When Box Hill Was A Village
"YOURS SINCERELY, SPitt."
When I was a boy growing up in the village of Box Hill, Victoria, in those days after World War 2, there was a pleasant girl in the Sunday School by the name of Sarah Pitt.
Sarah was not a teacher, but a helper with the little children. She was a gentle person who really loved children. I did not take much notice of Sarah Pitt, it was just that she was always there.
A few years later, when I was thirteen, I started to go to Christian Endeavour. This unusual event occurred on the very day I decided to leave Sunday School for good. I had missed out on getting a prize that year. The Sunday School gave out really good book prizes for attendance and behaviour, and this year I had really tried hard to beat Max Sandalls, the son of our Sunday School teacher. But Mr Sandalls was never away, and he was always on time, and he always brought Max in his car, so Max had a perfect attendance record and lost no marks for being late.
We had to come from way down in the cow-paddocks of Box Hill South, and we were picked by Jack Ferris in his orchard truck. Sometimes we would not be ready when he called for us. So I lost a few marks for lateness and Maxy Sandalls got the prize.
I was miffed. Max should not have been given a prize, because he had to be there with his father. So I decided to give Sunday School away. Anyway, I was feeling big enough to leave, although I knew that if I decided not to go, then my younger sisters and brother would not go either. But if they were not going to give me a prize, then I might as well leave.
Having just made up my mind that this would be the last day, the side door of our Sunday School hall opened - and I can visualise the scene today as if it were yesterday - an older, white-haired lady walked in the door, and behind her was her daughter. They were both strangers. Her daughter was beautiful, with the fairest hair, and a light seemed to shine from her.
Ever willing to welcome strangers, I went straight up to them before any adult turned their way. Her mother very politely asked, if there was a Christian Endeavour in the Sunday School. I equally politely replied that there was a really good Christian Endeavour which met every Friday night, and as a matter of fact, I was about to join it myself that very week, and apart from that, we had a very good girls class in the senior Sunday school and I would be pleased to take her daughter to her new teacher, and as our classes were near each other, if I could help by introducing her to the other young people I would be only too pleased to be of service.
So my interest in Sunday School, Christian Endeavour and in things religious took an immediate turn upwards. I attended evening church services when I discovered that Mrs Vernon and her daughter attended. My very keen interest in things religious, had more to do with an over-working pituitary gland than anything else.
Soon I asked that lovely new blonde girl who had started to attend, to accompany me to a school play, an awful rendition of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". It must have given her ideas, because we started to go out together after that first 13 year old venture, and we have been going together ever since. Beverley and I married and have had great difficulty convincing our four children when each was thirteen, that they were too young to start dating! I now have the same difficulty trying to convince our teenage grand-daughters of the same thing!
But back when I first went to Christian Endeavour with the new girl, I found that one of the members who also attended was this girl Sarah Pitt. She was different from the rest of us. I guess we decided that she was what we called "a bit slow". Her dresses were longer than those of other girls, and her hair was straight and lank. She talked in a squeeky voice and got very excited over just ordinary things. She walked flat-footed and always had difficulty keeping up with the rest of us.
Whenever anyone had a birthday, she always give them a birthday card, which she signed, "Yours sincerely, SPitt" without any full-stops. So her name read: "SPitt". We used to call her "Yours sincerely SPitt" or just "SPitt" for short. I do not remember any of us sending her a birthday card, but she never forgot one of us.
"Yours sincerely SPitt" did everything our Christian Endeavour did. She went to the sports carnivals and jumped up and down with great excitement whenever one of us won a race. SPitt was with us when we went on youth camps and when we went on day-long hikes in the Dandenongs.
When we answered the roll-call at Christian Endeavour meetings, we did so by responding to our name by repeating a memory verse of scripture. The girls always chose some sickeningly appropriate verse which they always stood up and recited accurately. Wendy Bell, whom we called "Ding Dong" would demurely say, "I am the vine; ye are the branches", while the leaders smiled approvingly.
Some of us boys would search the Song of Solomon to get an embarrassing verse like "Thy navel is like a round goblet and thy two
breasts are ripe and full.". That would break the group up, and the boys would roll round in laughter and the leaders would nearly have a heart attack.
But poor old "Yours sincerely, SPitt" could be relied upon. She knew one verse and she always repeated it. Whenever her name was called, she would pop up from the wooden bench, and in her squeeky voice say quickly, " Jesus wept." That would break up the boys into raucous laughter. Never had a simple roll-call been such a disaster.
Sometime after I found Sarah Pitt was also a member of the Christian Endeavour, it occurred to me that "Yours sincerely SPitt" was probably ten years older than the rest of us. But she fitted in with us O.K.. She helped the Sunday School teachers, each Sunday bringing the preacher of the day a flower, often a red carnation.
SPitt had a unique bike riding style. A bike was an extension of your personality. The girls rode bikes with mudguards, and battery lights, and coloured skirt guards made of elasticised string. The boys rode bikes with handles turned down, no mud guards, and no lights. We could ride rings round the girls, skid to a halt, do figure eights on the footpath, jump the bike over gutters, and balance standing up without moving. Your bike was you. It spoke a language about how you saw yourself and whom you wanted to impress.
"Yours sincerely SPitt" rode her bicycle very carefully. She could not keep up with the rest of us. We would jump on our bikes, ride across the footpath, jump the gutter, cut across the road, up and around parked cars and down the hill with our feet wide apart from the ever-turning pedals. She would wheel her bike over the footpath, stop and look to the right, look to the left, then look to the right again, and walk to the other side. She would hold the pedal and turn it round until it was in a down position. She would place her left foot on the down pedal, look round in all directions, and started off by pushing with her right foot...push, push, push, push, push, push...six times then swung her leg over the low bar to the other pedal.
Then she proceeded along the gutter with great caution. When SPitt was approaching a parked car, her head would turn and look behind her a dozen times before she would venture round it. At every cross road, she would stop, get off, walk across and then proceed with the mounting again with the left foot on the down pedal and the right foot going push, push, push, push, push, push.
Occasionally we would go out in several cars and on the back of our one eyed orchardist's truck. Everybody crowded into canvas hooded Morris Minors or Austins and with a great deal of shouting, we were ready to go. Then someone would cry: "SPitt's left behind!" The door would be thrown open, a couple of boys would tumble out, grab SPitt and stuff her in on top of half a dozen pairs of knees, and with more shouting and slamming doors off we would go.
I guess we were pretty rough on old SPitt, but everybody liked her, and she was happy to be part of the gang. She came to all our birthday parties, outings, and club activities. She could not play sport, but there was no-one keener in giving us support and in bringing out oranges to the team members.
The years went by, and some of us were no longer teenagers. We went to university and college and graduated and SPitt jumped for joy. We got engaged and "Yours sincerely SPitt" always came to the kitchen teas. We got married, and SPitt was first in the church for the ceremony with genuine happiness for us. When Beverley and I had our wedding breakfast, high on the list of family and friends to celebrate with us was "Yours sincerely SPitt". When the children were born, there were always cards from SPitt. She never forgot.
But as the years went by, and we moved up and out of the local church, SPitt always joined in with the youth group coming up. In their turn, they accepted her, and she became a member of their group. She would have been the oldest youth group member ever.
"Yours sincerely SPitt" was an utterly transparent person. She did not have a resentful thought in her body. She was kindly, thoughtful, helping, happy girl in a woman's body. She was a female Peter Pan who never grew up.
Thirty years passed. Then one Sunday, I was the guest preacher at special anniversary services of the church in the Town Hall. Hundreds of people packed the Box Hill Town Hall. As we came in, we were greeted by crowds of friends. Everyone was slapping backs, and laughing and pointing out how much weight we had put on, when I realised there had been a presence behind me for some time.
I turned round. There was "Yours sincerely SPitt", smiling, and in her hand was a red carnation. She quickly said: "We've got a lovely youth group these days" and just as quickly I threw my arms round her in a great hug.
Poor, dear, faithful SPitt. She was just as much a part of my growing up as anyone. She had grown older but had not grown up. Yet I would never have thought of her being different from any of the rest of us children, as I walked home up Bank Street, along the railway line to the top of the hill, and to No 5 Miller St., Box Hill, a great city which was then still a village, where the adults were kind, and the children grew up responsibly.