Thursday, July 7, 2022

Take the opportunity

My husband Don must have been the best dressed dairy farmer in the district when we started farming in the early 1970s. Neither of us had any experience at farming as Don had worked locally as a counter clerk or relief postmaster and I had worked on several telephone exchanges, ending up with a temporary relief job on the local switchboard. We owned our house which we used as security then obtained a loan from the Rural Bank to buy the farm as a going concern. We also needed a cheque book for our personal drawings so decided to go to a large, well known and trusted bank in Whakatane to open an account as Don’s dad had an account there. We were ushered into the accountant’s office and morning tea served from a silver tea service accompanied by thin sliced bread and butter.

The accountant then asked Don how much he would like to open the account with, knowing the minimum deposit was 20c in the Post Office. Don reached into his back pocket and said, ‘’Oh, I thought $1 would be plenty”.

I often laughingly retell this story saying, “Do you know they then whisked away the silver tea service and food replacing it with enamel mugs and cabin bread.”

We spent every cent we had on solicitors fees then relied on Don’s part-time projectionist’s wages for school fees, food and petrol. My spasmodic income seemed to get eaten up on motorbike repairs and the occasional doctor’s bill leaving nothing for clothing. So I, like many others, learnt to fix things and make do. Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

If I had to work a midnight to 6am shift I would take some old secondhand overalls to work and at 5.55am I could be seen dashing across the paddocks to press the button for a 6am start to milking.

Calf covers

With all this frugality involving hand me downs and re-made clothing I learnt to love op shops and it wasn’t only for humans. I would buy shrunken woollen jerseys for $1/bag, come home and the kids would help me hand stitch them onto an opened out washed potato sack. Strips of grandma’s pantyhose were used for ties under the neck of calves and used underpants’ elastic tied under the tail making cosy covers for our Jerseys.

Don could be seen topping paddocks with the old David Brown tractor and sickle bar mower dressed in white shirt and grey serge trousers which I had sometimes mistakenly left too long in the agitator washing machine resulting in them shrinking halfway up his legs to look like plus fours.

But one day in pursuit of calf-cover liners I discovered I could buy a secondhand navy serge suit at the Sallies’ for $2. The coat went to a worthy recipient and Don now had trousers with lots of roomy pockets.

Every fortnight when I went to town I was instructed to check out the op shop and get in a good supply of trousers before the winter. I managed to get three pairs of trousers once, washed and ironed them (as you did in those days) and on the first wearing Don complained about something hard in the tiny front fob pocket. With my small hands I got two fingers in and withdrew a carefully folded $10 note.

“Give it here, they’re my pants,’’said Don.

“No I bought them and I found the money,” I argued.

We decided to donate it back to the op shop.

These days there is no stigma about op shopping, rather the opposite. I admired a smart skirt on a retired female dairy farmer and she proudly announced she had got it from a hospice shop, pronouncing she was the op shop queen.


Old habits die hard and whenever I’m away on holiday I check out the charity shops for jewellery. While in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, I bought two necklaces and a bracelet. The latter was studded with small diamond-like stones and looked as if it was set in silver. I gave it to a granddaughter explaining I didn’t know if it was valuable or not but to revel in the fact that she may have an expensive piece of jewellery.

One day when she’s at university, has exhausted 20 different ways of cooking instant noodles and is really, really broke she can get it valued. Meanwhile anticipation is half the enjoyment.

In the school holidays three granddaughters asked if they could come and stay and go op shopping. I didn’t need any encouragement, just stamina.

Opotiki was our first destination for this small rural town boasts a trail of 10 vintage and bargain- hunter’s thrift stores advertised as Absolutely Fabulous Opo’tunity Shops. It took us two days to cover them all.

I didn’t need calf covers or woollen trousers so headed for the jewellery section where I found an antique necklace in a $2 bin. I also found some muscles in my back and legs I’d forgotten existed.

I do love the names of op shops; St Vincent de Paul, Vinnies Boutique, Salvation Army (referred to as Sallies), Recycled Labels, Retro, Second Chance and Aladdins.

But my favourite name is The Knox Presbyterian Church shop called Opportunity Knocks (Knox).

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