Our stay in New Zealand provided a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with a family who changed the direction of my life. I have altered their names in this story to protect their privacy, so let’s call this family the Smiths.
When I was 15 years old the Smiths moved to Wellington, they entered my life just as I was moving from childhood to adulthood. They were only there for a year but this family had a profound impact on the formation of my identity and the choices that I would make about education and work in the future.
I became close friends with Megan, the oldest of the four Smith girls and one Smith boy. This family was so different from my own. Dinner around our family table was mostly a quiet and sombre affair whereas dinner around their table was full of discussion, debate, healthy disagreement and everyone was expected to have an opinion, including me. Even their food was different, not just bland meat, potatoes and peas, my tastebuds came alive with the smattering of spices and herbs that they used in their cooking. Here was a family which valued educating girls and they talked about choices for education and work. This was a novel idea to me in the early 1970’s. The Smith parents expected all their tribe to go to university whereas my parents saw it as a waste of time, particularly for a girl who was expected to get married and have children. For the first time I thought about the possibility of university and learning. I didn’t go to university straight after school but the seed had indeed been planted. This family were actively engaged in the Labour Party, they talked about politics, unions and equality. I found this so thought-provoking and thrilling. Megan’s parents were about 15 years younger than my own, they seemed fresh and exciting, people who were interested in changing the world.
It wasn’t until I was about 30, and had decided to go to university, that I recognised how much the friendship with this family had changed my life. They had opened a door which could never be closed, and that door led to education and respect for myself as a capable woman. For years I dismissed Megan’s use of the word Feminist as somehow not for me. Now I realise how much those discussions with her educated me about injustices in the world and I would proudly call myself a Feminist. Thanks Megan.
Megan has been a steadfast friend over the years, even though we have lived in separate countries. She was there when my father died in the year after we met, and again when my mother died many years later. All of the girls have stayed with me, as have their parents. What a privilege it was when these wonderful parents visited us some years ago and I had the opportunity to tell them how much their influence had shaped my life.
The parents are now in their 80’s but that didn’t stop them inviting us for dinner, along with three of the daughters, partners and grandchildren. Thankfully some things don’t change and the room was full of humour, love, their passion for politics and lots of happy noise.