The 50s’ Poodle Skirt
We live on a dairy farm in the Waikato, and it’s hay-making time. Cousin Jeanette’s coming to stay, and her friend Kay. They’re almost grown-ups, when I’m only five. My big sister Sarah is two years older than me, and she thinks she’ll be allowed to be with the older girls. Pffhh!
We have a radio. Its oak cabinet stands three feet high, and it’s narrow, and the top two sides are three inches lower than the main top. (I know because my teacher set us to measure something for homework and that’s what I measured.) The front has three arched cut-out shapes, with a fabric behind them. Dad says that’s where the sound comes out, and it’s to stop us seeing the little men and women inside, as they sing their songs and play their music.
I know he’s telling fibs for fun. That’s not how a radio station works. They have the singers and orchestras and bands come in and play for us in one of the station’s studios. It must be a busy place, ‘cause the songs aren’t long, and they only play one piece and then someone else plays or sings.
Anyway, when Jeanette and Kay arrive on the train, Dad goes to collect them and their luggage. They’re coming to mind Susan and me while mum helps with the hay, and to bake for the hay makers’ billy times. When they walk in there’s hugs and kisses all around from Jeanette, and small hugs and hand-shakes from Kay, and they go to their room to unpack.
After a week of looking after us, on Saturday morning Jeanette and Kay are all excited. They’re going to have a party tonight, and they’ve asked all the hay-maker boys to come. Mum’s made Ginger beer (and she doesn’t know Dad’s got real beer out in the wash-house, under wet sacks). The aunties have baked small cup cakes and a sponge and a chocolate log cake and sandwiches. Mum says there’s Pimms in the kitchen for the older women.
In the afternoon, Kay carries a square case into the lounge.
“We’ll set it up now,” she says.
I sit on Dad’s big armchair to see. She unclips the lid, and it comes right off, not on hinges. It has an electric wire attaching it to the main case. The main case has a round thing, and an arm-looking thing, and three dials. Jeanette sees me watching.
“It’s a portable record player,” she says. “I’m going to buy one for myself, too.”
Then Jeanette opens a smaller case. It’s about a foot square and maybe six inches deep. She flips the lid back. Inside are lots of thin envelopes. She pulls one out. It has a circle cut out from the middle, and you can see a red label in through the hole.
“These are the records,” she says. “We can play them on the record player.”
I haven’t a clue what she means, until Kay takes one, pulls this black flat plate with a label that’s got a dog on it, and she balances it on a tall spike she’s put into the middle of the player’s circle. The record sits there, above the circle. Kay moves a little lever on the end of the arm thing, and puts it back on its little prop. She twists one dial, then twists another which clicks.
The table starts turning, the record drops down onto it, and the arm-thing lifts itself up, moves over the record’s edge, and lowers itself down to sit on the record.
And music comes out. Nice, rhythmic music, a bit faster than the dance bands Mum and Dad listen to on the radio. But I’ve never heard this song before. The singer is a woman, and she has a happy voice. Kay and Jeanette get up from the floor and start to dance. And not like Mum and Dad dance. This is really happy and wild. They kick their legs high, hold hands and spin each other around, Kay swings under Jeanette and back to start dancing again, Jeanette rolls over Kay’s back. In, out, twist under her arm, spin out to arm’s length, spin back, jig and kick together… Oh I want to dance like this!
After a while, there are records scattered all over the floor beside the record player. Some are still not back in their envelopes. And as Kay and Jeanette “boogie” (that’s what Kay calls it), Kay steps backwards and “CRACK!” – her heel goes through two records. And they’re Jeanette’s two records. Now, I would have cried, but they just laughed and threw the pieces to me to put in the rubbish. I had a good up close look at the four pieces. There was a groove running around – I could put a fingernail in it and trace it around. I’d watched the record player, and had wondered what made it move slowly across the record, from the edge to the middle. Now I could see how that worked
And now I knew, radio stations didn’t have the performers parading in and out of their studios – they played these records!
After tea, Sarah and I were sent to bed to read. But first we were allowed to watch the aunties get ready for their party. (Sarah was a bit sulky because she thought that being the older sister she should have been allowed to go to the party.)
Kay and Jeanette both had fluffy jumpers – Kay’s was white and Jeanette’s was pale blue. They had ankle socks on, and lace-up soft shoes. But it was their poodle skirts that Sarah and I loved. Kay’s was a dark blue, and it had a little poodle made of lots of white pom-poms sewn on. Jeanette’s poodles were one big dark blue one and one little pale blue one. And they had leashes of dark blue ribbon twisting up the lemon-coloured skirt. Oh, how pretty!
We listened from our beds. We heard the boys’ cars arrive, car doors slamming, Dad greeting them at the door, clinking of things the boys had brought, and then the music started. Louder than they’d played it in the afternoon! Sarah and I sneaked along the corridor, and cracked open the door into the sitting room. Everyone was dancing! Mum was dancing with a hay maker, Dad was dancing with Mrs Taylor from up the lane, some of the boys had brought their sisters or their girlfriends, but it was so exciting to watch. The girls all had only their socks on. Sarah said it was to make it easier to be swooshed back and forward between their partner’s legs – and she was prob’ly right, being older than me and all.
© Lynne McAnulty-Street, Rotorua NZ, 2012
More poodle skirts back at Creative ‘Riters Corner, challenge #71