The ‘harlot’s’ daughter

Representative photo*

Spanish Bride’s post on abortion a couple of days ago inspired me to share the story of a special woman I once knew.

My Aunty met a young, black, American sailor posted in New Zealand after World War 2.  He was a handsome and sharp looking man, who could tickle piano keys as expertly as he tickled an 18-year-old’s heart. He was a jazz musician in a time that dancing and dances were the height of entertainment, and provided an entire shop full of husband potential.

It was a time when men wore suits and hats (though never indoors) and a time when American Sailors were the only source of nylon stockings. Enticed by those stockings, those ivory keys, the new and exciting dance craze and the unwritten taboo of black men, my Aunty soon surrendered to his charm.

In 1947 New Zealand she found her herself pregnant and unwed to her charming black sailor. Any woman who lived through these times will confirm it doesn’t get much worse than that.

It was a time of secret homes for pregnant women sent to await unwanted adoptions. A time when there was little other choices, no DPB, no alternatives. You were either sent away or locked inside the pretence of your mother’s surprise menopausal child.

Her parents were of an almost Victorian era, dedicated only to church and family. Children were seen and not heard, let alone appearing pregnant out of wedlock, carrying a black man’s child. This only happened to someone else’s harlot daughter.

The sailor didn’t take the news well. He justified his lack of honour with stories of some catastrophic end to his deck washing career.

One can only imagine the desperation of my Aunt at the time. Sailor Sam told her of a ‘doctor’ in Ngaruawahia that offered abortions for desperate young women. Now Ngaruawahia isn’t far from Rotorua today, but in 1947 it was a mountain to climb in a borrowed car over dusty roads, carrying the sailors few pounds of expected ‘responsibility.’

Arriving an hour early she sat in the car and wept about the choice she was making. The shame she would bring to her family forced her to the front door of an unkempt yard behind the shingle of “Dentist.”

Now you don’t achieve the attention of an American sailor flaunting stockings without a degree of beauty. The “Dentist” recognised an opportunity the minute he opened that door. The fee for his services changed quickly to an exchange for sexual gratification. Now my Aunt may have been impregnated by a black sailor, but she had a lot of pride and a firm slap on his drooling face immediately ended their business transaction.

By the time she got back to Rotorua to return the fee for the ‘unused service’ to her sailor, he had reconsidered his options. New Zealand was a grand place to be, and the ability to stay rested firmly on this pregnant and naive young woman. Nuptials were performed quickly as a simple service with no guests but a fellow sailor witness.

However, the day that beautiful little girl was born her my grandparents could not resist a visiting peek at their first grandchild. It was a peek that required them to resign from the Croquet Club and the Bridge Club. It was a peek that cost them friendships and respectability amongst the Church and neighbours. It was a peek that cemented my lifetime respect for them as wonderful people.

The sailor didn’t last long, three years and 5 days to be exact. She came home from work one day to an empty house, empty bank account, and empty heart. He spent his remaining days living on Waiheke Island with an elderly, wealthy, white widow, tickling those ivory keys for his supper. His attempts to re-enter his daughter’s life in her adulthood were rightfully shunned. My family would like to think that he died alone and lonely.

My Aunty raised her child alone, but with the devoted support of her sister, my mother, and their parents. After being rejected for Teachers Training College twice as a ‘divorcee’ she did eventually became a teacher and spent most of her career at Rotorua Boys High School, specialising in special needs students.

She knew how important the education of her ‘mixed race’ daughter would be, and raised her to exceed in that world. She made clothes for herself from old curtains, though always considered beautifully groomed through clever dying of fabric, and lace in appropriate places. She wore dresses lovingly crocheted by my grandmother, all to afford piano lessons, elocution lessons, languages, golf and even skiing lessons for her daughter. The private school education was followed by a short career as a beauty queen, then one as a journalist, before she met her prince, and of course her castle.

Who’d have thought she would end up marrying an Austrian billionaire, and how important that grooming would be. Her mother certainly did.

Sadly her daughter was often embarrassed by her mother’s many eccentricities. Her continued appetite for black men, her blue/green/red or purple dyed hair (depending on her mood), or what wardrobe she was matching. She managed to maintain a snobbery about her that always amused me.

My Aunty and I had a far better relationship than they did which was incredibly sad considering what she went through to keep her daughter in a time that had all the odds stacked against her. I have decided to send these words to my cousin in Europe in the hope of her realising how incredibly lucky she is, and how special her mother was because if it wasn’t for a dirty ‘dentist’ In Ngaruawahia she would not have lived.

Though I don’t personally agree with abortion, this story is why I’ve always supported others right to chose. I could never judge a decision to pay the dentist’s price, as I can understand someone’s desperation. We may no longer live in that difficult world, but I truly believe children are never an accident.

 

by KGB


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A guest post submitted to Whaleoil and edited by Whaleoil staff.

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