The Mantons were indisputably the biggest family in our district. They had a reputation of being an unruly lot but I think they were blamed for a lot of things that they did not do (the bread incident for one). The Oliver’s at one time or another got into a bit of trouble and there was only three of us. The Mentons had a few more noses to stick into places where they should not be so by the law of averages they would be in more trouble more often and this was the case.
During the war, years there were a lot of houses untenanted but left fully furnished. It would have been easy to break into these places but to my knowledge, none were. When I talk of strife, I mean mostly the silly pranks and stupid things that young ones get up to without thinking in advance. The Mentons were at a disadvantage also, with having a mom that worked full time. And of course, she had to make ends meet. Mrs Manton was tough. She was raising (I think) ten children and working, so she did not have time to listen to idle gossip on what her children did or did not do.
On the whole, they really were as well behaved as any other family. When mom was away, it was not the eldest two (Jim and Don) that were in charge but the third born, Jenny. When Jenny cracked the whip everybody jumped, including Jim and Don and Jenny took it all in her stride. She was the closest I had seen to being just a smaller version of a mom. This was confusing to me because about six months previous Reg, Tony and Bill and me had a round table conference about girls and moms (the truth is they talked and I listened). The general consensus was that girls were girls and couldn’t come close to being like moms because they simply did not have the brains. And all the talk about them becoming ladies was just bunkum. Moms were born moms, all round smarter people but this Jenny rocked the boat a bit not that she changed my mind, but she put a few doubts there.
There were Mantons of all shapes and sizes but the one I found most interesting was Maybelle the dog. Maybelle was a stray, reprieved from the Ferntree Gully pound. A scraggy, gaunt dog, with fur like a hard bristle brush. She was light grey and white with black patches, a very uninteresting looking dog. The whole family went to the pound to select their pet. The boys picked the dog, the girls picked the name. She was a very big dog when she became a Manton.
The man at the pound said she wouldn’t grow any more, but she doubled her size in the next twelve months. It was a little unnerving to have a dog look you straight in the eye, especially as I was standing on tiptoes. Maybelle was part Russian wolfhound (that is what the pound man said) and part horse (that is what the Manton boys said). Mrs Manton was having lots of trouble with the younger part of her crew, until Maybelle came on the scene. Maybelle seemed to have a natural talent for rounding up anything, chooks, other dogs, or children. The young Mantons used to go walkabout regularly until Maybelle decided that they should all stop in the backyard. She wouldn’t let the young ones out of the backyard without an older brother or sister. Maybelle took over the young group. She would stay with them all day, always alert. Not one of them could set foot outside the gate, no matter how sneaky they were. Maybelle would catch up with them and drag them back inside. A gentle dog, the young ones could wrestle, jump on and pull her scrawny tail. Maybelle loved it all. She had found her place I reckon.
I was at the Mantons one day swapping comics with Alan. All the littlies were there including Maybelle. Alan was telling me the story of last weekends rabbiting. The Manton boys had acquired five ferrets about twelve months ago. They went out some weekends to 'Bobby Lewis’s', a farm at Lysterfield. Rabbits augmented the family food very well. Alan went with his brothers sometimes, but last week they decided to take Maybelle too. With a big family like the Mantons, sharing was important. If Maybelle could catch a few rabbits too, of course there would be more to share. Maybelle as it turned out was a great rabbiter; she had the first one down in no time at all. They all ran up to congratulate her and get the rabbit. But they were greeted with bared teeth and a little growling. So they reckoned she could have that one (she ate every bit of it, fur and all). The same thing happened to the next two. It was no fun rabbiting with Maybelle, she wouldn’t share. Amazingly at home, I watched her eating out of her big galvanized dish with a couple of the young ones helping her to eat it all without any growling. Alan told me in confidence one day that they could not keep a cat since Maybelle arrived. Some of the neighbour’s cats disappeared too. It was not a story that they wanted to broadcast a lot, nobody ever saw Maybelle kill a cat but no one ever found a trace of the missing cats either. Maybelle seemed to like me a lot and would sidle up close and give me a lick on the cheek. But after the story about the cats, it made me feel a bit nervous. I wasn’t sure whether she was sampling me.
I was having a little barney at school with an older and bigger boy. He wanted my marbles but so did I. Jim Manton was playing kick to kick with a group of older boys not far away. I saw Jim look across at us arguing and wrestling. The football bounced past us with Jim in pursuit. Without hesitating he cuffed my opponent around the ears (even made my head ring). The boy took off. Jim jogged past with the ball, he just smiled and winked. It showed the Mantons were a good family to keep on side.