Funny; the little things you remember.


Three little boys came out into the sunlight from a matinee at the town’s one picture theatre, striding side by side along the boardwalk. The setting might well have been the Wild West, except that the aroma from the storefronts along the boardwalk was of freshly baked bread, curry and other exotic spices, bolts of cloth from the tailor’s shop, bay rum from the barbershop, copra and everywhere coconut oil. They might have been watching Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott. It took a while for movies to reach this far flung outpost of the Empire.

As we three made our way along that raised boardwalk that day we saw coming towards us, along the dusty dirt road that formed the main street of Labasa town, a Chinese man who we knew well. In fact, we heard him before we saw him. He was wailing, more out of fear than pain. Not surprising, since he had been stabbed. He held his hands over the wound in his stomach as the blood spread across his white shirt. There was rice oozing out between his fingers. Funny; the little things you remember.

We must have been about eight or nine in those cowpoke days, because it was in late 1945 that we went to the pictures one night with our parents and after the main feature was over all the children were ushered out into the foyer near the ticket office. The grown-ups stayed on to be shown the first news footage out of the Nazi concentration camps. We had a brief glance through a parting in the curtains of the emaciated bodies piled high in a grisly tableau of death. We kids spoke of it later but could never have understood it

I remember the song they played at the Labasa theatre after each picture show. The lyrics went like this: “Now old man Gruff he was so tough/ he was tough as a man could be/ he ate rusty nails and the bones of whales/ and he drank gasoline for tea.” Funny; the little things you remember.

Later in that year I stepped through the ropes of a boxing ring, for the first of what would be many times. It was VJ Day, victory over Japan. It was a celebration as important, or probably more so to us in the South pacific, than the earlier VE day for victory in Europe. I won and I won a shilling. I’m told that I shared with my Dad a concern that in accepting the money I might have affected my amateur status. Funny; the little things you remember.

As often happened to me from an early age I suffered a deep infatuation on that day. Her name was Pam. An early Pam and not the special Pamela I came to share my life with. When I won that first bout she kissed me, or at least brushed my cheek with her lips. It was enough, I was smitten. She was, however, a little older than me and tall for her age. In truth she towered over me. It mattered not. Later I would learn that her parents were coming to dinner at our place and bringing my goddess along. I was told that I could greet our guests on arrival but first I must get into my pyjamas. I was mortified. So as to appear more grown up and worthy of her attention I wore a belt around my pyjamas. I doubt it was convincing. Funny; the little things you remember.

I ran away from home once. It wasn’t that I had anything but a very happy childhood, I just decided one morning to go see the world. For dramatic effect I wrapped some provisions in a spotted bandanna and tied it to the end of a pole which I slung across my shoulder. I had seen this in a comic strip. I called my dog Mickey and off we went into the hills where we spent the day. However, it gets very dark very quickly at the end of the day in the tropics, where there is no twilight. I discussed it with Mickey and decided very quickly that we should go home. After all, the family must by now be really missing me. So off home we went, only to find on arrival that Mum and Dad had gone out to dinner. I was greeted with a clip over the year and a ticking off in Fijian from the much-loved lady who had been my understanding nurse girl for years. Today you might call her my nanny. She fed Mickey and I was sent to bed without a bite to eat. Funny; the little things you remember.

I recall, too, that Mum and Dad crept in to kiss me goodnight when they got home. Mum was wearing an emerald green dress. Funny; the little things you remember.


2 replies
  1. Gaz
    Gaz says:

    Lovely memories Pete. Having just done the Eulogy for Denise’s Mum who grew up in PNG at the time of the Japanese invasion, I realise now the importance of remembering and talking about one’s life. I’ll make you a deal – you keep writing and I’ll keep reading. OK?

    • peter maxwell
      peter maxwell says:

      Thanks Gaz. Although they are of the islands I guess some of the memories will be fairly universal. I’ll certainly keep writing, this and the other thing. Can’t help it. I always said that writing for a living was not a vocation but a compulsion. This is no different.


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