x-rays showed some scar tissue on the lungs. The matter was confused by the fact that since Dad had contracted malaria in Egypt during 1917 he had retained the symptoms and from time to time had terrible attacks of retching and sweating which he treated with doses of quinine. These attacks had more or less settled down during the 1930s and hadn't troubled him for some time. However, it was now thought that the symptoms he was having were related to the malaria attacks and he was treated accordingly.
But he still wasn't well enough to get out of bed after some months of convalescence and Dr Woolnough ordered more tests. One of these was a new kind of scanning x-ray which showed sinister shadows on the lungs that had not been obvious before. Dad had Tuberculosis, and at a very advanced stage. Dad was sent off to the Repatriation hospital at Concord (Yaralla) and all the rest of the family was ordered to have x-rays which were fortunately negative. After consideration by the Repatriation Department they discovered that the Army records showed that Dad had in fact contracted T.B. in Egypt at the same time as he had malaria and that accounted for his long convalescence in Egypt. Until then he hadn't been told! He had carried the scar tissue in his lungs ever since and that is why this new infection was so serious. They granted him a full T.P.I. pension.
In the meantime Mum and Dad had bought a block of land at North Avoca Beach in 1947. First of all they cleared the land, did some earthmoving with barrow, pick and shovel and erected an ex-army tent and adjoining bush-kitchen. After a while, in spite of the post-war shortage of building materials they proceeded to build a house on the land. This was used purely for holidays and all the members of the family enjoyed the experience of holidaying there, sometimes as individual family groups and at others all in together for Christmas and Easter.
At Yaralla Hospital Dad's condition improved and I believe he was able to return to work for a short while. But his condition was too far advanced for surgery and the best they could do was with drugs and diet to build him up and resist the disease that way. It soon became obvious that he should retire. And so thought was given to moving up to the fresh air and relaxed life of North Avoca. The house had been finished and was capable of being added to (which happened later) and so up there they went. Lois applied for an appointment in the district and was given a position at Woy Woy High School and later the High Schools at Gosford and Wyong. This happened in 1953 or thereabouts.
But what about Grandpa? It was too much to expect him to look after himself. It so happened that brother Neil and his wife Betty had come back to Granville after Neil's spell of teaching at Bowral. They were making plans to build their own house, but in the meantime, it was arranged for them to share the house with Grandpa and look after him in much the same way as Mum and Dad had done. But after a week or two it became apparent that this arrangements was not ideal for the relatively newlywed couple and some other arrangement would have to be worked out. Jean and I with our three children had been living in an old damp tumbledown house we were renting at Merrylands. It seemed like a good idea for us to move in with Grandpa while Neil and Betty boarded somewhere until they could build their own home at Westmead as they had planned. The next eight years (until Grandpa passed away) were very happy, I believe, for all concerned. He was a grand old man who treated us all kindly, made us really feel that the home was ours and was a joy to share our meals and other times with. By this time I had a small car and he loved to come with us on the occasional picnic or trip to North Avoca. But when we went to spend Christmas with the family he would come up only for the day we had our family party then go home again and look after himself as best he could. I do believe that while we were away he lived almost entirely on bread and tomato gravy.
While living there I did quite a lot of maintenance on the lovely old home. Twice it was painted externally. Grandpa paid for the paint (so long as it was the same colour as before - “Gull Grey” Dulux.) The water service was replaced with the help of a plumber friend of mine from the Church, Jack Grunsell, and again he paid for the costs. He allowed me to change the layout of the yard, extend the lawns, reduce the garden beds to a more manageable size, demolish the old fowlyard and replace the back paling fence for which he provided the materials. However, although many of the things I did, or didn't do, must have irritated Grandpa, he seldom argued with me and never interfered with my plans.
More importantly, he was very gracious to Jean who, being at home during the day, would have been more vulnerable had there been any difficulty. But he really treated Jean as a daughter and, I am sure, loved her greatly. By careful saving he had bought two hundred AGL Co shares at a pound each and one day he handed them over to Jean and said, “Don't ask any questions, I just want you to have them.” This happened not long after Jean had suffered rather badly with kidney trouble during a pregnancy and then, in less than two months after the birth little Ian George passed away early one morning due to “cot death”. Grandpa was very solicitous and helped us both to bear up after this tragedy.
And, in spite of many things that would have irritated most people he was very tolerant of the children, even when, at times, they were unkind or thoughtless towards him. He was not above giving us all advice at times, and even the occasional reprimand, but always kindly, reasonably and with no continuing rancour. One thing he was meticulous about and that was telling the truth, both in his own dealings with people and in our dealings within the family and with him. His dismay when he detected carelessness with the truth was very real and enough in itself to bring shame on the offender.
During this time his health remained reasonably good, for he was not by now a young man. But he did suffer a lot with his back, especially when sitting down, and his eyesight was failing, which was quite a blow because he loved to read. Nevertheless, until the last year of his life he caught the bus up to Parramatta every week-day and visited the Bowling Club. Then in the evening he would catch the train to Granville and spend some hours at the School of Arts. Quite often he would have a visit from one of his brothers or old friends and sit and entertain them on the front verandah. In the evenings Uncle Les would call occasionally and they would sit on the verandah or in his room, and often Les would be gone again without us knowing he had been there. (Unlike Grandpa himself, Uncle Les could never quite accept that “Norford” was our home; it was Grandpa's.)
Grandpa had one old friend who was supplementing his pension by buying honey in bulk and selling it by the jar to his friends and neighbours. Jean usually ended up with more honey than we could possibly use. One time Jean saw that the honey was full of little black drowned ants. When she pointed this out to him he said it only needed straining. I think that lot went down the drain! Uncle Harry Pegler was a regular visitor until he passed away and it was to him that we turned when one of the clocks or watches needed attention. That was his trade, but like Grandpa, I think his eyesight was failing and it rather affected the efficiency of his work. But he charged so little to “his family” that it didn't matter much.
But when we returned from holidays after Christmas 1959 we realised that things had not gone so well with him as usual. His memory and comprehension which had always been so clear and sound was letting him down. By Easter-time we were getting quite worried about him. He came away with us for the few days at Easter which we spent with Mum and Lois at North Avoca. (Dad had passed away after a lung haemorrhage in 1957.) Both Mum and Lois were distressed to find how quickly Grandpa had deteriorated in health and especially noting his rather erratic behaviour, so unlike him. He was still no trouble to live with though, although he was having strange daydreams and hallucinations. But it wasn't to last very long. In early July he became very lethargic, was confined to his bed, lost control of his bodily functions and passed away quietly in his sleep during the early morning hours of 14th July 1960. Dr Woolnough had called the night before and had said it would not be long as his kidneys had given out, and so I sat up with him, or rather dozed in a chair in his room most of the night. At one stage he awoke and seemed to gather his wits about him. He said he was cold. It was cold too, as it was mid-July, but there was a radiator warming the room. He then directed me to get his wallet out of the chest of drawers beside his bed and asked me to take out the folded notes. Then, to my amazement and consternation, he took the ten shilling and pound notes and carefully laid them out one at a time across his chest under his pyjama coat, pulled up the bedclothes, sighed contentedly as if he was warm at last, and went back into a sleep or coma, I'm not sure which. Six hours later, at the age of eighty seven years and almost five months, only his tired sick body, covered with a few pound and ten shilling notes, was left. I wept for him then, as I weep for him now. How could one fail to weep at the passing of such a lovable and caring old man?