BY YOUR BACKYARD
THERE is a common saying that by the surroundings of a house, the occupants may be judged. This was true as far as my dear old Mother was concerned. There was no elaborate gate to our home, a humble style where one stepped up on to the huge flat stone, taken from the riverbed by my Dad, and then up on to the wooden step, and over. The path was of heavy smooth stones, also from the nearby riverbed.
Our home was only a board kaota (cookhouse) with an earth floor kitchen and huge tin chimney fireplace, with numerous camp ovens and boilers. From the door end of the kitchen, was a small dark windowless storeroom where usually, only Mother went, and where she kept all kinds of mysteries, such as jams and preserves, and cooling drinks. At the other end, you stepped up into the bedrooms which had wooden floors. Only half of the kitchen had a ceiling, and up here again, Mother had many mysteries—bundles of dried flax, in several colours, old papers and pictures and many odds and ends, that I loved to look over when Mother wasn't around.
But it was really the backyard that I wanted to describe, there was no front yard, for there was no front door and the animals fed right up to the south and west walls, where a huge walnut grew, bearing many hackings, where Mother used to take to it with the axe—but did that tree bear beautiful walnuts! The backyard was really two yards, one looking North and one looking East, with the narrow stony path from the gate in between.
Along both sides of the path grew climber roses of red and yellow, along the wall were sweet peas and hollyhocks and a thick row of pincushions right along in front. Also in several beds, that you could walk around at will, there were lovely roses of all hues, dear old Canterbury bells of dark blue and light blue, there were pink candytuft and blue cornflowers and bushy fuschia, red and pink, and how I loved to pop the buds off. There were beds of sweet verbena blue and pink, and beds of asters all shades, while at the far end there was a bed of big fat onions with all their stalks bent over.
On the eastern side of the path there was the large garden sloping off down to the little creek that trickled through the fig and willow trees. There were rows of vegetables and around the edges marked by stones, there were thick rows of marigold, while beside the little track that wound down to the creek, were little blue violets in season. Along the creek were spreading kamo-kamo and rows of tall rustling corn. In odd corners there were peony roses and hydrangeas in their seasons and dahlias galore. Nearly all the year round Mother worked in her garden and was known and loved by all who passed that way, and enjoyed her kind hospitality. Homemade leaven bread, homemade butter, kept in crocks in the little dark room and perhaps a fruit cake cooked in the camp oven, were usually on hand, and anyone was welcome, children and all.
My mother spoke very little English and could neither read nor write, but she could certainly cook and make things grow, and never a woman visitor came, who did not leave with a bunch of beautiful flowers.
I can still remember the little old home and its lovely gardens and in the hot summer weather, I used to think it was a picture of great beauty, right alongside that narrow dusty road, and if ever backyards gave an indication of the type of owner, that one did, for, as the saying goes, your character can be judged by your backyard.