Shopkeepers and Home Deliveries


Green groceries came in a big horse drawn cart. The cart had drop-down sides and the shelving was terraced back so all the produce was displayed. The green grocer would ring a hand bell that would have the whole street out to have a look, a chat and get all the up to the minute gossip, then buy something. The Rawleighs man had a similar cart to the green grocer with all products displayed. He only came about once a month. But all moms knew that Rawleighs potions would cure any complaint so he was very popular. I could just get my nose over the drop-sides. It was worth a look. With bottles and jars and tins of all sizes and shapes. But there were a couple of products that intrigued me and they were the Goanna oil and Goanna Salve. I wondered for a long time how Mr. Rawleigh could produce these products from Goanna's.


Everyone in our street had an ice-chest. In summer, they were indispensable. The iceman, Mr. Johnson, came once a fortnight. The ice did not last a fortnight but as long as the ice-chest door wasn't left open too long it stayed cool. The first week the ice chest was great and smelt clean but as the ice disappeared, a terrible musty smell invaded the inside of the ice-chest and nearly everything that was put in there. But it was better than nothing. Mr. Johnson was the only man to have a truck (the dunny man had a truck too, but he wasn't delivering, was he?). Mr. Johnson wouldn’t stop in about four spots down Kia-ora Avenue, so if we got on the truck at the start we could ride to Mahoney street. Mr. Johnson would let us get into the cool room on the back of the truck and we could have any small pieces of ice. He insisted that we keep the cool room door closed and often gave me a couple of pieces of ice then sat me on the back to be the doorman. So while all the others were running around putting ice cream down each others necks, yelling and screaming, I was above them all laughing at them, quite safe. That is, until Reg sneaked around the side of the truck and pushed me off. They all pounced on poor little Rob and filled my shirt, my pants, pants pockets and even my socks with ice chips. Boy was I cold and wet. I just do not know why I played with that mob, they were an uncouth lot.


I often had to go to Mr. Wilson's (the grocer) to pickup a few things for mom. She always got the broken biscuits from Mr. Wilson because they were very cheap and just as good as the whole ones. I got a couple of bags of biscuits for mom but after that, she got Reg to get them. This was very disappointing to me. Mom reckoned that when I got the biscuits Mr. Wilson was shortchanging us because we only got half a bag. That was a mystery to me because when Mr. Wilson gave me the bag of crisp, fresh biscuits it was full to overflowing. Because I was so keen to get to home quickly I must have spilt some.


Sometimes when I went to Mr. Wilson's our little dog Sally came with me. Mr. Wilson's shop had two huge sliding doors at the front that were always open rain or shine. Sally would wait just outside the doors for me. Mr. Wilson had a few large hessian bags on the floor one of which had dog biscuits in it. I would take a biscuit in my hand and when Mr. Wilson was up the far end of counter I would show it to Sally. She (who loved the dog biscuits) would run in, take the biscuit from my hand and run outside. If Mr. Wilson caught a glimpse of Sally, he would chase her out, swearing and shouting 'Bloody dogs!'. I don't know why he was so upset about one biscuit. It would really give him something to swear about if Alan brought Maybelle to town. She could carry off the whole bag I bet. The biscuits were so popular I thought I had better try some. They tasted OK but were very hard and chewy.


I never went to Mr. Merritt’s (the butcher) because mom always said 'I couldn't see his heavy thumb.' If mom wanted any meat and couldn't go, Reg did. This had me beat. I often was in the shop with mom and for the like of me; I couldn't se any difference in Mr. Merritt's thumbs from anyone else. But it is a fact that if you asked any of the ladies in the district 'Who was the man with the heavy thumb', they would all say 'Mr. Merritt'. This was another mystery shared only by moms. Mr. Merritt was wrapping meat one day for mom. He was leaning forward and I was looking open mouthed at the big round scar (about one inch in diameter) right in the middle of his forehead. Mom gave me a nudge. Mr. Merritt saw this and laughed. 'Don't worry Mrs. Oliver, I'm used to people looking, it's big isn't it?' He touched the scar with his fingers. 'I was in the first world war, fighting in France in 1917. I put my head up instead of keeping it down and 'bang', the lights went out. I woke up in hospital two weeks later. The doctors told me I was lucky, the bullet was probably a ricochet and nearly spent when it hit me. Nevertheless, it went through my skull and lodged right next to my brain. None of the surgeons wanted to touch it. It was in a very bad position. So everything healed up and apart from some really bad headaches, I was OK. Then a few years later a growth started in my neck. It got bigger and bigger then burst. A trip to the doctor, who with a bit of probing around, pulled out the bullet.' With that, Mr. Merritt whipped a jar from under the counter in which was the very battered bullet. Mr. Merritt was a very heavy man and after that, I thought he must have been a superman.


Our local boot and shoe repairer was Mr. Cooper. The work he did renovating worn-out footwear was nothing short of magnificent and I should know because my shoes were well and truly worn out by the time Mr. Cooper got them. But after a complete reconditioning even the bottom of the soles shone. Mr. and Mrs. Cooper had no children, but Mr. Cooper liked all the local children, boys and girls. He went out of his way sometimes to say good day. I got on well with Mr. Cooper because he always seemed to have a smile and a good word.


One day I was walking through Tecoma with  Robert Kent. His Grandfather was a milko and would be in the Tecoma stables cleaning up. While Robert went to find his Grandpa, I went down to the back to the horse paddocks. This was the middle of winter and the paddocks were really muddy and sloppy. I was idly looking across the paddocks thinking this would be a great location for our next mud fight. I saw what looked like a piece of bark sticking out of the mud but when I looked again it had a smooth edge to it. That was interesting.  I had to have another look close up, so I jumped the fence and the mud was half-way to my knees. I slopped over and picked up the piece. It was a piece of leather with some leather stitching still attached. I groped around in the mud and found another piece. My little heart started beating a little faster. It looked like part of a football. Well, after about twenty minutes I found all the bits. I put all the bits together and it was football! On the way home, I stopped at the creek under the trestle bridge and washed all the bits. When I got home, I put all the bits into my school bag. The next day after school, I called in to see Mr. Cooper. I soon wiped the smile off his face when I showed him all the bits.

'Can you stitch it all together?' I asked anxiously and 'How much will it cost?'

Mr. Cooper put the pieces loosely together and I could see the cogs turning in the old brain box.

'Well, about three and .....' He looked at me and saw the look of dismay on my face. He hesitated, then leaned over the counter.

'How much have you got?' He asked.

'Six pence.' I replied.

He pretended to study the pieces again. 'Yes, I reckon six pence will just about do it.' He said. Give me about three days and I should have it right.'

I called in every afternoon to see how it was going. On the third afternoon when I called in it was laying on the counter finished.

'It has stitched up OK and it should be quite strong.' He smiled.

'I was looked through my shed at home and I found this.' He said, whipping a football bladder out from under the counter.

'It's and old one, but it will be OK.'

Well my name is Billy, not silly, that bladder looked new to me. But from under the counter came a bike pump with a connector to blow it all up. So together, we assembled the footy. Well, Mr. Cooper assembled it and I watched. It looked good. I asked how much and he said sixpence. The bladder wasn't worth much so I could have it. I had never had a football ever. The footballs we used at home were newspapers rolled up and tied with string, so you can imagine how I felt, walking slowly home bouncing my own ball. What a terrific feeling. I showed mom and she was impressed. Two days later, I was at school and Harry Ford came over to see me.

'You got a footy Rob?' He asked.

'Yes.' I said.

'How much did the new bladder cost you?' He asked.

'It's not new; Mr. Cooper found it in his shed. It's an old one.' I said.

'I was in Mr. Howden’s the other day when Mr. Cooper bought it.' Harry said (Mr. Howden had the news agency but he had a good supply of toys as well).

I told mom what Harry had told me when I got home. She looked thoughtful for a while.

'Yes, that could be right you know. Mr. Cooper hasn’t got anyone at that would have use of a football bladder, has he? But it might be best if you don't say anything to Mr. Cooper about it. It would embarrass him. But I think you should take the ball and show him when you have finished polishing it (I was in the process of putting a few coats of boot polish on it. It was looking like new). Show Mr. Cooper and tell him what you think of it.'

Well I did just that. The next afternoon I walked into Mr. Coopers with my footy and put it on the counter.

'Look at that Mr. Cooper, isn't she a beauty?' I said. And he agreed. You know, I have a suspicion that Mr. Cooper got as much enjoyment out of repairing that ball as I had playing with it and in the big hall of judgement up there I reckon a few judges stepped forward and gave him a pat on the back. And on the board behind a heap of brownie points were clocked up for him as with all the old ladies I went out of my way to keep in touch. I would pop my head in the door of the shop and say good day and he would always ask how the footy is going. I always said it was terrific because it was.