What Makes A Good Story?

Research? Not Necessarily

Not all stories need research! This is a statement I would never have made when I began searching for my ancestors five years ago. My ancestral journey has never been one of “names, dates and places” For me, these have only ever been a means to the end, the end being the stories of the people who have gathered around these facts. Frustratingly, for the last year, extensive & time consuming research has failed to uncover even the slightest hint of a story. No criminals, no land owners no monied gentry. Because of this my blog has stagnated. Until, that is, my daughter asked why I didn’t write about the time we……………..and remember when Nanny……………..It’s true

Not All Stories Need To Be Researched
Read more: What Makes A Good Story?

Stories Can Be Short

It seems the moment we approached Wellington Harbour, to disembark from the SS Captain Cook, we realised that, speaking the same language did not mean that the listener understood what we were saying. As a seven year old I obviously would have missed the vast majority of these “misunderstandings” Thanks to the local school being prepared for emigrant children, my educational transition was seamless. Socially too, the local children had been well prepared and adopted us into their world. If I was surprised to find that running around bare foot was acceptable, they in turn ignored my accent.

Housing was provided courtesy of the local council and government policy but it was the local women who made it work. However, it was on one of these occasions that the cultural gap reached came to my attention. Following the first welcome meal when we arrived, the local women also arranged a social get together where mothers & children from the “camp” community and local residents met for an afternoon tea. Thus giving everyone time to ask questions and get to know other women in “the camp”. Our invitation advised us to “bring a plate” As we arrived we were told to, “Just put your plate on the table” We both carried our plates to the table where we found row upon row of plates laden with scones, pikelets, sponge cakes & sandwiches. Mum, bless her, didn’t miss a beat as she grabbed my plate & dropped it and hers into her handbag!

Lesson #1: In New Zealand the meaning of “bring a plate” is “bring food to share”

This is a story with no research. Is is short, sweet and a story my daughter remembered for me.

Stories Can Be Simple

A Simple Story

After two years it was time to move out of the Transit camp. My father got a job at an electrical sub station in the small town of Ohai. It was a mile or two from the school along a dusty road with no houses on either side and no walking path. For me, walking to school an adventure through an unknown wilderness. The grass was head high, (I was a short 7 year old) with dusty seed heads that lodged themselves in my curly hair. Flowers grew amongst the grass which, as they weren’t in anyone’s garden, I decided were free. Imagine that! Being in a country where you could pick free flowers for your Mum on the way home from school.

Some of the yellow flowers had prickles on them, some didn’t but I soon learned which was which. For the first time Mum had a job where she was at home after school which was a new experience for me. The flowers were always placed carefully into her best vase and placed in the centre of our new, yellow and grey Formica table. When I first shared this story with my daughters I consciously realised, for the first time, the names of my “flowers”. No research required.

This simple story is one that became much more with the telling.

A Family Joke Can Be A Story

a humerous description of cricket rules that became a funny family story
A Funny Family Story

Like many children born immediately after WW2 my relationship with my father was uncomplicatedly distant. As a child I accepted this without considering it a problem. As an adult I understood & accepted. My mother, on the other hand was an open book. No airs or graces. A product of her upbringing in the East End of London where the role of “mother” was prescribed and uncontested. She was the primary caregiver even though she too worked full time. She had no problem with acknowledging that there were many things she didn’t understand. Her theory was if she needed to know!

Cricket was something she didn’t need to know. My father on the other hand loved cricket. Especially 5 day Test Cricket (one of the few things he passed on to me). Having only one television in the house meant that, when Test cricket was on, it became family viewing. One day, Mum had obviously had enough and announced,

“I don’t know how any one can understand this game. How do you know who’s in what team when they all wear the same uniform?” to which my father replied, “The ones holding a piece of wood are in the same team!”

While the rest of us burst out laughing, Mum nodded, seemingly happy with this answer. Years later, a new cricket format emerged and ‘One Day’ cricket reached our now “coloured” television. In this format there were two major differences. The obvious one being the length of the game and now each team wore different coloured uniforms. The, “Who’s playing who?” story resurfaced and the same laughter was shared.

Sometimes the only research necessary is to connect with our memories.

Untold Stories

Image of  double decker English bus tipped over at 33 degree angle. Image was made to show these buses would not tip over.
Bus Driving Skills

If you have read “Not All Father’s Father” you will understand that my father has always been an enigma to me. He does not feature in a lot of my stories & I have struggled to redress this. This story could have been so much more.

I was 21 years old before I learned to drive a car. Until then there had been no need to nor the finances to make it happen anyway. That all changed when I married a farmer & moved to the country when I was 20 years old. The roads were unsealed (i.e. loose, rolling gravel) and buses, taxis, trams and trains were non existent. Driving was not a luxury. It was a necessary skill. Although I learned to drive tractors, trucks & a very old “crawler” tractor, a legal driving licence had to be obtained. The vast majority of my driving was around paddocks which meant that my driving licence was not necessarily proof of my competence. I remember driving with Dad where he quietly sat & shared some driving tips he obviously thought I needed.

Plenty Of Room

“Break before a corner, drive in and drive out” was his mantra. It’s one that often pops into my head when I approach an unexpectedly sharp curve.

“There’s plenty of room. You only need a coat of paint between!” was another. He shared that he had once been a bus driver in London and, after he died I came across these images which made me realise there was so much more I didn’t know about what my father really meant when he told he used to be a London bus driver.

Opportunities not taken led to many other stories were left unshared. Did my father know who his biological father was? What did he do during WW2 on the Gold Coast of Nigeria? When was he told his Aunt was his biological mother? So many stories that will remain untold.

Some stories are never shared

Unexpected Stories

Stories To Share

This story really belongs on my Ten Pound Pom page but as it perfectly fits the criteria of an unresearched story, my hope is it will unlock stories that you have not yet realised are waiting to be remembered, told and shared. It is a very short “story” but one that had a strong emotional impact. It may take some time for my own family to read it and that’s OK. For some, writing is not necessarily undertaken solely to be read by others. Many, like myself, become reluctant authors who write simply because they want to!

When “Baby Boomers” find themselves being referred to as “Seniors” younger readers of this post may find it amusing that some of us have to take a moment or two to realise “that’s me”. It is not that I find it disparaging in any way it’s just, unexpected!

As a senior, I have had my share of grief following the death of loved ones and have managed to pull the various pieces of myself into some semblance of normality. When my cousin in England shared the news that his wife of many years had passed I found myself dealing with emotions, not of the passing of a kind, open hearted women who had welcomed me into her home (after an absence of 50 years) but emotions that had no place to go. It was a loss I could feel from personal experience and knew my cousin would be emersed in. What I did not expect was that it would be a loss that could not be shared in any relatable way with my family.

Being the child of a “Ten Pound Pom” meant my cousin and I had a shared history which, even after many years apart, we could quickly re-establish when we met again as adults. It also means that my childhood memories are alien to anyone in my immediate or my extended family. I am the last in line!

Emigration is an exciting adventure for a child whereas for the adult, it is a step into the unknown bolstered only by the desire “to do better” My new life became one of freedom to roam a beautiful country. To explore mountains, rivers and to experience all that nature had to offer. It became the place where I knew I belonged. Leaving all this behind to spend time in my birth country was also exciting, diverse and here my “roaming” took me to the historical past, the like of which New Zealand could not compare.

These reflections of loss and opportunity, have been an integral and repetitive part of my life. The passing of this most generous lady gave me an unexpected story that I am grateful to share with those who knew and loved her best and those who wish to remember and share the same in the writing of their own family history stories.

Some stories slowly evolve from quiet reflection

Just Vicki

Please let me know if the thoughts that lay behind these stories have motivated you to re-think the concept of what makes a good story. From the unwritten novel to half buried memories our stories are patiently waiting to be shared.

Those things that are the most obvious are the very things we’ve most likely to overlook.”

Pittacus Lore

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