The End of Summer Holiday 1944. Part 2 – Feb 2021

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The End of Summer Holiday 1944. Part 2 – Feb 2021

(Continued from December/Jan Newsletter)


      Pam. She was one of twins. I was two years older than them. The first time I remember seeing them…two little bundles wrapped in white shawls, was on the day of their baptism. 
I had been behaving deplorably badly on my first visit to the big St Johns Sunday School. Nice Kit Lemont had sought out my father in desperation and handed me over to him, the expectation of which, was exactly why I had been behaving deplorably badly. We spent a pleasant half hour in the Manse garden, me chasing butterflies and he, having a quiet smoke. I expect after he and my mother had suffered the sadness of a string of miscarriages and one stillbirth, he was quite content at age fifty five to take a little time out with his only child. 
My Mum came out of Church and said “Why didn’t you come in and see the Twinnies baptised?” Well! Nobody had told me about that! I began to regret butterflies in the sun with my Dad. 
Pam came to stay with us every couple of years after that, whenever her mother was adding to her brood. She was a nice kid with big brown eyes in a small anxious face and very fine straight brown hair. Joy, her twin was a confident blonde. 
At the end of the Summer holiday in 1944, when most of the holiday makers had gone home, Pam and Joy were staying at their Grandad’s bach just around a bend in the road from us. 
As I set off to play with them, my Mum’s parting words were, “Try to keep that dress dry Margaret, see you keep out of the water. I’m sick of washing your clothes all the time and the tank water is getting low.” 
The twins and I spent a happy morning on the beach at the edge of the tidal river, the last curve of the river where it moves slowly before straightening and gathering speed in its final dash to join the thundering Tasman Sea. 
The tide was coming in, swelling the height of the river water and covering the two cone shaped holes that had been scoured out in the Winter storms
Joy and I were lazily lying on the sand and Pam was poking around in the water. Suddenly there was a splash and flailing of arms and Pam disappeared down the hole. Joy ran screaming down the beach for her folks and I stood peering down in the water. 
For a split second I remembered my Mum and my dress and then I saw her. The light was just right for me to see her rising slowly up in the deep brown water. As she rose nearer, I reached down, standing at the edge of the hole and amazingly managed to grab a handful of her hair. 
It surprised me, as I kept dragging her, how light the water had made her. When we both managed to get back onto the sand we both just sank down in it. Pam said “You saved my life.” I was really surprised that she realised that, because she was only a little kid of four and I was a big girl of six. 
Joy came running back down the beach, but stopped when she saw us lying there. Her Mum and Dad appeared at the beach entrance to their bach, saw us, shrugged and went back to their bach. 
I went home for lunch. My Mum and I ate it on the verandah looking out over the river to the beautiful crashing surf of the Tasman. The sound of it was the background to our days. 
As I headed back to play, my Mum said, “I’ll be coming to have a swim with all of you shortly.” As I waved to her I could see my morning’s dress hanging on the line. 
Pam stayed with us again shortly after that. Mum took her to the Methodist Hall for a morning’s play, led by a lady from Christchurch who had come to Greymouth to interest the locals in a new idea for pre-schoolers to learn and play together. I was intrigued by it, it sounded such fun. Pam said it was called a Kitten Garden. Lucky Pam, fancy playing in a Kitten Garden while I had to go to school! 
I knew her family was leaving the Coast some years later. I heard they had a car accident. When I came out of school Pam was waiting for me to say goodbye and ride our bikes home together one last time. Her poor little anxious face had been knocked about in the accident and she had a black eye. It felt like talking to someone I didn’t quite know. 
That’s the last time I saw Pam. She was 10 and I was 12. We didn’t write, but one evening her mother and Joy came to visit us in Auckland. I was full of marriage plans and didn’t take down their address. 
Lately I have been troubled about Pam, wondering if she has nightmares about that watery experience that she probably doesn’t remember. We didn’t tell anyone at the time. I hope it doesn’t haunt her. I always felt guilty that I hesitated for that split second thinking my Mum would be cross about another dirty dress, but later I thought, one step closer and I would have been down that slippery slope myself and there would have been a double tragedy. Life is so fragile and so precious. 

Margaret Larsen.