Edith Mary Howard (nee Venables) was my maternal Grandmother. She was born in Parkes NSW in 1873 and lived in the district her entire life.
Her home, when I knew her, was at 8 Armstrong Street. Though ‘in town’, it was in the heart of the NSW wheat growing district. One local radio DJ referred to Parkes as the heart of the dusty west.
Although we called her Nan Howard at other times, she expected to be addressed as Grandmother. We visited regularly when I was a child, though not often. We lived in Sydney’s suburbs, 355 km (220 miles) away. In those days, cars were not too reliable and preparation for such a journey was essential. But when we arrived, she was always ready to greet us on the front verandah.
Imagine, if you will, our arrival at her home. It had once been a hospital. A gravel driveway overgrown with paspalum grass ran down the right side. The verandah began at the property boundary and was around 2m deep (6 feet). It stretched across the house, had a corrugated iron roof and fretwork across the top. This was always covered in vines. The front door was between two windows. The age-old weatherboards still seemed to have the original paint, yellow with green trim. The door led to a corridor that stretched the length of the building with small steps down as the house followed the contours of the ground. Pairs of bedrooms waited either side all the way down. About halfway along, one of the rooms was replaced with the bathroom. The back two rooms were a living/dining room on the right and a kitchen on the left, complete with wood-burning oven and a chiming grandfather clock. The oven burned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In a lean-to across the back, complete with earth floor, was the laundry/store room/whatever. I say laundry, but that was only an old copper with a wringer on top for boiling the clothes. This was not unusual to us, my mother still used one back in Sydney. She did not trust these new-fangled washing machines to clean the clothes without boiling. Behind the house was a long-disused vegetable garden and the woodpile.
The floorboards were not neatly jointed and as well as cold air rushing in, the paspalum grew between them in the bedrooms. I don’t think my Grandmother minded, I doubt she went into most of the rooms.
Parkes is a much bigger place than it was back then. The house is long-gone. There’s a bowling club up the street. But as a kid from the suburbs of Sydney, a visit to Grandmother’s was an experience not to be missed.