3. 38 Baker Street. 1940.
‘Did you see Violet!’ Young Mary’s hand was at her mouth as if to prevent the outrage from escaping. ‘She was wearing trousers!’
Her sister Clarissa had indeed seen Violet wearing trousers and although she knew it was not the Brethren way, did understand that to drive a truck, wearing a long dress would make clutch, brake and accelerator pedals difficult to manipulate. ‘They were overalls.’ She corrected, and continued stirring flour on the way to becoming bread.
‘But, Clissy!’ Mary insisted, now beside her in kitchen. ‘Father saw her!’
Clarissa wiped her hands on her apron and pushed the kettle over the flame. ‘Mary, you run along now and get ready for school. I’ll have a talk to Father.’ She pushed Mary toward the door, but the child resisted.
‘But Clissy,’ she insisted. ‘If she dresses like a man, she will go to Hell! Deuteronomy 22.’
Clarissa laughed. ‘Not quite, Mary. Deuteronomy 22 is not quite that harsh. It is an abomination, but does not guarantee an eternity in hellfire.’
‘But it’s still bad.’ Mary insisted, ‘Violet’s sins will bring dishonour upon our house.’
Clarissa hugged her little sister and wondered at the wisdom of filling children’s heads with the language of retribution without the wisdom to assess its appropriate applications, then led her to her room. ‘Now, get dressed. The bus goes in fifteen minutes.’
Mary glanced at the big clock in the hallway then closed her door to dress.
The kettle was boiling when Clarissa returned to the kitchen so she made a pot of tea and carried it out to where her father sat in the sunroom reading his Bible.
‘Here you are, Father. Would you like some cake?’
Her father patted the arm of the easy chair, where his wife had spent so much time with him for so many years, knitting, crocheting and reading. ‘Sit a minute.’
She sat and began to pour tea but he stopped her with a raised hand. ‘No, leave that, I want to talk to you about Violet.’ He looked to the door where Mary was waving her hand in goodbye. ‘Bye Mary and mind you do not eat with heathens or the Lord might not find you on Judgement day.’
The happy smile faded as Mary contemplated another lunch time alone. She turned and left, the clack of the front door closing allowing him to turn back. ‘I heard what you said to Mary about Deuteronomy 22, and cannot agree with you. Did you ever see your mother wearing trousers? No. Did you ever see your sisters wearing trousers? No. Did you ever see any other women of the Meeting wearing trousers? No. So I don’t want you watering down the word of God. The directive is clear. Women are not to wear men’s clothing, no matter what you call. Is that clear to you?’
Clarissa was still frozen with the tea pot poised over his cup. Before speaking, she started to pour. ‘Did you also hear me say that as a truck driver perhaps she could wear overalls, which are not strictly speaking, trousers.’
He did not stop her pouring, but waited until she had added milk and handed the cup to him.
‘I think if you tried to make that distinction to our elders, you would be laughed at. Trousers are garments that cover the legs that are split into two, and that is what defines them, as against a single piece garment that covers the legs, like a dress or a skirt.’
She poured herself a cup while she considered his words. ‘Do you really think or Lord cares that much about what Violet wears while she is driving a truck, that he would see only an abomination?’
He drank half his tea before lowering the cup gently.
‘No, He would not. She is a good woman who has been led from the Lord’s path by her father. But, if she wears trousers she cannot live under my roof. I will tell her when she returns.’ He lifted his cup to his lips and sipped. ‘When is she coming back?’
Clarissa had put her cup back in its saucer and laced her fingers together to keep them quiet. ‘I have no idea. She is delivering something for her father, so she could be quite late and might even stay tonight with Marjorie.’
The old man’s face reddened. ‘But today is Saturday! I hope she doesn’t think she can come back here on the Sabbath dressed in men’s clothing! She will not enter this house!’
She sighed, drank her tea then collected cups, tea pot and milk jug onto the tray then stood. ‘Perhaps you should speak to Bill about her wearing trousers before you throw her onto the street.’
He picked up his Bible and opened it at the pages marked by a narrow purple ribbon. ‘I might do that. Where is he working, do you know?’
She paused in the doorway. ‘He’s working with Walter, but I don’t know where.’
He looked up from the passage he had been reading. ‘Now there’s a God fearing woman,’ he asserted. ‘You’d never see Nellie sporting herself in men’s trousers.’
As she turned to continue her path to the kitchen she mumbled, ‘There seems so much to fear from such a loving God!’
He heard what she had said and turned back to his book. ‘Yes indeed!’ he whispered and turned another page to more of what he knew by heart, still searching for the love and certainty he lost when his Mary died, now four years gone.
Eusebia’s Diary, August 5, 1941.
‘Eric got up at 4 o’clock to get away for deliveries and still have time to order a gas producer (charcoal).
‘I reckon I can make one of those.’
Owen Turnbull was poring over drawings recently arrived from the government with an accompanying letter that exhorted all that could, to reduce their consumption of petrol to an absolute minimum, with the warning that future supplies could not be guaranteed, even for essential occupations like transport and farming.
His father, Erwin Wilberforce Turnbull was a horse man, and had already ‘dusted off’ old horse-drawn machinery that had been rusting away at the edges of paddocks since the purchase of their first kerosene powered Fordson tractor, with its steel spiked wheels and cranky oil-bath clutch.
But Owen was an inventor and mechanical wunderkinder. He embraced mechanisation with the simple argument that “tractors don’t eat grass when they’re in the shed”.
But tractors were not his only foray into the wonders of mechanisation. An old T model Ford motor had been sourced from a wrecking yard and “done up”, to drive a long shaft of flat belt pulleys that powered a row of small tools and implements. Ranged along a rough hewn bench were grinders, a drill press, a grain grister and, with a change of belts, a chaff cutter and a circular saw. “Henry”, as the old four cylinder side-valve motor was known, was controlled by a governor that kept his revs within required bounds. The radiator that had kept him cool when he was on wheels was not used, but rather, he was connected by hoses and galvanised water pipes to a 44 gallon drum of water that bubbled away happily at exactly 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
On a sledge, he had mounted a similarly sourced Maxwell engine to drive a centrifugal pump that was used for irrigation and water transfer wherever it was needed on the mixed crop, chicken and dairy farm.
Now with extensive citrus and apple orchards, hand drawn water of his father’s day would no longer suffice, so Owen’s investigation of alternative sources of fuel for the farm’s multiple petrol and kerosene engines had moved from “urgent” to “vital” as the war prevented tankers of crude making the perilous journey across the Pacific.
But through the grapevine, he had heard that engines running on charcoal gas suffered excessive wear from charcoal dust and sand pollutants cbeing sucked into cylinders to chew into rings and bores, then to bypass worn rings and enter sump oil and grind away at big ends and main bearings, not to mention cam shafts, timing gears and chains.
He turned a drawing toward his father. ‘What this system needs is a hookah,’ he said, nodding to encourage his father for support.
But Irwin’s understanding of the drawings now before his eyes was only marginally greater than his grasp of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. He pushed the papers back to his son. ‘If you reckon you can make one, how long will it take, and how much?’
Owen pushed the papers together and stood to place them on top of the old Harmonium. ‘Don’t know. I’ll think about it.’
Eusebia watched as her elder son walked to the door and wondered what was to become of them all if he was called up. Both girls had gone to the city, then married, leaving the farm and their parents in the care of her two boys. She was still relatively young, under fifty, but Irwin was well past sixty and no longer confident he could still control the horses he so loved.
Father followed Owen out to help with the cream separator and to wash up after milking, that had been completed before breakfast then to drive the cows, now fed, back to pasture. The early start had left much of the day free until afternoon, when the three of them would again need to milk the herd by hand and drive the cows to the high paddock to overnight.
She watched through the fly screen door as Rowdy stirred himself from his place in the sun and trotted after them to the milking shed, where he would curl up again on a pile of pollard sacks in the sun beside the cattle feed trough that had been fashioned from a hollow log, split in two longitudinally, the two halves now butted end to end with the free ends plugged by sheets of galvanised iron, beaten to shape and secured by nails.
She made herself another pot of tea and fetched her writing pad, pen and ink. “Dear Ella,” she began and filled a page with her schoolteacher handwriting that expressed her anxiety at the war and possible call up of either or both of her sons.